My wife Michele is the consummate family menu keeper, meal planner and, smart shopper of groceries. When she last wrote this down on a weekly dinner list, and she knew I was planning on making it, she simply wrote down, “Pasta Fa”…
It’s a great Italian soup! It’s made with pasta and beans. This one has Italian Sausage in it, too! Whenever I make it, I always have the tendency to put too much macaroni in it. You can easily turn this from a soup into a juicy goulash in a heartbeat. The pasta (ditalini is preferred, short tubes, like the ends of the elbow macaronis) can puff up and take over your soup completely. Start with a cup and see how it does for your needs. You can always add a little more water because the broth stands on its own and the soup simmers well.
Pasta e Fagioli
1 lb. sweet/mild bulk Italian Sausage (if all you can find is in casings, that’s OK, too. You can always cut them out of the casings, or fry them up, slice into bite size pieces and add to the soup that way) fired crispy and golden, crumbled and drained
1 large sweet onion, chopped fine
1 TBSP butter
1 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSPS minced garlic
½ cup of granulated sugar
1 level TBSP of Italian seasoning mix (or 2 level TSPS oregano and 2 level TSPS thyme)
½ TSP salt
1 TSP fresh ground black pepper
1 large can (28 ozs.) diced tomatoes
2 cans (15 ½ oz.) cannellini beans (or white canned navy beans), un-drained
1 large box (32 oz. total) low sodium chicken stock
1 cup uncooked ditalini pasta
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, to taste, for sprinkling on top of the soup before serving
(Flexibility options include: some crushed red pepper flakes (about ½ TSP) or some red-hot sauce (about 1 TBSP) stirred in, the spicier version of Italian sausage or no sausage at all, vegetable stock instead of chicken stock (You could maybe even get away with water if you put a bullion cube or two into it), carrots or peas would work as additions as long as you recognize their cook-times, chopped celery and/or diced green pepper added with the onion and cooked down…as mentioned above, it simmers well with a nice rich broth, but if you see it getting too stout, you can always add some water. I use the empty tomato can and go with about ½ can of water at a time and usually don’t put in more than two half-cans.)
In the bottom of a medium stock pot over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in the butter and olive oil for about 10 minutes. Onions should be transparent and just starting to caramelize. Be careful not to burn your garlic. Add the sugar and other dry spices and stir to distribute evenly. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the pasta and grated cheese. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for about an hour, stirring regularly. You will want it to slowly and mildly bubble. If it starts to boil then reduce the heat until you get a nice simmer. About 20 minutes before serving add the pasta and cook until tender. As mentioned above, you can adjust thickness and flavor of the broth as needed by adding water, if necessary. Serve hot with grated cheese sprinkled on top, Enjoy!
I had the wonderful opportunity to help my Dad with a collection of endearing stories that we put together in a short manuscript titled “When I was Kid”, a memoir, if you will. Siblings had been bracing him for a while to produce it, for many reasons. Last year, around June or July, he decided he was going to finally do it, get it done, and distribute it to my brother and sisters for Christmas.
I have previously mentioned that Dad was not well. He had diabetes, insulin dependent and prostate cancer, diagnosed as terminal in May of 2008. I was fortunate enough to be around to help them, as needed. (I would submit to you that your life can take a new slant when you have had a discussion with your father’s oncologist about issues of “co-morbidity”.) Dad had a fairly advanced neuropathy condition and couldn’t write very legibly at all; a circumstance that he personally struggled with regularly. He and Mom had a small microcassette recorder and I had a small digital recorder, so, despite some operational technical difficulties we managed to get into a rhythm of sorts in producing this story of his childhood. We would swap recorders or tapes and I would bring them home and transcribe what he had dictated. In short, this process was something that is hard to describe. We laughed, we cried, it was frustrating at times and heartwarming in other times. Ultimately the piece was produced, bound and sent out in time enough to get under everyone’s Christmas trees.
Long story short (I promise, I am getting to the recipe…), in one of the sections of this piece Dad spoke fondly of family meals, particularly during the holidays when everyone got together. In an excerpt from the section about some of his relatives, he says:
“My Aunt Abby and Uncle Fred got along very well with my parents. This group of relatives would always have holiday dinners with each other, taking turns as to whose house was hosting. Whose turn is it; it’s your turn, and so forth. No one ever ate alone on the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year; they all took turns celebrating. It was great, I’ll tell you…we had great times. After the meals they would break out the cards and they played for hours.”
There may be numerous times that I will refer to this document to describe what I consider to be the foundation for how I was raised and the importance of how our family got together on holidays and for parties. There is strong tie to this and the foods associated with these gatherings and celebrations. Numerous “favorite” dishes, shared and consumed with friends and loved ones…comfort foods? You bet!
