“French” Fennel Soup with Kale and White Beans

It’s been cold in Dallas… soup weather.  I started a new job in January and it’s not always easy to come home and cook dinner, especially after working 12 hours.  Having a pot of soup in the refrigerator is such a treat!

The problem with soup is that it’s either light, leaving you still hungry, or creamy and heavy, leaving you feeling stuffed.  This soup is light but hearty, sweet but salty, creamy but not rich, it’s the perfect soup to me.

Don’t be tempted to omit the slice of bread and melted cheese on top.  The bread soaks up all of the wonderful flavors and the cheese adds elements of salt and creaminess to the soup that make it so satisfying!

The recipe…

2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp rosemary, chopped
2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
4 c. vegetable stock
1 bunch Kale, stemmed and chopped into bite size pieces
1 loaf French bread, sliced thickly, grated
1 cup Gruyere cheese (or whatever is on hand)
1 bay leaf
Salt
Black pepper

Heat olive oil in large pot and add onions.  Cook for 5 minutes, then add fennel.  Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  After 20 minutes, add garlic and cook for 2-3 minute.  It is important to add these 3 ingredients in steps, this helps to build flavors with depth.

Add oregano, rosemary, a pinch of black pepper, and bay leaf.  Stir to incorporate and then add beans and stock.  Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook for 1 hour, uncovered.  Remove the bay leaf and check seasonings. Adjust to salt to taste (I added an extra teaspoon or 2).

Before serving, stir in kale and allow to cook for 5 minutes.  Ladle into oven-proof bowls, float slices of bread on each, and cover with cheese.  Put into oven under the broiler for 3-5 minutes, until cheese bubbles and slightly browns.

Careful not to burn your mouth!

… enjoy

*On a side note, sorry about the lack of pictures! I am still adjusting to cooking for a blog!

Fresh Pasta with a Simple Tomato Sauce

I have a distinct memory of eating spaghetti at a small trattoria in Venice, Italy. Running through the corridors of Venice to escape a rainstorm, I ducked under a red and white awning and through the doors of a quaint restaurant with only a few tables, a chalkboard menu, and tiny, flickering candles set on each table.  I wish I could remember the name… I would fly back to Venice for this one meal.  The pasta was rich and smooth, perfectly cooked.  The part that keeps drawing me back, though, was the tomato sauce.  It was simple, clean, pure, heavenly… I loved it! The chef was able to create a deep and complex flavor that spoke to me, it drew me back bite after bite.  One day I will find that restaurant again…

Scott (my husband, of 2 1/2 months!) could eat pasta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I’ve never really met anyone like him… let’s just say, in college, he won the “Never Ending Pasta Bowl Challenge” by eating 5 3/4 bowls of pasta, second place could only eat 4… I don’t think I could even eat 1 bowl. Needless to say, one Saturday night we decided to make our own pasta.  In culinary school, we had a whole class on pasta making, but I hadn’t made it since then, so I wasn’t confident in our skills.

We used the “well” method by putting flour on a board and creating a center well. Crack the eggs into  the well and slowly begin mixing with a fork.  If you want a richer pasta, add an extra egg yolk or 2.  Our dough seemed a little bit dry, so we added a few splashes of water.  Each time you make pasta, things will be slightly different depending on how big or how fresh the eggs are, the moisture in the air, the flour… so many variables! Once the dough is fully mixed, knead it a few times, wrap it in a piece of floured parchment paper and allow it to rest for 20-30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Before you begin rolling, prepare a sheet tray with at least 3 layers of floured parchment paper. It also helps to flour your working surface and hands.  We have an Imperia pasta roller and it works wonderfully! The pasta attachment of your kitchen aid mixer also works great for rolling dough. Whichever method you choose, have the roller set on the widest setting, cut a tennis ball size piece of dough and begin feeding it through the roller.  After your first pass, fold the strip in to thirds and pass again on the same setting.  I would do this 3-4 times before you lower the setting.  The action of passing and folding helps to create a more smooth, luscious texture! Continue rolling and reducing until you’ve reached the desired thickness (once you’ve passed setting #1, you do not have to use the folding technique). Dust the pasta with semolina flour and lay on the parchment paper.  After you’ve rolled all of your pasta, you can use these sheets for lasagna, or you can cut the sheets into what ever shape you desire.  Just remember to let the pasta dry a bit before cutting so that the pasta won’t stick to the knife.  We let ours dry for about 5-10 minutes.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water for  3 minutes.  Drain the water and immediately mix with your sauce.  The starches of the fresh pasta will create a wonderful stick so that the sauce coats each strand! It’s delicious!

We used a simple tomato sauce (my go-to tomato sauce for pasta, pizza, anything!), lightly sauteed shrimp, and topped it with a chiffonade of basil and parmesan cheese.  Amazing. After dinner, we stood at the stove, unable to stop eating the sweet tomatoey strands of pasta…

The Recipes…

Homemade Pasta
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina flour
2 eggs
3 Tablespoons water
extra flour for dusting

See method above

The Best Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Giade de Laurentiis
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeling and finely chopped
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 (32-oz) cans crushed tomatoes
1 (28-oz0 can whole tomatoes
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 dried bay leaves

Preheat oven to 450F.  Drain whole tomatoes, reserving tomato juice, gently deseed each tomato and place on foil-covered sheet tray.  Spread brown sugar evenly across tomatoes and roast for 20-30 minutes.
While tomatoes are roasting, heat olive oil in large pot and gently saute onions and garlic (5-10 minutes).
Add carrots, celery, salt, and pepper and saute until all vegetables are soft. Add tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, and bay leaves and simmer for 1 -2 hours (until sauce thickens).
Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

This sauce can be frozen and used for any recipe requiring tomato or marinara sauce.

…enjoy

Strawberry Whoopie Pies, Champagne & Meyer Lemon Buttercream

My sister just turned 28.  She’s 6 months pregnant and moving. I thought she might need a treat for her birthday! Growing up, my mom always made double-layered strawberry cake with strawberry icing for my sister’s birthday.  It was a beautiful pinkish red color, with flecks of fresh strawberry throughout the icing.  A perfect cake for a February birthday.  My favorite thing to do was to stick my small finger, inconspicuously of course, into the icing and sneak a small bite of the sweet and luscious icing.

It’s not easy to mail my mom’s strawberry cake.  In fact, it might be impossible.  And so I began perusing many of the recipes I have cut out from a multitude magazines and books, looking for a satisfying alternative.  I eventually decided on whoopie pies, incorporating the familiar flavors of the strawberry cake.

For the pies, I tried 2 types of pans – a regular sheet tray and a muffin pan.  Both products turned out well, but I liked the uniformity of the muffin pan pies best.  Those baked on the sheet tray were a slightly irregular around the edges and did not rise evenly.  But if you like a more rustic, homemade look, go for it!

The recipes…

Strawberry Whoopie Pies
1 cup fresh strawberries, rinsed and stemmed
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 400F
Begin by measuring flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; sift together and set aside
In a food processor, pulse strawberries  5-7 times (it’s important that berries have texture and do not reach a pureed consistency,)
Measure and combine sugar, honey, vanilla and almond extracts, oil, yogurt, and strawberries.
Add eggs 1 at a time and mix until smooth
Stir in flour, and mix until just combined.  Batter may still be lumpy, but that’s okay
Chill for 30 – 60 minutes
Butter pan and drop scoops of batter onto pan.  If using a sheet tray, leave about 1″ in between each scoop.  (I used a little bit less batter when scooping into the muffin pan)
Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden brown on top.

Champagne and Meyer Lemon Buttercream
1 cup butter, room temperature
3 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 Tbsp champagne
4 Tbsp meyer lemon juice
2 tsp meyer lemon zest
Pinch of salt

Beat butter until soft.  Add sugar and whip until light and fluffy.  Add in champagne, lemon juice, and lemon zest and beat until combined. Chill until ready to use.

To assemble whoopie pies, pipe a generous amount of buttercream onto 1 side of a pie and then top with other side! I added a slice of fresh strawberry in the middle of each pie before topping to give it an extra taste of fresh strawberry!

… enjoy!