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Friday, January 03, 2014

Recipes: Italian Food for a Cold and Windy Winter's Day!

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta. " ~Frederico Fellini

   Usually when one hears the words "Italian food" one thinks of plates of pasta and thick, savory sauces; or pizza pies fresh from a wood oven with a cornucopia of toppings peeking out from underneath a lace curtain of melted, shredded cheese. 
   On this boat, Italian on a winter's day means two things: Homemade Minestrone soup and Sformato di Mele--Italian Bread Pudding with Apricot Preserves and Apple Chunks.
   I don't even like bread pudding--or anything requiring bread I might eat--to become soggy in any way, shape, or form. But this recipe is magnificent! The custard filling envelopes the bread and offers a bed of eggs, cream, milk and flavor upon which the apples rest as they cook. Small spoonfuls of apricot preserve are tucked down into the pudding to surprise and delight the taste buds. Cooked in a Bain Marie, the body of this pud is a set custard. The sugar and cinnamon top is crackled and brown. This pudding offers sweet, salty, sour, creamy, crunchy, smooth, and crackly all on one spoon!
   The soup? Ahhhh now generally Minestrone is an Italian version of vegetable soup. It is versatile enough to take some changes of ingredients in its stride and still turn out a sumptuous pot of flavorful soup that will have folks begging for more. It takes little more than two hours and makes enough to feed 8 or provide leftovers for 2-6. It only grows tastier the next day as the ingredients marry together to provide stick to your ribs deliciousness perfect for cold, dirty weather.
   I am posting these and other recipes as the week unfolds at the request of friends, family, and blog readers who have asked, begged, cajoled, and come to sup at our table. For today's wonderful visitor Carol Ives I include my soup. For anonymous A, I include the Bread pudding. Thank you for gracing our floating home with your company. Mangia bene!!

2 Tablespoons olive oil
6 cups (150 ml) of beef or vegetable stock (Over here I use Knorr Beef stock pots--one for every 500  ml, or 3 stockpots of 6 cups of hot water which will make a lovely broth. In the States I used Better Than Boullion Beef soup base which is superb!!)
2  16 oz. cans of stewed tomatoes (one 500 gram container of Passata is what I use, with a 1/4 cup (2 oz./60 ml) of tap water to rinse the container into the
soup pot)
3 carrots, peeled and cubed
1 onion diced
8 oz. (half a pound or 230 gr) of fine trimmed string (green) beans, cut into thirds
2 small zucchini (courgette) , halved and sliced thin (I don't like these so I leave them out)
2 stalks of fresh celery, cleaned, halved and sliced
12 oz. of cabbage chopped into pieces (another item I don't care for cooked, so I only use about 2 oz.)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled, smashed and diced medium small
One 15 oz. can of cannellini white beans, drained (one small cardboard pack of beans from Tescos)
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1.5 inch chunks
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
One 200 gr (8 oz or half a pound) package of Tesco Cooking Chorizo sausage (this is not in the original recipe but we love the way it flavors the soup and adds protein without a lot of added meat. I prick the four small lsausages all over, grill them until crispy and most of the grease has drained, and when cool I cut all four sausages into coin sized rounds)
1 pound (450 gr) of pasta (I like orichiette best. My next favorite is orzo)
Basil, chopped fine (I use the the fresh chopped Basil in the tube from Tesco)
Parmesan Cheese (I often throw in the hard rind from a chunk of old cheese. I freeze it until I need for Minestrone. Otherwise, use about 1/4 cup of finely grated Parmesan.)
Salt and Pepper to taste (Go easy on the salt. The Beef stock will offer a lot of salt.)

