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January 29, 2006

Farmers' Market Haul - 1/29

Farmers' Market Haul
Originally uploaded by Wendy Shaffer.

Apologies for the crappy cellphone camera pic - I figured I've got to start getting some images into this blog, but my digital camera is being wonky and isn't talking to my computer. Gotta love technology.

This picture shows some of my goodies from this morning's trip to the Japantown farmers' market. The farmers' market was pretty sparse today (or perhaps I was there earlier than usual). Several of the usual stands were missing, including the mushroom lady who sells fabulous fresh shiitake mushrooms. However, all my other favorite vendors were there, including Lujan farms, Hamada farms, and the nameless stand with the outrageously good and cheap vegetables run by a big extended family. (I was rung up today by the youngest daughter, who could not have been older than seven, and who handled the whole business of weighing, adding, and making change better than most of the grown-up vendors at the market.)

The haul today was:

On my way back to my car, I stopped to chat with a couple who I think were the pastor of the local black church and his wife. They had a lot of questions about the market, and I got to show off my produce and babble about Meyer lemons.

I think I'm going to cook the green beans using Mark Bittman's recipe for slow-cooked green beans. I'm not sure yet how I'm going to cook the broccolini. (Hmmm, I bet if I blanched it, sauteed it with garlic and olive oil, and then tossed it with some juice and chopped zest from one of those Meyer lemons, that would be good.)

Posted by spaceling at 10:16 AM | TrackBack

January 27, 2006

World's Prettiest Salad

I made a really gorgeous-looking salad tonight to accompany these Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps. It's a very simple salad, with just 4 ingredients: a couple of red bell peppers, half a head of purple cabbage, 4 or 5 scallions, and a bit of Ginger People Ginger Sesame vinaigrette.

Here's what you do: Chop the scallions (both white and green parts). Thinly slice or shred the cabbage. (I used a mandoline to get really nice thin shreds, but you could use thicker slices.) Slice the bell peppers into julienne strips. (I probably could have done this with the mandoline as well, but I just used a knife.) Put everything in a bowl, splash on some of the Ginger People dressing, and toss well to coat.

This salad just looks gorgeous in a bowl - the contrasting colors really seem almost jewel-like. It's also quite tasty, and you get a nice big dose of vitamins A, C, and K from it. And though it's not precisely traditional, it would make a great side-dish for a Chinese New Year celebration, with all that nice red.

Posted by spaceling at 10:58 PM | TrackBack

Toasted Kabocha Seeds with Garlic and Paprika

Roasted pumpkin seeds are one of my favorite snacks. They're crunchy, but slightly chewy. They're salty. They're very satisfying. And like all seeds, they give you a nice little dose of minerals like magnesium and zinc, and some heart-healthy fats. What's not to love?

Well, what's not to love is that commercially available roasted pumpkin seeds are salted to death. Concerns about dietary sodium intake aside, I have to guzzle a ton of water when I eat them, or I'm just thirsty afterwards. It's a bit much. Besides, plain salt gets boring after a while. Why can't we have flavored pumpkin seeds?

So, the other night when I was hacking up my kabocha squash for roasting, I noticed that the seeds looked an awful lot like pumpkin seeds. And I thought, hey, why don't I try toasting these?

So here's what you do:

  1. Take your squash seeds and wash them off and get all the pulp off of them. (My seeds generally still had a teeny bit of pulp stuck to the tip - I didn't sweat getting it all off.)

  2. Once they're clean, spread them out in a single layer to dry. (A wire rack would probably be great for this. I spread mine out on a paper towel, which was fine, except the seeds stuck to the paper towel, and then I had to carefully peel them off.)

  3. When the seeds are dry, put them in a bowl. Drizzle in enough olive oil to coat, and then sprinkle on hot paprika and garlic salt to taste. Stir everything up so it gets well coated.

  4. Heat a skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Toss in the squash seeds, and cook, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally.

When the seeds started to pop like popcorn, I figured they were done. I dumped them back in the bowl, tasted one as soon as they were cool enough to taste, added a bit more paprika and garlic salt, and then parcelled them out into snack-sized ziploc baggies. Since I started with a small kabocha, I only got about 2 servings out of it. But, wow, these seeds are good. They have a much toastier flavor than commercial roasted pumpkin seeds, and the hot paprika gives them a nice amount of kick without making them so salty that they're unbearable.

Mr. Spaceling pronounced them tasty, too.

I may start roasting squash more often, just to have an excuse to toast the seeds. I wonder which squashes are the seediest?

Posted by spaceling at 10:21 PM | TrackBack

January 26, 2006

Roasted Kabocha Squash

Kabocha squash is a winter squash that looks kind of like a small pumpkin, only it's green with light green stripes. I like squash quite a bit, but I rarely cook it, for some reason, and when I do, I usually go for the familiar old acorn squash. When I was at the Asian market last weekend, stocking up on instant miso soup, they had a big pile of kabocha, so I bought a couple. (I always go to the Asian supermarkets to buy instant miso soup, and I invariably leave with some item of produce I've never cooked before.)

I ended up roasting one of them, using a recipe from Sally Schneider's brilliant A New Way to Cook. It's pretty simple - cut the top and bottom off the squash, and cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds. (I saved the seeds for toasting - I'll post on that later.) Cut the squash up into 2 inch thick slices.

Mix up some spices in a bowl: 1 tsp. ground coriander, 1 tsp. sweet paprika, 1/2 tsp. ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, a sprinkling of salt and a pinch of cayenne. (Sally's recipe also calls for caraway seeds, which I omitted because I don't have any.) Brush the squash slices with olive oil, and rub them all over with the spice mix. Stick them on a baking sheet, and put them in a 400 degree oven for half an hour.

Yum. Kabocha has a very creamy, slightly sweet flesh. It's less stringy than some kinds of squashes that I've had. It tastes a lot like sweet potato. In fact, if you blindfolded me and gave me a bite of roasted kabocha, I'm not sure that I'd know that it wasn't sweet potato. Maybe I'll do a side by side test sometime - I could roast kabocha and sweet potato together, and compare the flavors.

The sweet warm flavors of the kabocha played off really well against the salad I served with it, which was watercress, avocado, and kalamata olives, dressed with a very mustardy Dijon vinaigrette. Mmmm. It's funny - I've been eating watercress from the salad bar of the cafeteria at work, but I didn't realize that it was watercress until I spotted some in the supermarket labelled "watercress". It's funny - I always expected watercress to be seaweedier somehow. Silly, really.

I think next time I'll try a slightly different spice rub on the squash. I bet it would be brilliant with a touch of chipotle. (Of course, my culinary philosophy is that there is no food in the universe that wouldn't be improved by a touch of chipotle, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, a squeeze of lemon, or a splash of soy sauce. Though I don't think there is any food that would benefit from all four at once. First person to send me a viable recipe for a chipotle-soy-lemon-balsamic vinaigrette wins a prize, okay?)

Tune in next time, when I'll toast some kabocha seeds.

Posted by spaceling at 09:50 PM | TrackBack

January 19, 2006

Tunisian Style Chickpeas and Chard

Tonight I tried a new recipe that I found online: Paula Wolfert's recipe for Chickpeas and Swiss Chard in the Style Tunisian Sahel. Just to make it really simple and easy, I used canned chickpeas, and substituted vegetable broth for the chickpea cooking liquid.

The most fun part of this recipe is pounding up the garlic, chile, salt, and coriander in a mortar. I have an inexpensive Japanese-style mortar (called a suribachi). It's more lightweight than other types of mortars I've seen, and it's probably not robust enough for some pounding jobs, but for bashing up a couple of cloves of garlic with some spices, it works just fine. The garlic/chile/coriander paste just smells heavenly. Pounding everything in a mortar that way really amplifies the aromas.

I served this with pita bread and a salad of sliced tomatoes and olives dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. (I've been getting really good tomatoes at Mollie Stone's in Palo Alto lately. They're not quite equal to a really great summer tomato, but they actually smell and taste like real tomatoes.)

