Friday, September 24, 2010
When I think about the Olive Garden I always remember this awesome story about my college roommate’s dad. Her family was real deal New York Italian. I loved listening to them talk because they had the BEST New York accents. My other roommate and I would roll on the floor if she said the word “dog” and “chocolate” in the same sentence. I miss that accent. One time our shared friend was visiting her family, with a pal from Australia named Emily. They were all gathered together for a barbecue and my roommate’s dad started asking Emily about what it was like to be from Australia. “So you eat at Outback?” he asked sincerely. His son Phil was like “Dad? Are you serious? That’s like asking an Italian person if they eat at Olive Garden.” His dad looked at him incredulous; his brow crinkled, and said “No it isn’t.” “Why Pop?” “Because it’s Italy.” Period. End of sentence. I love his stance that Italian food needs no explanation, introduction or excuses. I loved his assurance, like: no. questions. asked. Food= Italy, don’t be stupid, son.
I’ve never actually been to an Olive Garden. Not because I’m a real Italian or anything (puh, I wish), and not because I’m a food snob who’s above chain restaurants (I have been known on occasion to delight in the culinary artistry of a Chili’s Southwest Eggroll if you know what I’m saying) simply because I’ve never been close to one at meal time. I’ve heard good things though. I’m not here to hate on OG. “Real” Italian or not many people seem to like it. Or maybe they just go nuts for anything “unlimited” like the soup, salad and breadsticks combo. We, as Americans, tend to not like “limits” on things, especially if there’s breadsticks involved. It’s our god given right. Plus, Paul told me one time when he ate there he had a sauce there that tasted exactly as though they had made it with the orange cheese dust from a bag of Doritos. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve checked lately but Doritos taste good, sooooo, I was somewhat intrigued. He said it was delicious but he wanted to die afterwards. Anyways, the reason I was thinking of Olive Garden, and hence the above story, is that this week I decided to make pasta fagioli soup, and according to the world wide web, the Olive Garden recipe is the most sought after out there. I did not go with their recipe simply because I didn’t really use a recipe when making this; I just looked over a couple, got the general idea and made up my own. Soup is very forgiving in this sense.
2-3 slices prosciutto, diced
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. each dried basil and oregano
½ cup red wine
1 lg. can plum tomatoes in sauce (pref: San Marzano)
1 can each of white beans and kidney beans
1 32 oz. container vegetable or chicken stock
Grated parmesan cheese
Heat a large Dutch oven or heavy bottom stock pot over medium heat. Brown prosciutto in a few tablespoons olive oil; add onions and sauté, stirring often for about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, until fragrant and golden. Add your dried herbs (fresh would be even better- I simply didn’t have any handy). Turn heat up and pour in wine, using a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape all the burnt er- um, bronzed- bits off the bottom of your pot, allowing the wine to reduce until it is mostly evaporated. This will turn your onions purple; fear not, you’re headed in the right direction. You can also skip this step altogether, but I thought it would add a little depth of flavor.
Reduce your heat back down to medium and add your tomatoes. As I added each tomato I squished it and broke it apart with my hand. If you’re not into getting your hands dirty you could take them out of the can and coarsely chop them, but I mean, grow up, squishing tomatoes is fun. Let this mixture simmer for a few minutes while you drain and rinse both cans of beans, then proceed to add them to your pot. Pour the vegetable or chicken stock in and let simmer. I let mine simmer for about 40 minutes and then turned it down to low and let it hang while I prepped the pasta.
Cook pasta separately, according to package directions. Be sure to cook it al dente, since it will continue to cook in the soup. Use any shape you would like, although I have to say the smaller the better. I used full sized penne and it pretty much took over the whole show. Such an attention whore that penne. When you’re ready to serve. Scoop a dollop of pesto (store bought fine by me) and some freshly grated parmesan cheese into the bottom of your bowl before ladling your soup in. THEN, add another little scoop of pesto and a few more passes of grated parmesan over the top. Serve immediately.
Storage note, keep your cooked pasta separate from your soup. I knew to do this but alas, did not. I got overzealous and dumped all of the pasta I had cooked into the soup. The pasta never really stops absorbing the liquid, so it morphed into a sort of deconstructed, overcooked pasta dish. Still tasted aight, but learn from my mistakes, k? You will also note that I did simmer the soup with a sprig of fresh rosemary. Which is completely an option for you. However, it was a little overpowering for me, so I don't wholeheartedly endorse it, which is why I left it out of the recipe.