Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pasta e Fagioli

Although vastly multi-cultural, San Pedro, CA is home to a large population of Italians and Croatians who are predominantly Roman Catholic.  We attend Mary Star of the Sea Parish which celebrates all of these ethnicities.  Every March our Italian brothers and sisters invite everyone in the parish to a light lunch of Pasta e Fagioli, rolls and Italian cookies. 


Borlotti beans, bay leaves, tomatoes, garlic and olive oil

After about an hour

Using an immersion blender to puree some of the bean mixture

Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli
1 ½ cups dried borlotti or cannellini beans
14 oz can plum tomatoes, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups water
½ lb ditalini or other small pasta
Chopped fresh parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese, optional
Extra virgin olive oil, optional

1.       Soak the beans in water overnight.  Rinse.  Drain.

2.       Place the beans in a large pot and cover with water.  Boil for 10 minutes.  Rinse.  Drain.

3.       Return the beans to the pot and cover with water by about an inch.  Add the chopped tomatoes and their juices, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and olive oil.  Bring to a boil, then let simmer for about 1 ½ hours or until the beans are tender.  You may need to add more water.

4.       Remove the bay leaves.  Take about one half of the bean mixture and run through a blender or food processor.  Return to the pot and add more water.

5.       Add the pasta and allow to cook.  Stir in parsley.  Adjust seasonings. 

6.       Ladle into bowls.  Drizzle about one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil into each bowl.  Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.  Serve with grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

As you may have guessed, Pasta e Fagioli started out as a peasant dish, made with whatever ingredients were at hand.  Depending on the region, recipes vary.  Some variations do not use tomatoes at all preferring instead to flavor the soup with broth or pancetta.  Others serve all of the beans whole without running some of it through a food mill, blender or food processor.  It all depends on your taste.

I pretty much stuck to the recipe above the last time I made this dish.  With two exceptions.  Using an immersion blender I blended some of the bean mixture with one bay leaf right in the pot.  I did this by not moving the immersion blender all around the pot.  By blending one of the bay leaves in with the soup, it added to the overall flavor of the dish.  I also mixed some of the grated Parmesan cheese into the soup to flavor and thicken it.

Let’s take a look at two of the ingredients.  Dried borlotti or cannellini beans.  These are traditional.  If neither of these are available to you Great Northern Beans or most any other kind of beans may be used.  I would shy away from garbanzo or lentils though.  And then, “ditalini or other small pasta”.  Ditalini and small elbow macaroni are probably two of the most available shapes in any grocery store.  For this recipe I used mezze penne rigate which is a short ridged penne.  You may also use small shells, cappelletti or bowtie. 
If you want to get fancy, you can render and brown chopped pancetta, add different kinds of herbs, use broth instead of water, use different grated hard cheeses, etc.  Whatever your heart desires!  Me?  I prefer to stick with the simplicity of this recipe, the way it was originally eaten.  And it is good.  It is hearty and satisfying.

What is your favorite “peasant” dish and why?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Osso Buco alla Milanese

Osso Buco originates from Milan, in the northern part of Italy.  Cross-cut veal shanks are slowly braised in the oven with vegetables, wine and broth.  It is served with gremolata.


Browning onion rings and veal shanks

Sauteeing vegetables

Addition of tomatoes and liquids

Veal shanks, vegetables and liquids in a roasting pan

Flat leaf parsley, garlic and lemons

Zest and finely chopped garlic and parsley


Osso Buco alla Milanese

Osso Buco alla Milanese
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
4-5 pieces cross cut veal shanks
1 small onion, sliced into ¼” rings
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups chopped tomatoes, or 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 ¼ cups dry white wine
1 ¼ cups chicken or veal stock
2-3 strips thinly pared lemon rind
3-4 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1.        Preheat the oven to 325°F. 
2.       Season the flour with salt and pepper.  Dredge veal shank pieces in the flour, and shake off any excess flour.
3.       Heat the olive oil in a large oven-proof casserole or Dutch oven.  Brown the onion rings and veal shanks on all sides.  You may have to do this in two batches.  Drain on paper towels and set aside. 
4.       In the same olive oil, sauté onions, celery, carrots, bay leaves and garlic.  Cook about 5 minutes to soften the vegetables.
5.       Add the chopped tomatoes, wine, broth and lemon rind.  Scrape bottom of pot to bring up the fond.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, stirring gently.  Return the veal shanks to the pot and spoon sauce over them.  Cover and cook in the oven for about two hours or until veal is tender.
6.       In the meantime, make the gremolata.  Mix together chopped parsley, lemon zest and chopped garlic.
7.       Remove the casserole from the oven.  Discard bay leaves and lemon rind.  Serve hot with gremolata sprinkled over it.

When I first heard of this dish I knew I had to have it.  The name alone sounds rich and hearty.  I was not disappointed. 

While preparing to make this dish for this post, I had to pick my daughter up from school and take her to her swimming class.  So I prepped all of the ingredients beforehand.  As I opened the door on my return, I was greeted with the aroma of garlic, onions, tomatoes, wine, broth, and lemons.  “Oh,” I thought, “we’re going to have a great dinner!”

Browning or searing the meat gives the meat a beautiful color and seals in all of the juices.  We add the onion rings to the browning veal shanks to flavor the meat and the oil.  When we add the other vegetables, we build more flavor.  The wine deglazes the pan and allows for easy incorporation of the fond, that brown stuff at the bottom of the pot which holds the caramelized meat and onion juices.  And that long slow braise gently but thoroughly cooks the meat and breaks down the collagen and tough connective tissue.  Braising tenderizes tough cuts of meat and infuses them with the bouquet of the other ingredients’ flavors.

As you can see from my pictures, I had to cook the Osso Buco in a baking pan.  The five pieces wouldn’t fit in my Dutch oven.  I covered it tightly with aluminum foil and placed the baking pan on top of a roasting pan.  This was to catch any sauce that seeped under the foil, as well as to add an extra layer of insulation between the heating element of the oven and the baking pan.  By doing this, I mimicked using a Dutch oven.  Half way through the cooking time I checked my dish.  The vegetables were breaking down.  I also adjusted the seasonings.

At this point I made my gremolata which traditionally accompanies Osso Buco alla Milanese.  Gremolata always includes garlic and lemon zest, but after that the ingredients vary.  Some cooks use mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, or a combination of herbs.  Some cooks even add anchovies!  The reason for using gremolata is to cut the richness of a dish.  Or simply to add a fresh flavor. 

Finally, the 2-hour time was up.  The whole house smelled divine!  I carefully removed the pan from the oven.  Steam arose when I uncovered the dish.  I placed a veal shank in each soup bowl, and then ladled some vegetables and sauce over it.  Then I sprinkled the gremolata. 

Osso Buco is traditionally served with Risotto alla Milanese.  It may also be served with plain boiled rice, polenta or even bread.  The vegetables were tender but not mushy; they must have retained their texture because of the gentle heat.  The meat was very tender and was falling off the bone.  It was beefy and satisfying.  The crowning glory of this dish for me is the marrow which is nestled inside the large shank bones.   The marrow may be scooped out but I prefer to hold the bone firmly with one hand and thwack it against my other hand.  It then comes out in one piece.  I took half of it and spread it on my bread…ah, it was so rich!  I kept going back for more gremolata because it complimented the dish so well.  Although this dish isn’t quick to make, it is well worth the effort. 

So when are you going to make Osso Buco?