Category Archives: The Classics

Italian White Bean Soup with Rosemary, Farro, and Winter Greens

tonyr_pot_k Helen writes: I want to make Italian white bean soup. I have almost no experience with dried beans so I’d love some direction. I’m serving 4, but I’d like leftovers, too.

tonyr_cook_k  Tony’s take: Thanks for the question, Helen! I’m glad you did. I don’t make white bean soup often, but every time I do, I always have one of those “why-don’t-I-do-this-more-often!” revelations (same difference with pot pie and souffles and water parks). There is nothing super complicated about my technique: dried cannellini beans, plenty of herbs and aromatic vegetables, and some sort of cured pork product (prosciutto below). It’s a method that I learned in Italy; stirring it together brings back good memories. Here are a couple of notes from my bean belief system as well as an easy recipe:

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– Soaking helps: When possible, I prefer soaking beans; helps them cook more gently and evenly and also speeds up the cook time. If you don’t have the time or foresight, just go ahead and simmer the beans (from their dried state), but do so gently, so they don’t splinter or bust.

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– 2 pots before 1: Regardless of whether the beans have been soaked or not, simmer them on their own until tender (about 1 1/2 hours), before combining with the vegetable base (a mix of diced carrots, onions, and celery). Sauteing the vegetables separately builds caramelized flavor; doing it apart from the beans ensures this browned flavor is left intact and doesn’t get washed out during the beans’ slow cook. 

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– Cured pork power: One thing I miss from living in pork-crazy countries like Italy and Spain is how easy it is to come by the bones or chunky pieces of prosciutto or jamon serrano. These large end pieces are nice because they’re cheap, but still packs the same wonderfully complex, aged flavor. I’ve found an Italian grocer near me that sells 1/2-lb edge pieces of prosciutto in the deli; in a pinch, I will just ask the deli person at the supermarket to cut prosciutto or pancetta in 1/2-inch slices.

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– Finishing touches: I like homemade croutons with white bean soup, though occasionally I’ll look to a grain as a starchy addition instead. Below, I call on farro, an heirloom variety of wheat whose texture is kind of like barley; it adds a toothy counterpoint to the beans. Towards the end of cooking, I like to blend some of the beans to thicken the broth. Use an immersion blender or ladle a cup of the beans and broth into a blender and give them a buzz. Finally, add a splash of lemon juice or red wine vinegar towards the end of cooking to give the soup some balance and zip; white beans (like all beans) are heavy.

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THE RECIPE (Serves 6 to 8)

1. Cook the beans: Rinse 1 lb. dried cannellini beans, transfer to a large pot and  cover with cold water by a couple of inches. Add 3 garlic cloves (smashed), 2 bay leaves, and 1 sprig fresh rosemary. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a steady simmer (medium-low on my stovetop), cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans become completely tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Note: add a splash of water as needed if the beans becomes dry; the mixture should be loose and brothy.

2. Meanwhile, cook the vegetables and farro: Fill a small pot with cold water (about 6 cups) and bring to a boil. Stir in kosher salt (about 1 Tbs.) and 1 cup farro (or barley). Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the farro becomes completely tender, about 25 minutes. Drain well and reserve.  In another large pot over medium-high heat, heat 2 Tbs. olive oil until it’s shimmering hot, about 1 1/2 min. Add 6 oz. prosciutto (cut in 1/2 inch pieces), reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until the prosciutto starts to brown, about 5 min. Add 1 Spanish onion (cut in 1/4-inch dice), 2 carrots (peeled and cut in 1/4-inch dice), and 1 fennel bulb (cut in 1/2 dice), sprinkle with 1 tsp. kosher salt and cook, stirring, until the vegetables brown in places and start to soften, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat.

3. Combine and simmer:  Using an immersion blender (or working in a regular blender), puree about 1 cup worth of beans. Add this pureed mixture, the cooked beans (and their liquid), and the farro to the vegetable pot. Stir in 3 cups kale (thinly sliced) and a generous sprinkling of S+P, set the pot over medium-low heat, and cook until the broth thickens, the kale wilts, and the beans and farro are completely tender, about 30 min. Add more water as needed to thin the soup.