Please find below one of my all-time favorites. When we were growing up, we could request (within reason) whatever we wanted for our birthday dinners and I remember that this dish was ordered by me frequently. It was originally provided to my Mom from Dad’s Mom and has been in the family for years…
Hungarian Goulash (Margaret Emma Swartfegger)
Dredge (lightly coat in flour) and brown in 4 tbsp. fat (Vegetable Oil, or Olive Oil will do):
2 lbs. beef cubes
Add and brown:
1 cup sliced onions
1 clove finely minced garlic
¾ cup catsup
2 ¼ tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. (cider) vinegar
1 tbsp. brown sugar
½ tsp. paprika
1 tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. salt
Dash of red pepper
3 cups of water
Thicken with 2 tbsp. of flour mixed with a ¼ cup of water
Cook and simmer for 2 ½ hours
Serve over noodles (wide, or extra wide egg noodles are the preference)
One an occasion that I can’t recall, back in the early 90’s, I had the opportunity to serve my sister Peg this broccoli sauce I had been playing with. She fell in love with it and not long afterward had approached me for the recipe because her church (in Derry, NH) was putting together a cookbook. Through the next set of circumstances, Yankee Magazine is publishing a cookbook based on community cookbooks submitted to them for review. In 1994, Peg calls me and says, “Your recipe is going to be in the “Hometown Cooking In New England” cookbook that is being published by Yankee Magazine…”
Even at this point I’m a little skeptical. Who would want to publish that recipe? However, soon after that, the next time I see Peg, she presents me with the cookbook and, sure, enough, there’s my recipe in print…
Broccoli & Wine Sauce
(Excerpted from “Hometown Cooking in New England” (Yankee Magazine/Yankee Publishing, 1994)
Finding new ways to serve broccoli can become a challenge, so having a repertoire of sauce recipes comes in handy. This one is versatile enough to use with other vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots and green beans. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, so keep that in mind as you prepare the vegetables and other foods on the menu. When the sauce begins to thicken, keep an eye on it and stir more often to prevent scorching.
1 bunch broccoli
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup orange juice
Grated rind of 1 orange
1/2 cup dry white wine
Cut the broccoli into serving size portions and steam until crisp-tender. Meanwhile, sauté the garlic in the butter or margarine and oil in a skillet, but do not brown. Add the orange juice, orange rind and wine and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to a syrup, stirring frequently. Pour over the fresh steamed broccoli, toss and serve immediately.
I made this for a birthday dinner a couple of years ago and remembered to write it down. My dad was still with us at the time and he was not always a big fan of seafood, but he liked this one. It was a good day. We dined at a local “deli” type restaurant for lunch and had smoked whitefish salad and Portobello-melt sandwiches, and this place had a great pickle bar; just like a salad bar but it’s all pickles that they make on-site.
There are a lot of ingredients for this recipe but it’s worth it and it’s real adjustable. You could easily cut it in half, or just as easily double it if you had a big crew to feed.
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 tablespoons of butter
4-6 flat fillets of anchovies, drained, chopped and mashed with a spoon to make a paste
10-12 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped fine
1 large white onion, diced
4-6 celery ribs, chopped (I like to use the whole heart section)
2-3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary (remove before adding the seafood)
¼ to ½ cup white sugar
2 cups white wine
2-14 oz. cans chicken stock (I like low sodium)
2-28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes (pieces or chunks (diced) for one of the cans is OK)
Fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste
1 Bay leaf
A loaf of fresh crusty bread for sopping up broth
For the fish, it’s very option based, dependent upon what you like and what’s available. Your selection should include some kind of clams or mussels, well cleaned, and they make a really nice presentation and taste great. Keep in mind that some seafood cooks really quickly and some take some time, so deposit in your broth appropriately. For this batch we used:
1 pound cooked medium shrimp (tails pulled if you prefer)
½ pound sea scallops
2 dozen little-neck clams, scrubbed and rinsed
4 haddock fillets (about 4 pounds) cut into chunks
In a large stock pot over medium heat, combine the oil and butter. Sauté the onion, garlic and celery until softened. (Onion first, then garlic…helps for not burning the garlic) Add the anchovies and incorporate. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the seafood. Bring the broth to a nice simmer but don’t boil. Let it steep for 20-30 minutes. Taste for seasoning adjustment. Remove the bay leaf and the rosemary sprigs.
Clams went in first and after they had opened I put in the shrimp for just about 3 minutes and then carefully placed the scallops and fish pieces in the broth being careful to not stir too aggressively, if at all. The scallops and fish will be cooked to tender done-ness in a very short time, just a couple of minutes, so have bowls ready for ladling before you put in the fast cooking seafood. I like to pile up some clams and other seafood in the middle of the bowl with broth ladled over the top. You can pop a sprig of parsley on top if you’d like and make sure to serve that good crusty bread with each bowl. Enjoy!
|Instead of:||This would work instead:|
|Anchovies||A small jar of clam juice (a little more subtle)|
|10-12 cloves garlic||Some garlic to taste (your preference)|
|2-3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley||Dried parsley would be fine (1/2 as much)|
|Fresh rosemary||A teaspoon or two of dried Italian spice mix|
|White wine||Red wine (a little deeper flavor)|
|Chicken stock||Vegetable or fish stock|
|Haddock||Cod, sea bass, tilapia, whatever’s available|
|Pre-cooked shrimp||Uncooked shrimp (cooks fairly quickly)|
|Sea scallops||Bay Scallops (smaller, sweeter, faster cooking)|
|1 or 2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes|