Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ribolitta Italian Bean Soup with Mascarpone

I’ll admit, I was a late bloomer when it came to dark leafy greens. Sure I experimented with spinach but I kept my distance from kale and chard until I tried this soup in college. That’s when I fell in love with their mellow flavors and soft texture. Later I began putting dark greens into smoothies--who really needs a green powder when you could just put the whole leaf in?--and really began to appreciate the their versatility. So if you’re timid in the produce market and scuttle by these dark beauties, stop, stare and give ‘em a try! This exquisite soup is a safe place to start. 

Serves 4-6 

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 medium carrots, sliced 1/8 inch
½ yellow onion, diced finely
1 tablespoons garlic, minced
8-10 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
Pinch of red chili flake
3 cups kale, chopped
3 cups Swiss chard, chopped
½ teaspoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt 
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
32 ounces chicken broth (not bouillon cubes)
2, 15-ounce cans of cannellini beans
6 ounces mascarpone cheese for serving
Crusty Italian baguette

Heat oil and butter in a medium stock pot. Sauté carrots, onion, garlic, thyme leaves and chili flake over medium heat until onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Add the following six ingredients through chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 45 minutes until all of the vegetables are tender. Rinse and drain the beans. Puree about one third of the beans in a food processor. Add the beans and bean puree to the soup and heat for another five minutes

Serve in wide soup bowls. Settle a generous scoop of the mascarpone in the center of the soup. Serve with crusty bread. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Feminists Cook Too, You Know

For a long time I’ve felt a vague sense that women of the 50ish set and younger relished their inability to cook, as if knowing how to knead bread or whip up a marinara sauce from scratch were shackles of a bygone era of gender inequity.
I first noticed it one Sunday afternoon seated around a lunch table with several young baby-boomers boasting that they had never made a double-crust pie. I was shocked. Even as a young newlywed before I owned a rolling pin I savored every payday when there was enough money left over in the grocery budget for nearly a dozen green apples and half a pound of butter to make my mother-in-law’s apple pie.
It never occurred to me that donning a floral apron to roll out a pie crust--with a pint glass because it was what we had, and it worked--might be a regression into the past, wasting all of my grandmothers’ hard won battles for women’s liberation. That, gasp, I might appear unliberated in so doing.
And yet, that is the message I hear almost every day now that I’m attune to it. I hear it mostly from food marketers, but also from real women. The message is loud and clear: now that we’re empowered, educated and employed, who has the time to cook?
I suppose it’s a fair question. But let’s forget the time issue for a moment and address the ideology and its consequences.  In her brilliant treatise on food, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” Barbara Kingsolver writes “When my generation of women walked away from the kitchen we were escorted down that path by a profiteering industry that knew a tired, vulnerable marketing target when they saw it. ‘Hey, ladies,’ it said to us, ‘go ahead, get liberated. We’ll take care of dinner.’ They threw open the door and we walked into a nutritional crisis and genuinely toxic food supply.” 
I have only known a world in which the educational and career possibilities were endless. Thus for me, the kitchen has never held this stigma. Neither has housework. At the end of a long day writing, I can shut my laptop and open up the pantry to prepare dinner from scratch. Not because I have to. Not because I don’t have a degree framed on my wall (and the student loan payments to match). Not because I’m not intelligent enough to do anything else. I cook because eating is an integral part of living. And to cede that delicious responsibility to someone else leaves me and my family at the mercy of the American food industry. Don’t even get me started. I cook because it knits me together with people, the people from whom I buy my food, the people with whom I cook and the lovely people I have the privilege of dining with every day.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Roasted Garlic Fettucine Alfredo

Every year around Thanksgiving I make a list of all of my favorite Christmas movies so that I can space them out evenly through the season. White Christmas, The Family Man, Love Actually (of course), and--at Rich’s insistence--Die Hard. (He cites the line, “Now I have a machine gun, ho, ho, ho!” as advent enough.) One of my absolute favorites is The Holiday. The story. The characters. The scenery. On Christmas Eve as both women are deep in emotional metamorphosis, they indulge in fettuccine. So this year as I had nowhere to go on Christmas and no particular interest in spending hours in the kitchen whipping up a traditional porkcentric feast (I had just finished the cookbook earlier in the week) I settled on some Christmas fettuccine. Like the movie, there’s nothing particularly Christmassy about the pasta, so you can serve it whenever you like. But I think it’s perfect for dark winter evenings when you need something completely warm and comforting, like a cashmere throw, but much tastier.  

Roasted Garlic Fettuccine Alfredo
Serves 4

Olive oil
1 head garlic
16 ounces chicken breast, cut into 2”x1/2” pieces
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 LB fresh pasta dough
4 slices prosciutto
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the garlic on a square of foil, snip off the top with kitchen shears and drizzle with about 1-2 tablespoons olive oil. Wrap loosely in the foil and bake for 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven, unwrap and allow to cool.

While the garlic cooks, heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan. Sear the chicken breast on all sides and allow to cook until just cooked through. Remove from heat.

Lay the prosciutto onto a baking sheet and cook for 8-10 minutes until it is crisp. Allow to cool, then crumble into a ramekin.

As soon as the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze each clove out into a small bowl. Mash with the back of a form until it forms a thick paste. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the heavy cream to create a more blendable consistency.

Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente.
In a separate pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until a paste forms. Add the cream, milk and roasted garlic mixture and whisk constantly until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat, allow to cool momentarily, then stir in the parmesan until melted. Add the cooked chicken.

Divide the pasta between four bowls. Ladle the alfredo sauce over each , ensuring each person gets several pieces of chicken. Top with parsley and crumbled prosciutto.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Love Affair with Pears

It's that time of year when I simply cannot get enough pears. Here they have a sweet an savory application perfect for cold winter morning brunches. Don't be afraid of the gorgonzola; even diners who typically steer clear of stinky cheeses will love it in this simple and elegant dish.  

Baked Pears with Brown Sugar, Gorgonzola and Prosciutto
Serves 6

3 Bosc pears, ripe but firm
½ cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
½ cup cream cheese
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 slices prosciutto

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mash together the cheeses and sugar with a fork. Peel pears and slice vertically. Remove cores with a spoon. Slice a small amount off of the round bottom of each pear so that they rest on a baking sheet without wobbling.

Scoop approximately two tablespoons of the cheese mixture into each pear halve. Cut the prosciutto slices in half horizontally and drape a piece over each of the pears, making sure to cover the cheese.

Bake for 16 minutes, or until each pear is fork tender.