4. Season and serve: Season to taste with lemon juice (about 2 Tbs.) and S+P and serve with chopped fresh rosemary and a drizzle of good olive oil.

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Roasted Onion Soup with Sharp Cheddar and Thyme Croutons

tonyr_cook_k  Tony writes: I’m an onion-soup orderer. It’s my default at the kinds of places you’ll find in airport hotels (nondescript, continental-ish restaurants and generic sports bars). It’s a safe play: this soup usually elicits a decent effort from a kitchen and the combination of a rich broth, browned strips of onion, and an s-load of melted cheese is hard to screw up. But as happy as I am to eat onion soup, I never really make it at home. Too much work to do it right: a homemade beef broth, slow-caramelized onions, and little crocks to gratine the cheese. But what if there were an easy way to make a decent homemade onion soup without it being a complete hack job? Deep intense flavors without too much work? I started wondering on a recent chilly Sunday afternoon and went to the kitchen to find out.

-Quickening the caramelizing: In such a soup, the onions, themselves, would be the first (and most important) thing to simplify. The primary challenge to properly caramelized onions is patience (they’re the stove-top equivalent of toasting a marshmallow, with a whole lot of stirring taking the place of the stick). But if you transfer the browning of the onions to the oven, you could speed up the process and make the caramelizing hands-free. I cut the onion into thick wedges and roasted until they browned lightly and softened. Then, it was on to braising the golden strips in the soup.

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 The method: I coarsely chopped the roasted wedges and sauteed them to a darker shade of brown. Then I added a splash of sherry and some canned beef broth (not my favorite, but surprisingly good in this preparation) and simmered until the onions were completely tender and the broth intensified. While the soup simmered, I made some croutons (to take the place of the traditional baguette round), baking the cubes of bread with fresh thyme until browned and crisp and then sprinkling with a generous layer of sharp cheddar. And the whole thing was good. Really good…

RECIPE (Serves 4)

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1. Roast the onions: Heat the oven to 425F. Slice 1 large Spanish onion (about 1 lb.) into 3/4-inch wedges (cut the slices through the core so they hold together). Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with 3/4 tsp. kosher salt1/2 tsp. black pepper, and 2 Tbs. olive oil. Roast the onions until they brown lightly and soften, 12 to 15 minutes. IMG_0425

2. Make the soup: Let the onions cool for 5 min, then transfer to a large cutting board and coarsely chop. Heat a large, heavy-based pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 tsp. olive oil and the onions, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until they brown and soften, 5 to 8 min.  Add 1/3 cup dry sherry (or marsala) and cook, stirring, until it almost completely cooks off, 1 to 2 min. Add 1 quart canned beef broth (preferably low-sodium) and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions become completely tender and the flavors of the broth intensify, about 20 min.

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3. Meanwhile, make the croutons: Heat the oven to 425F. Cut 8 oz. baguette (about 1/2 baguette) into 1/2 inch cubes. Toss the bread cubes with 2 Tbs. olive oil, 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme, and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt. Spread flat on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, tossing once or twice, until the croutons brown and crisp, about 10 min. Sprinkle the croutons with 6 oz. grated sharp cheddar (about 1 1/2 cups) and bake for another 1-2 min so the cheese melts.

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4. Assemble the soup and serve: Taste the soup for salt and pepper; add a splash of sherry vinegar if you like. Ladle into bowls, top with the croutons, and serve.

 

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Grilled Spice-Rubbed Chicken with a Honey BBQ Glaze

Michel writes: What am I missing with barbecued chicken?  It’s always been my favorite, but every time I grill it, I burn it and not from not lack of attention. Should I just bake it? I’m thinking the oven might be the way to go. Agreed?

Tony’s take: Happy days….first grill question of the season! And make no  mistake, Michel, this is a grill question. Baking bbq chicken is, at best, a compromise: no smoke, no fire, no fun. Yes, grilling bbq chicken can go wrong, but it goes wrong for the same reason folks burn campfire marshmallows or roll solo through HOV lanes or wear shorts in April in New England: not enough discipline (or a plan, as it were). And here’s the thing: a simple method can get you there. Just divide the technique into two stages: first, grill the chicken sauce-free until cooked through and crisp (but most definitely not burnt); then, finish grilling the chicken with a couple of minutes of controlled basting to achieve the desired glazy/gooey crust, but still without crossing into charred or burnt territory. Go to the grill with this plan (and a quick, but intensely flavored homemade bbq sauce), and you’ll forever solve your bbq chicken conundrum.