  • Clean and chop all of your veg and set it aside in a large bowl.  
  • Heat your 6 cups of water to a boil and add the stock pots/bouillon. Stir well and set aside. 
  • Open your can/carton of stewed tomatoes/passata and set aside.
  • Place about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in your heavy duty soup pot or dutch oven on a medium high flame. When the oil is hot enough to sputter, add all the veg in at once, stirring every few minutes so things brown but don't burn.
  • Saute for ten minutes. 
  • Add garlic and stir in, sautéing for two additional minutes. 
  • Add in all 6 cups of soup stock, teh container of tomatoes/passata, and cover with a lid. 
  • Bring to a boil and turn the heat down so the soup simmers when covered. Simmer for 40 minutes. 
  • In the meantime grill the chorizo, drain the grease away, let cool and slice into coin size rounds. When the soup has simmered for 40 minutes, add the chorizo, salt and pepper to taste, stir in the freshly diced parsley, and season with several large squeezes of Basil. If you use fresh Basil leaves, bruise them well and dice them into a fine chiffonade just before adding them to the pot.  Use your judgment as to how much. Basil is quite a strong herb. You can always add more near the end of cooking. 
  • Toss in the Parmesan rind now; otherwise, wait until just before serving to stir in grated Parmesan.
  • At this time you may, if you like your soup to have a spicy heat, add Paprika, or red chile flakes--just remember this is LARGE pot of soup. Unless you plan to eat it all yourself, don't over spice it! 
  • Add in the pasta, stir well, bring back to a boil, turn down to a simmer with the lid on, and let your soup resume cooking for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom. 
  • During this time you ingredients will make an amazing change in the pot. The broth will thicken and come into its own with a lovely taste. Just before serving one may add more basil if needed, also add grated Parmesan if you are using and stir it through the broth. 
Italian Bread Pudding (Sformato di Mele) Serves 6-8 
from Lidia Bastianich Cooks Italian recipe book
One Tablespoon of softened butter
One cup plus 2 Tablespoons of demerrara or raw cane sugar (the unbleached coarse stuff!)
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
6 large eggs
1 cup (240 ml) of heavy cream (substitute Marscarpone for something totally luscious)
1 cup (240 ml) of evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of good, pure vanilla extract 
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (the zest from one lemon)
3 cups (700 ml) of day old, good quality white bread with the crusts removed. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes and set aside in a bowl
1.5 pounds (670 gr) of firm apples (Braeburn, Golden Delicious or a Cox's. Do not use Bramleys or Granny Smith) peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch chunks. Set aside in a bowl. Sprinkle with a bit of lemon juice to keep them from going brown.
6 Tablespoons of really good Apricot Preserves. I use St. Dalfours which is French and has no extra sugar--just that which is naturally in the fruit. 

  • Use a 2 quart or 7 x 11 inch rectangular baking dish
  • Arrange the oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 F (gas mark 4)
  • Fill your large tea kettle with water and bring it to a boil. Set it aside. You will be using it to create a Bain Marie--a water bath in which to cook the bread pudding.
  • Coat the bottom and sides of the baking dish with softened butter.
  • Sprinkle 3 Tablespoons of sugar in the baking dish. Tilt and shake the pan so the bottom and sides are coated evenly in sugar. Set aside. 
  • Stir together 1/4th cup (50 gr) of sugar and 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon. Place in a small cup or bowl and set aside. 
  • In a large bowl, whisk all 6 eggs until thoroughly blended. Gradually pour in cream or Marscarpone, and evaporated milk. Whisk thoroughly to mix and add 3/4th cup (150 gr)  of sugar. Whisk briskly until sugar is dissolved. 
  • Whisk in salt, vanilla extract and lemon zest.
  • Fold the dried bread cubes into the custard using a rubber spatula. Gently mix it all well and let the bread soak up the custard for about five minutes.
  • Fold in the apple chunks with the rubber spatula and mix well until everything is well coated in custard batter. 
  • Spoon into the prepared baking dish and smooth the top.
  • Drop apricot preserves across the top by the teaspoonfuls and tuck them down into the custard, bread and apples. don't leave the preserves sitting on top. 
  • Sprinkle the top with the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Be sure to cover the entire top including the corners. 
  • Using a large roasting pan, set the baking dish filled with pudding inside. 
  • Open the oven door, pull out the middle rack and place the roasting pan on the oven rack. 
  • Use the boiling hot water in the tea kettle to fill the roasting pan with water only half way up the sides of the baking dish with the pudding inside. Be careful not to splash water in the pudding. 
  • Push the oven rack in and close the oven door. 
  • Set the timer for 30 minutes. When it goes off, open the oven door, carefully remove the roasting pan with the water and pudding, turn the roasting pan around so the other side of the pudding is now facing the back of the oven and return the roasting pan and steaming pudding back to the oven on the middle rack. Set the timer for another 30 minutes. 
  • When the timer goes off again, remove everything form the oven, stick a butter knife in the middle of the pudding. If it comes out clean nd the top if browned and crispy, the pudding is done. If there is a schmeer of custard on your knife then return the pud to the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. 
  • When the timer goes off again, shut off the oven and leave the pud inside to gently cool down in the water bath. 
  • Serve when still warm.


Unknown said...

I am sure some of us shall ensure none of these recipes go to waste (sic).

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Bryce!
I've no doubt many will enjoy these recipes in the months to come. Let me know if you try something and what you think of it okay?
Love JaqXX

Unknown said...

Oh thank you. I can vouch that it was delicious indeed! I so enjoyed my visit to see you and Les, shame some idiot driver delayed my arrival. Now I have the recipe I am going to try it out on Dad. See you soon. Big Kisses. xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

It is always a treat to spend time with you Carol. Thank you for the wine, flowers and goodies! We love catching up with you and it is always an honor to feed the people we love and care about. Please do let me know how your soup comes out and whether or not your Dad likes it.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs