It’s officially fall and after an unusually sunny early September, the weather finally settled into the typical cool, windy Alaska autumn.
It’s perfect soup weather. There’s something so satisfying about making soup from scratch. Usually I have all the ingredients I need and it’s a therapeutic process to chop, sauté and simmer until you have a meal that warms you through and through.
The recent issue of Cook’s Country magazine has a simple recipe for Pasta e Fagioli. I made it this week and added my own flair to the recipe.
Hearty Italian Pasta and Bean Soup
2, 15-ounce cans of white beans such as cannellini, rinsed
1 cup water
2 medium onions, chopped fine
2 celery ribs, chopped fine
2 carrots, washed and chopped fine
2.5-3 oz. pancetta, chopped fine
pinch of salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
dash of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried basil
4 cups chicken broth
4 ounces mini pasta shapes such as shells or ditalini
3 handfuls baby super greens, chopped
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
Place one can of rinsed beans and the water in a blender and blend till smooth.
In a dutch oven or large saucepan, add a glug of olive oil and heat until oil is shimmering. Add the onion, celery, carrot, pancetta, salt and pepper and cook until veggies are soft, about 10 minutes.
Add tomato paste, garlic, and pepper flakes and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add the broth, basil, other can of beans, and pureed beans. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes.
Add the pasta and cook another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When pasta has cooked for 5 minutes, stir in the greens and increase heat if needs be to remain at a boil. When pasta is al dente, remove pot from heat and stir in the cheese.
Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of cheese.
When was the last time you had alphabet soup? Now that I think of it, I can’t remember ever having it, yet I always see the cute bag of dried alphabet pasta at the grocery store and think about making it.
My 5-year-old son has been showing an interest in cooking lately so we went to the library last week to check out kids cookbooks. One of the recipes was a tomato-based alphabet soup. He really wanted me to make it.
Fast forward to 4:30 p.m. today when I was driving home with zero plans for dinner. Thankfully I had already done the shopping for this meal. It came together in a jiffy!
This soup is packed with flavor and nutrition. The reason for the flavor? Pancetta and parmesan rind. Both add wonderful depth to the soup.
I also made chicken meatballs and dropped those in while cooking. I didn’t include the recipe for those, but you could use Italian sausage or any meatball recipe you prefer.
The verdict? My son and husband gobbled up this soup! Plus, we all had fun trying to spell words in our bowls. So much fun.
Alphabet soup with vegetables
3-4 oz. pancetta, diced small
1 medium onion, diced
3 carrots, diced small
3 celery stalks, chopped
4-5 leaves of swiss chard, chopped
1, 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 cups beef stock
2 cups chicken stock
1.5 cups frozen green beans
1 chunk of parmesan cheese rind
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
1 can of canellini beans, liquid reserved
2 tablespoons flour
6 oz. dried alphabet pasta, or small pasta of your choice
1 pound of meatballs or Italian sausage
Add a little olive oil to a large dutch oven and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the pancetta and sauté until cooked but not browned. Add the onion, carrots, chard and celery and cook till onions are translucent, about 7 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, beef stock, chicken stock, bay leaf, garlic powder, oregano, basil pepper flakes, parmesan rind and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. Cover, bring to a simmer and turn heat to medium-low. Add raw sausage or meatballs and simmer, partially uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Add the frozen green beans and return to a simmer for another 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, drain the beans and reserve 1/4 cup of the liquid. Whisk the flour into the bean liquid and add this to the soup to thicken it slightly.
Add the beans and pasta to the soup and simmer for 7 minutes or until pasta is done.
Serve with generous amounts of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Being unwell and a parent is like an uphill battle sometimes. You still have to get food on the table whether you feel like roses or crap. On my really down days, I’ve been known to order a pizza or three. But sometimes I can muster up the strength to make something healthy and tasty in a relatively short amount of time.
This green curry recipe is adapted from one I found in Cook’s Illustrated. I’ve made it three times in the past month and have added my own flair to it. The problem is, I don’t remember what that flair is, which is why I’m sharing it here.
It’s quick, flavorful and has vegetable(s) in it! A winner in my recipe book.
Green coconut curry with tofu, chicken and peas
1 tablespoon green curry paste
2 teaspoons curry powder
3 cloves garlic, smashed
pinch of cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
For the curry:
6 chicken tenders (about a pound)
1 brick of extra firm tofu, cubed
3 tablespoons green curry paste
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 can of coconut milk (found in the Asian cooking aisle)
1 cup frozen peas
2 cups uncooked jasmine rice
Mix together all the marinade ingredients in a gallon Ziploc. Add the chicken. I marinate the chicken tenders the night before when they are still frozen so they are thawed and marinated the next evening, but if you have time, marinate for an hour before cooking.
Start on the rice as you prepare the rest of the meal.
Add 1 tablespoon cooking oil to a large nonstick pan over high heat. When oil is hot add the tofu cubes and brown them on as many sides as you have patience for. Set aside on a paper towel-lined plate. Cook the chicken in the same pan, browning on both sides. Set aside.
Pour out the remaining oil and wipe out pan with a paper towel. Add the coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce and sugar and whisk till combined. Add the frozen peas and bring to a simmer. Simmer on low until peas are cooked through, about 5 minutes.
Chop up the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to the curry sauce with the tofu.
Serve over jasmine rice with a squeeze of lime juice.
My husband travels for work so I’m frequently “solo parenting.” Working full time, picking up our son and getting dinner on the table by 6 or 6:30 can be a struggle. Tonight was really tricky since we got home late, but thanks to my rare meal planning this week I was able to put together a wholesome pasta dish in under 30 minutes.
By marinating the frozen chicken in the fridge overnight I didn’t have to make a mad dash to thaw it out and flavor it right before preparing the dish. I felt like a winner, winner, chicken dinner!
Pasta with chicken and spinach in a creamy garlic sauce
For the chicken marinade:
5 frozen chicken tenders
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried basil
salt and pepper
For the pasta:
3/4 pounds pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
5 oz. baby spinach
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper to taste
The night before, place the frozen chicken in a large Ziploc bag with all the marinade ingredients. Let sit overnight in the fridge. It’ll be delicious by tomorrow.
Place a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil. Cook the noodles according to packaging.
Meanwhile, heat a skillet with a tablespoon of oil over high heat. When the pan is hot, cook the chicken tenders till browned, about 4 minutes on each side. Set aside. When cooled, chop into bite-sized pieces.
Clean out the pan with a paper towel and add the rest of the oil and the butter. Add the spinach and tomatoes and cook spinach till it’s wilted. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds or so. When pasta is drained, add it to the pan with the chicken, Parmesan and cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
Now that I work full time I’m always on the lookout for quick and easy meals. Sometimes I rely on tradition and make this simple chicken dish inspired by my favorite Italian cook, Marcella Hazan.
Every member of my family has her own copy of this fabulous cookbook. Her recipes are not overly complicated. They are realistic and wholesome.
Several years ago my mother adapted her veal scallopini with asparagus recipe to include chicken instead of veal. It has become one of my family’s favorite chicken dishes. And it’s just perfect for hectic weeknights.
For years I’ve struggled with stir fry. It seems easy enough: chop meat and veggies, fry them up in a hot pan, toss with sauce and serve over rice or noodles. I could do the veggie part right, but the meat always turned out pale and chewy. I wanted that crispy beef you get at a restaurant that’s tender and flavorful.
I finally figured it out. It isn’t even hard. First, my kitchen stove isn’t hot enough. It can’t heat a wok like an industrial restaurant flame can. So right away I was set up to fail. My first step was to ditch the wok. My stove just can’t heat the bottom of a wok to a high enough heat. Instead I place a cast iron skillet in the oven and heat it to 500 degrees before putting it over a hot flame. This produces the hottest pan and will help with that caramelized sear I’m looking for on the meat.
Second, tenderize the meat. In the past I just sliced my beef thinly and tossed it into a pan. I find poking it all over with a fork or a meat stabber creates a more tender final product.
Third, don’t overcrowd the pan. Adding a large quantity of cold meat to a hot pan will lower the pan’s heat and it’ll take longer to reheat it. Cook your beef in two batches and the pan will stay hotter. Lastly, don’t move that meat! To achieve that perfect sear, toss in the beef and don’t stir it, shake it or flip it for a minute.
Here’s a recipe I came up with tonight, inspired by this recipe, and using what I had available in my kitchen. I hope you don’t feel intimidated by the number of ingredients. Most of them are staples in my kitchen. Use whatever veggies you like. That’s the great thing about stir fry. It’s customizable. Serve over noodles or rice, whichever you prefer. I happened to have udon noodles so that’s what I went with tonight.
Perfect Beef Stir Fry — A Free Recipe from Alaska Knit Nat
Ingredients (all of these measurements are estimated):
1 pound of beef, I think we used New York strip steak
1/2 pound udon noodles
1 Tbs. corn starch
2 Tbs. soy sauce
2 tsp. vinegar
3 tsp. sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
salt and pepper
1 Tbs. cooking sherry
2 Tbs. oyster sauce
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger (I didn’t have any fresh)
3 dried red chilis
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 bok choy heads, chopped into bite-sized pieces
6 kale leaves, stems removed and torn
1/2 tsp. sugar
3 green onions, chopped
Tenderize the beef with a meat stabber or a fork. Slice thinly across the grain. In a bowl combine soy sauce, vinegar, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp. sesame oil, corn starch, salt and pepper. Add the sliced beef, coat in the mixture and set aside.
Place a cast iron skillet in a cold oven and set the temperature to 500 degrees. Set a large pot of water to boil. Cook noodles for nine minutes, rinse with cold water and set aside.
In the meantime, chop the onions and bok choy. Massage the kale for a minute. This helps it be more tender when cooked. In a medium bowl, combine the sherry, oyster sauce, chicken stock and ginger; set aside.
When oven reaches 500 degrees, remove the cast iron pan and place it over a high flame. Add some cooking oil, enough to coat the pan, and let it heat for a minute. Add half of the beef and spread it evenly on the pan. Now don’t move it! Let it sit and sear for one minute. Flip each piece, toss in the dried peppers and garlic and let it sit another minute. Place into the bowl with the sherry and oyster sauce. Add a little more oil to the skillet and let it reheat for a minute. Add the second batch of beef and cook the same way.
In the now empty pan, add a little more oil if needed and toss in the onions. Stir and let cook for a few minutes till onions begin to soften and brown slightly. Add the bok choy, kale and sugar; toss to coat in the oil. Add a splash of chicken stock and let the greens cook down for a few minutes, until tender. Add the beef mixture and green onions and toss well. Serve over the noodles.