The technique: I like chicken parts for grilling, preferably from a whole bird so you get a nice mix of white and dark meat (after cutting it up). The bones help maintain moisture and the skin offers crisp possibilities. Break the whole bird down into 10 even pieces, then hit it with a double dose of flavorings: a spice rub to start and a quick bbq sauce/glaze to finish. Grill the spice-rubbed chicken over a moderate fire, flipping often, until it browns and cooks through. Then start basting with the sauce and flipping until it, too, browns and caramelizes. Serve with vegetables or something else kinda good for you and start stretching for a summer full of grilling.

IMG_0004 1. Prep and spice rub the chicken: Cut a whole chicken (4 lb.) into 10 pieces (or buy 3 lb. chicken parts). Rinse well and then pat dry. In a small bowl, mix 2 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. black pepper, 1 tsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. pimenton de la Vera (or chipotle powder), and 1/4 tsp. garlic powder. Sprinkle all over the chicken along with 1 Tbs. olive oil and then marinate the chicken for up to 2 days (in the refrigerator) or let sit at room temperature while the grill heats.IMG_0006 2. Make the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup honey, 2 Tbs. ketchup, 1 Tbs. cider vinegar, 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard, 2 tsp. Sriracha, and 1 tsp. Worcestershire. Reserve or refrigerate for up to 1 week. IMG_0008   3. Grill: Heat a gas grill to medium or prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire. Rub the grill grates with oil. Grill the chicken, covered on a gas grill or uncovered over a charcoal fire, flipping every couple of minutes, until browned and crisp and completely cooked through, about 20  min.; cut into a thicker piece or check that the chicken hits 165F on an instant-read thermometer. If there are flare-ups, move the chicken to another part of the fire. If the chicken begins to burn, reduce the heat to medium or transfer to a cooler zone.

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4. Glaze and serve: Brush both sides of the chicken with the bbq sauce and cook, flipping, until the sauce browns all over and caramelizes, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

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How-to: Homemade Tagliatelle Bolognese

Tony writes: I apprenticed for a year in Rome and Florence, but that was a long time ago. Back then, I was young and daring and thin. Fast forward to a couple of days ago when I started prepping to teach a homemade pasta class and realized it might be a good idea to practice. It’s not that I’ve forgotten how to make pasta. It’s just that little things get scary as I get older; mid-life culinary crisis kinda thing.

Turns out a little time out of the pasta game was not such a bad thing. It gave me some perspective on a process that was once second nature. Back in the day, I worked at pasta – I used to wake up an hour early every day to improve my technique; full disclosure: I wasn’t lighting up the Roman social scene.

Today, as I rolled out some tagliatelle, I tried to examine every element of the process (for the sake of teaching it) and came away focused on a few little tricks that don’t get mentioned enough, but that you should really know; things that get glossed over in all those poetic odes to pasta making. Consider this a grounded, busy-person’s-home-kitchen kit for making homemade pasta simply:

Homemade pasta (serves 4)

1. Make and knead the dough: For the first part of this equation, the question is by hand or by machine. It’s a good debate. The idea of making a pasta dough strictly by hand is lovely. Meditate, zone out, become one with the pasta. That’s how I learned. But what works best? I conducted side-by-side tests and my conclusion is this: a food processor (or standmixer) works best for you and me and most folks who are just pasta day- trippers. To make the dough by hand, you need to create a little volcano/well of flour into which you beat some eggs and olive oil and then slowly incorporate the flour from the sides. It can be a messy process, one that demands a little bit of practice and feel. A food processor used delicately (ie: with short, quick pulses) makes quicker work of the dough with (surprisingly) similar results. For the second step in the dough-making process (the kneading), the goal is to activate the glutens (the primary protein in flour) so they are strong enough to be stretched and cut into long noodles.  It’s a delicate balance: they need to be elasticky, but not rubbery or tough either. There is a technique to kneading (heel of the right hand to push the dough, fingertips of the left hand to pull the stretched dough back and over itself), but the truth is you really can’t screw it up, provided you’re working the dough in a ball. Here’s how: Add 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt to a food processor (or standmixer) and pulse a couple of times. While pulsing (or mixing), add 1 egg (beaten), 1 Tbs. olive oil, and 1 Tbs. cold water and continue pulsing (5 or 6 times) until the dough starts to come together into a wet ball; if the mixture is still loose crumbs, add 1 Tbs. cold water at a time and pulse until the pasta pulls together. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead the pasta dough for a couple of minutes so it becomes elasticky (it should spring back when pressed with a fingertip). The technique is similar to one you might use with a pizza or bread dough: pull back with the fingertips on your left hand, push forward with the heel of your right hand. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes. 

2. Roll/Stretch: There are electronic pasta machines (and attachments) which can do the stretching and cutting for you. If you have either, great. If not, no biggie. These machines are expensive and unnecessary. Anyway, a plain old pasta machine (like my Imperia in the picture) does just fine with these steps. The trick is to work the pasta so that it’s strong enough to hold together nicely when stretched: Press the dough down with the heels of your hands to flatten. Adjust the pasta machine to its widest setting and roll the flattened dough through (it might be a little bit stubborn). Fold the pasta in 3 (taking it from each side and folding it into the center), lightly flour, and then pass it again through the machine. Repeat until the pasta becomes elasticky and strong (15 to 20 passes). Now, stretch the dough: roll the pasta, starting at the highest setting and then working down to the 2nd-to-lowest setting (without folding). After each pass, adjust the machine to a thinner setting and lightly flour the dough (so it doesn’t stick as it’s stretched). As the dough becomes thinner and longer, you can cut it into 2 or 3 sections to make it easier to handle. Work it all the way down to the 2nd-to-last setting. Then add the tagliatelle cutter to the pasta machine (the 1/2-inch wide noodles) and cut the pasta into noodles. Set on a lightly floured work surface and cover with a towel for up to 1 hour before cooking.


3. Sauce: Homemade pasta is a luxury that needs little embellishment. That said, you’re kind of short-changing it if you don’t accessorize it with something good. A fine meat sauce only takes about 30 min (10 min of prep, 20 min of cooking). Add to that 20 minutes for the pasta, and it’s one hour of work for something truly special.  This is a relatively big batch of sauce, but if you’re making it, you might as well. It will hold in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and in the freezer for 3 months.

Quick Bolognese: Heat a heavy-based pot (like a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat for 1 ½ minutes. Add 1 Tbs. olive oil and once it’s shimmering hot, add 1/2 lb. ground pork, ½ lb. ground beef, and 3 slices pancetta (about 2 oz., finely chopped). Cook, stirring and breaking up with a wooden spoon, until the meat browns, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate. Add 2 garlic cloves (smashed with the side of a chef’s knife) and 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds so it sizzles steadily and becomes fragrant. Add 1/2 cup white wine (or red wine) and cook, stirring to incorporate any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, until the liquid is almost completely cooked off, 1 to 2 minutes. Return the meat to the pot along with one 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes (pureed in a blender) and 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary or thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens slightly and becomes intensely flavored, about 20 minutes. 

4. Cook the pasta, sauce, and serve: One Italian pasta trick (which should be disclosed more often) is sauteing/tossing a pasta with its sauce for a minute or two on the stovetop before serving so the pasta and sauce marry. Fresh pasta is obviously more delicate than dried, so this process needs to be a little more gentle. One final note: fresh pasta’s cook time is short (1 to 2 min); the pasta is already tender, so you’re just cooking it until it loses its raw gummy texture: Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring, until its color lightens (from bright yellow) and the noodles become completely tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain well, then transfer back to the pot, add a couple of large ladles of sauce, and gently toss over medium heat for 1 minute so the pasta soaks up the sauce. Taste for salt and pepper, then serve topped with a little more sauce and sprinkled with more pepper and some Parmigiano Reggiano.

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