Posted by spaceling at 09:13 PM

January 17, 2006

Halloumi with Chili

Halloumi is a Greek/Middle Eastern sheep's milk cheese. It's quite salty, somewhat rubbery in texture, and has a disconcerting tendency to squeak against your teeth when you eat it. You might say it has a flavor similar to feta, but a texture similar to mozzarella. It's quite popular in Europe, but not very common in the United States. (I first had it when I was visiting Scotland. It was cut into little cubes and served in a Greek salad, much like you might use feta.)

Tonight, I tried this recipe for Halloumi with Chili from Nigella Lawson's website. Oh, my. Halloumi is pleasant enough uncooked, but when you throw slices in a pan and cook them until they're browned on both sides, it becomes much tastier. Drizzle with a mixture of minced chilies (I used red jalapenos) and good olive oil, and top with a squeeze of lime, and it becomes magical. Serve it with a nice salad, and it becomes a really impressive quick supper that takes almost no time to make.

Posted by spaceling at 09:40 PM | TrackBack

January 14, 2006

Chicken Cacciatore

Here's another made up recipe with no particular claims for authenticity. I can make claims for tastiness, though - this was quite good, though I think I'm going to tweak it a bit the next time I make it. I can tell it's going to reheat beautifully - I'm in for a really tasty lunch or two in the near future.

I also keep spooneristically turning this dish's name into Kitchen Chacciatore. So, here's how I made Kitchen Chacciatore.

The Ingredients

[1] Italian sausage does not appear in most of the chicken cacciatore recipes I've seen, but given that I was using boneless, skinless chicken breasts, I thought it would add a little extra flavor. Mmmm. Good choice.

[2] Ideally, one would use bone-in, skin on chicken pieces. But I had boneless, skinless breasts sitting in the fridge waiting to be cooked.

[3] Next time I'd make this, I'd use more mushrooms. I always forget how much volume mushrooms lose when you cook them.

[4] The onions that I used were labelled "shallot onions", and were rather like shallots on steroids - much bigger than the shallots that I'm used to. I kind of liked the rusticness of big hunks of onion, but I don't think I'd particularly seek out shallot onions again. Probably just use a yellow onion or two and cut it into chunks.

[5] The cacciatore ended up more liquidy than I think is ideal. So, next time, I'll reduce or eliminate the broth.

[6] Not the hugely expensive super-aged syrupy stuff. Just a decent quality balsamic vinegar.

[7] I love herbes de provence, and use them at the slightest provocation. However, I realize that not every American kitchen is automatically stocked with this mixture of oregano, thyme, rosemary, lavender, and fennel. If you don't have herbes de provence, toss in some thyme and any of those other herbs that you have on hand and which happen to sound good to you.

The Steps

  1. Cut sausage up into bite-sized pieces, and cook them in a soup pot over medium-high heat until some of the sausage fat starts to render out. Add the chicken, and cook until the sausage and the chicken are lightly browned. Remove to a plate.
  2. Add the onions and mushrooms to the pot, and cook until the mushrooms have released most of their liquid and shrunk up.
  3. Add the wine and a couple of good slugs of balsamic vinegar, and cook a couple of minutes more, until the liquid has reduced a bit.
  4. Add broth, tomatoes and their juice (break up the whole tomatoes with your fingers), chicken and sausage, and garlic. Stir everything together, taste, and add oregano and herbes de provence in an amount that seems good to you. Add salt and pepper if you like.
  5. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve.

I served it with some roasted fennel on the side, but what would really make this dish fantastic is some nice crusty bread to mop up the lovely tomatoey herby broth with. (If one reduced the amount of liquid, making the dish less soupy, this would also work great served over pasta, or couscous, or even rice.)

Posted by spaceling at 08:46 PM | TrackBack

January 11, 2006

A Case of Mistaken Vegetable Identity

Can anyone tell me why all the fennel I find for sale in local supermarkets is labelled "anise"? I know the flavor of both is licorice-like, but anise is a seed. The bulby thing is fennel, darn it.

