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.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
There is this Dead Prez song that’s about being vegetarian and one of the lines goes “lentil soup is mental fruit.” Now I’m not vegetarian, or even particularly familiar with the rest of that song; however, try to get that sentence out of your head when you’re making lentil soup. I found myself really wishing I knew more of the lyrics to that song.
I was at the grocery store and I felt like I should buy lentils, despite the fact that my experience with them is extremely limited and I had no particular idea what I would do with them once I got them home. I just decided I want to be the kind of person that has lentils in their pantry. Just like I want to be the kind of woman who puts her keys/phone/chapstick in the same compartment in her purse every time and doesn’t stand there rummaging for 35 minutes every time she needs something. You know, an organized person. I want to be that kind of person. The desire is there, it’s just the execution upon which I falter.
So I found myself in the grocery store thinking “ah yes, lentils.” And then I was like “oooh cute red ones!” I would figure out what to do with them eventually. So last Thursday I went to the Google and I asked the Great and Powerful One for all of its knowledge on red lentil soup recipes. It’s turned a bit chilly and decidedly fall-like here so soup seemed like a fitting choice. I adapted this recipe very slightly from one I found in the New York Times (or on? The New York Times? Can it be “in” if you didn’t actually open up a physical newspaper?). Long story short I made this soup and it was, as my mom would (embarrassingly) say, the bomb diggity. I will be making this again and again for the duration of soup season. Not only is it cheap, cheap, cheap. It’s also really not bad for you at all. There’s only 3 tablespoons of oil in the whole pot and lentils are a whole grain (I think) and everything else is just spices and everybody knows cooking with spices makes you thin. For me, after a summer filled with indulgence and (way, way, way too much) white wine, this soup fits right in to my “rediscovering healthy food” fall agenda.
RED LENTIL SOUP
One package red lentils, picked over for stones, etc.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tsp. garam masala
2-3 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. coriander
1-2 tsp. turmeric
2 healthy pinches of cayenne
Chicken (or vegetable) stock
Juice from half a lemon
Heat oil in a large heavy bottom sauce pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and sweat until golden. The original recipe suggests 4 minutes, but I went the extra step and cooked mine for about 15 minutes, almost caramelizing them. I think it added a little something. Add garlic and sauté for another few minutes, until fragrant, stirring often so as not to scorch. Add tomato pasta and all of the spices (through the cayenne). Stir together for a minute or two to meld the flavors. Pour in lentils and toss everything together, top with chicken stock to cover (about 2 quarts I would guess). At this point the recipe told me to simmer it for about 30 minutes until the lentils were tender but I did not read that, assumed that the lentils would need to be boiled, cranked it up and walked away. About 5-10 minutes later I turned the heat down and let it simmer. You can take either route. Even though it was a mistake for me to boil them, the soup turned out great and it sort of made my lentils mushy and fall apart, which I thought was fine and saved me the step or pureeing half the soup as the directions told me to do.
Once the lentils are cooked, THEN you add salt and pepper. Apparently if you add salt before the lentils cook, they get a little chewy. This needed a LOT of additional zest and spice at this point in the game. I added a very generous amount of salt, cracked black pepper and then two big squeezes of Siracha (Thai chili sauce, available everywhere in the hot sauce or ethnic food section). Then I would taste, add a touch more salt, a little more pepper, another small squeeze of Siracha. At the end, you finish the soup with the juice from half and lemon. Both the chili sauce and the lemon juice really brightened this soup up. I did not expect it to be so good but (not to toot my own horn *toot* *toot*) it WAS, in the words of my No. 1 Taster “unreal.” I ate it for lunch the next day and we had it again for dinner on Sunday night. This recipe is one to put on regular rotation for sure.
So yeah…tis the time of year when it starts getting dark before dinner is done and my photos start to suck again. I don’t really have a solution for this yet. Well, I do but it would involve quitting my day job and last time I checked “food blogger” was pretty much synonymous with “unemployed” and offered nil benefits; so, until Publisher’s Clearing House shows up we’ll all just have to deal with the seasonal shifts in aesthetics here at Porky D.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
some images from my aunt and uncle's Labor Day Weekend Clambake.
they're pretty much experts at this by now since they've been baking clams since Regan was president and my dad wore short shorts.
clambakes are exciting because FIRE!
(I had a better picture of Team Clam on scrubbing duty but you could see my buttcrack and I'm just not sure we're *there* yet)
and all of the sudden everyone has to pitch in and help!
and it's quite the show. Everyone gathers round and either assists, takes photos of the action, or simply stands back and admires. It's like a rock concert that you can eat.
...and there's DRAWN BUTTER!
I've said it before, I'll say it again, any food that acts as a vessel for golden, melted butter is alright by me.
It was a delicious way to close out the summer.
I look mega awkward here because I'm leaning forward to showcase my plate. I don't actually have a one foot torso and legs that stick out to the right side only. I'm actually of adequate proportions, thanks for your concern.
I'd also like to give a photo credit to my sister in law, Renee, because she's the family historian and I poached a bunch of her photos for this post. Because they were much, much better than mine.
Posted by Jess at 3:56 PM