Posted by spaceling at 10:31 PM

January 10, 2006

Lamb Mushroom Burgers

I picked up some ground lamb yesterday, and came home from work tonight with a mind to cook it for dinner. I was in the mood for something relatively quick and simple, so I ended up adapting a recipe for "Peppery Mushroom Burgers" from the Weight Watcher's Five Ingredient 15 Minute Cookbook. Made with ground lamb instead of lean ground beef, these burgers are probably no longer ideal Weight Watcher's fare, but they sure are tasty.


The Steps

  1. Coarsely chop about 1 cup of the mushrooms. Slice the rest and set aside.
  2. Mix the chopped mushrooms in a bowl with the lamb and 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce. I find the best way to mix the stuff up is with your hands. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Shape the mixture into 3 fairly thick patties. Give the surfaces of the patties a liberal dusting with fresh-ground black pepper.
  4. Coat a nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat it over medium high heat. Cook the patties until done (5 minutes per side for medium). Remove to a plate and keep warm.
  5. Add wine, water, and sliced mushrooms to the pan. Stir and cook until the liquid is reduced and the mushrooms are tender. Add salt, pepper, and additional Worcestershire sauce to taste. Serve burgers wtih mushrooms and sauce spooned over them.

I served these with brown rice (alas, it was Uncle Ben's quick-cooking brown rice, and it might as well have been pellets of wallpaper paste for all the flavor it had; yuck), and a salad of mâche, tomato, olives, red bell pepper, and avocado, dressed with a creme fraiche and shallot dressing (made up for the disappointing brown rice).

(And yes, I know, the tomatoes are so not seasonal right now. But they looked lovely when I saw them at Mollie Stone's, and when I picked them up and smelled them, they had a beautiful tomato smell, so I bought some. They were tasty - much tastier than your ordinary supermarket tomato. Next time I'm there, I'll have to see if I can figure out where they got them.)

This was a really nice dish. The burgers got brown and crusty on the outside, but were pink and juicy inside, and the mushrooms cooked in the red wine were succulent. Mmmm.

It also occurs to me, that with its meat, mushrooms, red wine, and Worcestershire sauce, this recipe could have been inspired by Barbara's recent post on Umami in the West over at Tigers and Strawberries. I didn't consciously have Barbara's post in mind, but her recent posts on the subject have sure got me thinking about ways of using umami to boost flavor in my cooking. Get some glutamate on your plate!

Posted by spaceling at 09:21 PM | TrackBack

January 07, 2006

Wine: Peter Franus Zinfandel

I will freely admit that I am a wine ignoramus.

Okay, not completely. I read Wine For Dummies, which is quite a good introduction to the basics of wine. I particularly like it for its relaxed attitude toward the whole subject. Sure, wine can be complicated. There is a whole art and science to making wines, aging wines (if they can take aging), serving wines, pairing them with food, and so on. But the fact is that the vast bulk of the world drinks whatever wine happens to be made locally, doesn't freak out if someone feels like pairing red wine with fish, and serves up the stuff in juice glasses rather than fantastically expensive crystal stemware specially designed to bring out its flavors. The basic message of Wine for Dummies is: don't sweat it, drink what you like, and don't let anybody tell you that you're wrong.

Well, unless you like white Zinfandel. In which case, even the authors of Wine For Dummies will shower you with scorn.

So, anyway, for the most part, I've taken this lesson to heart. It was a great relief to realize that I could stop trying to make myself like Chardonnay. I didn't care when Merlot was the hip thing to drink, and I don't care now that the movie Sideways has come out, and all the hip kids are disdaining Merlot for Pinot Noir. I drink what I like.

The trick is, in order to drink what you like, you've got to figure out what you like. And this basically means trying a bunch of stuff. And I don't actually drink that much. And until relatively recently, Mr. Spaceling didn't drink wine at all. Which didn't leave very much scope for experimentation.

However, since Mr. Spaceling discovered a couple of wines he could enjoy, we've been making a practice of getting a bottle of something or other now and again, and trying to keep some kind of track of what we enjoy and don't enjoy, so as to be able to cope more effectively when we're out at dinner, and somebody suggests ordering a bottle of wine for the table.

And here's where I have to confess - ordering wine in restaurants is one place where my normal I-drink-what-I-want-and-I-don't-care-what-you-think attitude breaks down a bit. First, because you totally know the waiter is sizing you up based on what you order. Second, because if you pick something crappy, everybody at the table has to drink it, and they might never let you pick the wine again, and then you might have to drink Chardonnay when you'd rather have Pinot Grigio. Third, because there's the whole ritual of having the bottle presented to you, and tasting the wine, and approving it. Would I know if the wine was off? Would I have the balls to send it back if it was off?

So, yes, I know it's silly. But ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant can be a bit scary.

Last night, I took Mr. Spaceling to Evvia, in Palo Alto, for his birthday. (And it was a wonderful meal, by the way.) And he requested that I order wine.

So, I started perusing the list. I noticed, to my delight, that they had half bottles, which provides a good solution to another restaurant wine ordering dilemma: that if it's just me and Mr. Spaceling, we're never gonna be able to finish an entire bottle. (I know, one could just order wine by the glass. But that's no fun.) This had the additional advantage of shortening the list I had to consider. I chose, more or less at random, a half bottle of a Peter Franus Zinfandel. (I should emphasize that this is a red Zinfandel, and not at all like the white Zinfandel that the authors of Wine For Dummies scorn. Same grape, totally different wine.)

The waiter seemed slightly surprised by my choice. This worried me a bit. Was it not a good wine? Was it totally gauche to pair red Zinfandel with grilled octopus? Or was he just expressing an ill-concealed astonishment that an obvious wine ignoramus had made such an excellent choice?

When he came back with the bottle, he announced, "I love this wine. It is a pity they only make it in half bottles." Okay. Either he knows how to butter up a customer, or we'll go with option 3 above. He handed me the cork, which I examined, but did not sniff, following waiterrant's excellent post How to Order Wine Without Looking Like an Asshole. Then he poured a bit into my glass, and I took a sniff.

Wow. I mean, just wow. Seriously, folks, this is the best-smelling wine ever. Being a wine ignoramus, I lack the vocabulary to properly describe it but, I'll try. Fruity. Like grapes, and raspberry, maybe a hint of cherry. But just lovely to smell.

When I sipped, the fruit was still there, but other flavors as well. Savory ones, tart ones. As I said, I am an ignoramus, and I'm not really sure what I was tasting. But yeah: seriously yummy wine. Mr. Spaceling concurred.

But really, the most incredible thing about it was the smell. Occasionally, I would pick up my glass just to have another sniff. Mmmmm.

Peter Franus has a website, from which you can order the wine. What we had was the 2002 Napa Valley Zinfandel, and I have a feeling we're going to be ordering some.

Posted by spaceling at 03:09 PM | TrackBack

"Hoppin' John" soup

I was in the grocery store one night last week, and I spied some bags of fresh black-eyed peas. Black-eyed peas are of course traditional to eat on New Year's day, for good luck, and one very traditional dish to eat them in is Hoppin' John, a mixture of black-eyed peas and rice, usually flavored with salt pork, or smoked ham hock, or something of the kind.

Even though it was a few days after the start of the new year, I decided that a little belated luck was better than none. I created the following soup, loosely based on the Hoppin' John concept. It turned out really great - it had a nice slightly spicy, smoky flavor and makes a good, hearty one dish meal.


The Steps

  1. In a soup pot, saute the sausage over medium-high heat until it is cooked through and beginning to brown a bit.
  2. Add onion, celery, and peppers. Cook until onion is translucent. (And be sure to lean over the pot and take a good whiff, so you can smell while Cajun cooks call onion, celery, and bell peppers the "holy trinity" of Cajun cooking.
  3. Add tomatoes, broth, black-eyed peas, Cajun seasoning, and Tabasco. (I gave it 3 or 4 good dashes from the bottle, and I thought the soup was pleasantly spicy but not fiery.)
  4. Simmer until the peas are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve.
Mmmmm. Not just a yummy dish, but a pretty darn easy one, too. Perfect for a weeknight dinner.

How yummy was it? Mr. Spaceling had some of the leftovers the next day for lunch. Most of you probably can't appreciate the significance of this the way I can. Let's just say that Mr. Spaceling doesn't do leftovers. Except for this soup.

Some notes on the ingredients: If you can't get fresh black-eyed peas (and I'm not sure if I can get them outside of the New Year's season), then you can probably substitute canned or cook some up from dried beans. If you don't want to use (or can't find) the Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes, you can use regular canned tomatoes - I think the fire-roasted ones contribute a nice hint of char and smokiness to the dish, but I don't think it's critical.

Posted by spaceling at 02:43 PM

January 04, 2006

Feed Your Ears

I like to listen to audiobooks on my iPod while I exercise. Relatively recently, I've discovered a wonderful wealth of podcasts and subscription audio about food. Here are some of my favorites:

The Splendid Table. A wonderful public radio show, hosted by Lynne Rosetto Kasper, author of the book The Splendid Table. This weekly show has a little bit of everything: interviews with food writers and cooks, spotlights on exotic ingredients, and a call-in segment where Lynne takes questions from listeners. I've been taking particular note of their wine recommendations, since I'm woefully ignorant of wine and can always use coaching on how to find something tasty to drink without breaking the bank.

I subscribe to the show through, which allows me to download it weekly and listen to it on my iPod. You can listen to clips from the show from the website as well.

The Splendid Table also does a nifty weekly e-mail newsletter, which offers up a "weeknight supper" recipe each week. Some of their recipes stretch the parameters of what I'm usually up for on a weeknight, but the ones that I've tried have all been good. One in particular, a recipe for Tarragon Chicken Breasts with Buttered Leeks that came from Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor, is well on its way to becoming a regular staple. (It's particularly fantastic if you replace some of the leeks with thinly sliced fennel.)

KCRW's Good Food. Another weekly show, from Southern California public radio station KCRW. Somewhat similar in basic concept to The Splendid Table (once in a while they end up covering the same topic or interviewing the same person on consecutive weeks), but with a more hip, Californian sensibility. (They have a lot more coverage of vegan cooking and dining options, for example.) My favorite segment is the weekly farmers' market report, where they interview a vendor or two at the Santa Monica farmers' market about what they are selling that week. I can't get to the Santa Monica farmers' market, of course, but it often gives me good ideas for what to look for at my own local farmers' market.

Even better, you can subscribe to the podcast of Good Food for free. See the link above for instructions.

Eat Feed. A podcast without an associated radio show! I just discovered Eat Feed, and have only listened to a few episodes, but I'm enjoying it a lot. They find some great people to interview, and often get to talk to them at greater length than the quick "sound bite" interviews of some of the radio shows. I particularly enjoyed a recent podcast on food of the British Isles, with a nice segment on Scottish whisky.

Eat Feed is also free, and you can find details on how to subscribe on their website.

On Food with Hsaio-Ching Chou. Hsaio-Ching Chou is a food editor/writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Each of her podcasts is an interview with a food personality (usually a cookbook writer or chef). The interviews have a nice relaxed, chatty feel, like you're sitting in a fine restaurant eavesdropping on the conversation of two knowledgeable foodies at the table next door. My only major complaint is that the podcasts are quite irregular in length, and are fairly short (averaging perhaps 20 minutes each). This means that it takes two to three to cover an entire workout session.

You can subscribe on On Food with Hsaio-Ching Chou for free. See the link above.

That's not by any means an exhaustive list of all the food-related podcasts out there. In particular, I know that there are specialty podcasts for wine enthusiasts, coffee fanatics, and others. But these are the ones that I keep listening to week after week.

Posted by spaceling at 09:34 AM

January 03, 2006

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone soup is a comfort food for me. A very twenty-first century kind of comfort food, perhaps, because for me the canonical minestrone, the one I have all the fond childhood memories of my mother preparing for me, comes out of a can: Progresso minestrone. (This shouldn't be taken to imply that my mother wasn't one hell of a home cook. She was, and I've got many fond memories of her homemade dishes. But she never, as far as I can recall, made minestrone from scratch.)

Progresso makes a fine canned soup, as canned soup goes. (I always keep a can of their lentil soup in my pantry for those nights when I'm too brain-dead to cook, too tired eat out, too starving to order in.) But sometimes, one wants something a little bit fresher. So, I started looking around for a minestrone soup recipe. I found quite a few. Some were too gussied up. (I'm sure a minestrone with pesto, or with butternut squash, would be fantastic, and I'll probably try those recipes at some point, but neither fits my canonical conception of minestrone.) Some were too stripped down. (A good minestrone needs to be a riot of beans and vegetables in a bowl. Anything less, and it might be a good vegetable soup, but it's not minestrone.) Many eschewed pasta. (One recipe disdained the use of pasta in minestrone as a poor man's way of stretching the soup. That may be true. Pasta in minestrone may not be authentic. Screw authentic, though - I've just admitted that the minestrone nearest and dearest to my heart is made by Betty Crocker. I say minestrone needs pasta.)

So, here's what I concocted.


The steps:

  1. In the bottom of a stock/soup pot, cook the pancetta over medium-high heat until it is browned and crispy. Remove it with a slotted spoon, and place on paper towels to drain. Try not to eat all of the wonderful, salty, crispy pancetta as you complete the rest of the recipe.

  2. If there is more fat rendered from the pancetta than you need to cook the vegetables in, pour some off. Add the onion, carrot, celery and mushrooms, and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent. Add squash and green beans, and cook for a few minutes more.

  3. Pour the juice from the tomatoes into the pot. Tear the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces with your fingers and throw them into the pot. (Or you can coarsely chop the tomatoes if you prefer. I find it easier to tear them.

  4. Add the broth, chick peas, and cannellini beans, and pancetta. Add a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, and a generous amount of oregano and thyme. Stir well.

  5. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and simmer to let everything blend together, stirring occasionally. I simmered for about 45 minutes. About 15 minutes before simmering is done, add the pasta.

  6. Taste, adjust seasonsings, and serve.

This is an easy soup, though not necessarily a quick one. (It takes a fair bit of time to chop all those veggies.)

It turned out well. (Mr. Spaceling ate 4 bowls, always a good sign.) It satisfied my definition of a minestrone. The only major changes I would make for next time would be to add a bit more broth (the final servings of soup were a bit thick), and to add the pancetta back to the soup only at the end, since the long simmering robbed it of its crispiness. And of course, I'll probably tinker with the vegetables a bit: this is a great "let's throw in whatever we've got in the crisper soup". But, on the whole, this hit the spot.

Posted by spaceling at 04:06 PM

January 02, 2006

Let's Get This Thing Started

Welcome to Spaceling Cafe: Food That's Out of This World! Here are a few notes by way of an introduction:

Who is the Spaceling?

I'm not a chef, or food writer, or a professional anything when it comes to things culinary. I'm a technical writer, living in Silicon Valley. I love to eat good food, and I love to cook good food. And I love to talk about eating and cooking good food.

Spaceling is a childhood nickname of mine. (Make of that what you will.) It has no particular connection to anything foodie, but my husband (Mr. Spaceling?) suggested 'Spaceling Cafe' when I was trying to come up with a name for the blog, and it seems to have stuck.

Why a food blog?

See above: I love to talk about eating and cooking good food. I love reading food blogs - I've picked up a ton of great tips, ideas, and recipes from food blogs over the past year. I wanted to try my hand at food blogging, and see if I could pass on some tricks of my own to others.

Also, it's been raining nearly non-stop in the Bay Area for the past couple of weeks, and I'm starting to get a little stir crazy. Why not start a blog?

What's this blog going to be about?

Anything and everything food related that I feel like talking about. Some popular themes are likely to be:

I think that will suffice for an introduction. Now, let's eat!

Posted by spaceling at 03:28 PM