Saturday, March 6, 2010

Recipe of the Week

I like this picture and needed something to start my post today, so I chose the logo for the Hanshin Tigers, a Japanese baseball team. It is close to Spring and baseball season, so there's a connection, but that's all. This post has nothing to do with Japanese baseball, (also called Yakyu), tigers or anything else besides food

I’ve tried this before, a food blog of sorts. I’m going to try it again and instead of labeling its success on how many hits or comments the site gets, I’ll just keep posting and take the idea that I’m writing to preserve a part of our life on “paper” for others, maybe the Grandkids, to have for the future. I’ll post it here on my Round Circle blog to start. I’ll branch off to its own place if the need arises.

The idea here is to post recipes, but not in the usual list of ingredients and instructions, but rather in a story form. I’ll tell about where and how I learned of the recipe, how I doctored it, if I did, and use a narrative style. In this style, it’s more like we’re sitting and talking about what has been made. Recipes are okay, but I like a story with them about the whys and wherefores. Actually, I’d love to have a few friends over and we talk and visit while we cook or bake.

So, here goes. The weather was starting to get cooler right when October started. September had been quite nice and still summery. We were still eating corn on the cob and watermelon in September. When the cold winds started to blow and the rains started in early October, conversation started about how we eat different things and cook differently when the weather changes.

Grand daughter Anna was involved in the conversation and she chimed in that she really liked the soup I made with all the vegetables in it. I wondered if she meant Minestrone soup or the basic Vegetable beef I have made from time to time. She told me she had a hankerin’ for the Minestrone. I decided to make a batch one day and went to the grocery for ingredients.

I took inventory of what I had in the fridge. Carrots, okay. Celery, okay. Onion, okay. I had chicken and beef soup base as well and all the spices I use were on hand. Oregano, basil, garlic, onion, parsley and black pepper. (the salt comes in when I add the chicken and beef soup base, so I don’t use a salt shaker at all). I had corn from this years harvest in the freezer. I decided to use that, but needed several other veggies to make this soup.

I made a mental list and headed out. I use parsnips and turnips in my soup, but I don’t want to buy a whole bag as I just use one or two small portions of each. A small rutabaga, some green beans, yellow and green zucchini, (a couple of small ones each), canned whole peeled tomatoes, (or fresh if I feel like the added work), and portobello mushrooms.

I’d also need a beef shank or two, a can of white cannelloni beans and some small pasta called ancini de pepe. This type of pasta is very small and shaped like a bead. It actually looks like a peppercorn, except for the color, and hence the name. We used to call this pasta pastina at home when I was a kid. Pastina means tiny dough. So, you get the idea. Very small round pasta goes into this soup.

I peel the carrots, parsnips, turnips and rutabaga and slice them into small pieces. I slice the zucchini after splitting them lengthwise. They come out looking like half circles. I chop the onion and celery. The corn and green beans are added as is except I do cut the green beans to about a one inch length. I use canned tomatoes. I get one large can of the whole peeled tomatoes. If I use fresh tomatoes, I use Roma variety and blanch them in hot water, then cold, remove the skins, then chop them up and add them to the soup. Today I used a large can called a 303 can. This is usually right around a 28 ounce can.

The mushrooms I slice, and I add them later as they disintegrate in the hot broth. Same with the can of white cannelloni beans. Sometimes these are called italian white kidney beans.

With a little olive oil in the bottom of a large cookpot, I put the beef shanks in and let them braise. I turn them over and do both sides. Maybe 5-7 minutes on each side. I add the onion and let that cook a little along with the beef shanks, then I add the tomatoes and about a gallon or so of water. I add the rest of the chopped veggies except for the beans and the mushrooms as explained earlier.

The spices I generally use for Italian cooking

If I need more water to cover everything, then I add some. I let it come to a hard rolling boil, then I reduce the heat and simmer. I add the mushrooms and cannelloni beans about an hour before I think I’ll take the pot off the stove.

I add the spices and the chicken and beef broth. In the picture above, I show the spices I generally use when making an Italian dish. How much of what spice is always hard to figure out. I never measure. I put in probably about a big Tablespoon of parsley, oregano leaves and basil leaves. I’m sure I use a Tablespoon or two of onion and garlic. Black pepper? About 1 Tablespoon. The soup bases? Read the instruction on the jar and add the right amount for the amount of water you have in the pot. Adding these high quality soup bases adds saltiness and flavor to the concoction. I’m sure you can use either beef or chicken. I use both because I was taught that way.

I cook the pasta separately, about 1/4 to 1/3 of a one pound package, and add that, already cooked, to the broth. I add the pasta when I take the pot off the stove. I also pull the beef shanks out with a long pair of tongs, and cut them up. Zeke the dog gets the bones. The small pieces of meat are stirred back into the soup.

I did write out the ingredients and some basic instructions in case you want to make Minestrone Soup. You can add other things to the pot. I sometimes add some cut up red potatoes, sweet peas and green bell pepper.

A large pot of Minestrone soup simmering on the stove

Minestrone Soup

1-2 beef shanks, seared in olive oil
1 Can Whole Tomatoes, smashed in your fingers, with juice
Fresh Corn cut from the cob
Fresh Turnips, cubed
Fresh Rutabaga, cubed
Fresh Parsnips, cubed
Fresh Green Beans, destemed, cut up
Fresh Onion, chopped
Fresh Carrots, chopped
Fresh Celery, chopped
1 Can Cannelloni Beans
Small Green and Yellow Zucchini, sliced thin
Fresh Mushrooms, sliced

1/4 to 1/3 Pound of Ancini De Pepe Pasta, (or any small pasta), cooked separately


Black Pepper
Chicken soup base
Beef soup base

Enough water to cover everything!

Bring to a rolling boil, simmer for at least a couple of hours.
Serve with a fresh hard crusted bread with butter or dipping oil

One of the things that I do that makes this real Italian is the addition of small meatballs to the soup. It is a separate act to make and boil the meatballs and adds some prep time and labor to this dish. Well worth it in my opinion. I use 24-30 small hand shaped home-made meatballs. Here’s how:

Little Meatballs

1 Pound of lean ground beef
1 Cup bread crumbs
2 eggs
A couple of Tablespoons of grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
The same spices as used above, just a little of each, maybe a teaspoonful or less of each.

Mix together with your hands. Shape into small meatballs, about 1 inch in diameter. Place all at once into a pan of boiling water and boil for about 5 minutes. Remove from water, drain, add to the pot of soup. You can also broil the meatballs before adding to the soup. It doesn’t take long as the smaller portions broil up quickly.

There you have it. Minestrone Soup. Hearty, with meatballs and pasta, seasoned Italian style. The broth is rich and tasty. The vegetables will reduce in size and as the leftovers sit in the refrigerator, they will blend and become intermingled. Some will be indistinguishable from the others, but the taste will be there. It freezes well. Just thaw in the fridge, then heat in a sauce pan to serve again.

Questions? Call or e-mail. If you try it, I’d love to hear your story. What did you do different? Did you have any problems? Was it good? Did the people you served it to like it? Did they rave about it? Do you have your own recipe for Minestrone? And don’t forget the pictures.



Mel said...

Oh sounds soooooooo good.

k.....disallowed for me but well worth passing on and drooling over. I'm sure the girl will appreciate it!

Fran said...

Sounds good.... wish I had the time to cook. Sometimes on weekends I do.

Christopher said...

When are you opening your restaurant, chez Spado? We'll be along. Could we have the table for 2 in the corner, with the view over the Japanese orchid garden and no piped music?

When my grand-daughter is old enough to make similar requests, I'm afraid she'll be sadly disappointed and will say to her school pals 'All my French Grandad can do is wiggle his ears', which will hardly enrich posterity in the way that you're planning to.

(We're not French, of course, we just live here.)

Spadoman said...

Thank you, friends, for stopping by here. I appreciate your visits.

Mel... Sorry, I forget you have that gluten thing. (That's what I call it, because I don't know what it's really called)
Don't use bread crumbs in the meatballs and no pasta, does that help? It can be made vegetarian. Thanks for stopping by. Peace.

Fran... So good to see you here. That's all I seem to have time for these days, cooking. Haven't eaten out in ages, mostly because of money. We also graze many a night on sandwiches or scrambled eggs. Sign of the times? Thanks again. Peace to you.

Christopher.... That's what they all say about living in France, that they aren't really French! Chez Spado is retired these days. I cook for pleasure. I did have some nice gigs when I was working. A number of chef/cook opportunities. Cooking can be fun. I especially like resurrecting the old Italian favorites I grew up with. Good to see you here. I'm sure you came to get some good food after the crow you've been eating, (undeservedly I might add). Peace to you.

mig bardsley said...

That sounds wonderful. The added meatballs - genius!

Unknown said...

Sounds heavenly, Joe! I can almost smell it but too bad it isn't real!!!

I have a really simple salad recipe that I had a brainstrom to make when the girls were really little, based on something my mother only very rarely made. I called it Portuguese tuna salad. All it is chick peas, canned tuna, minced onion, fresh parsley and dressed with olive oil and vinegar - served on a bed of lettuce and with tomato slices and crusty bread. When I served it for my Portuguese mother, she said "It's supposed to be black-eyes peas!" and we both laughed. When she tasted it, it was a major triumph for me because she thought the chick peas were better in the salad than the black-eyes one! This is major, as my mother never deviates from the way she does things and doesn't always appreciate it when others veer off on her recipes! In the kitchen - it's her way or the highway! :-D

So was born a new version of a family recipe WITH my mother's consent!

Thanks for this, it was lots of fun!

Spadoman said...

Mig.. Thanks for coming by the Round Circle. Glad you like the recipe. The little meatballs are delicious.

Ms. Sphinx... Great to hear of the recipe that was Mom approved. I like chick peas over black beans anyway, so it sounded good to me.
We ate an Italian feast this evening and served my Mom's specialty. She taught me how to make the rich Italian pasta gravy, (red sauce). We honored her passing by dedicating this meal to her, thanking her for the years of wonderful meals she served to us over the years, and for teaching us the recipes.

Peace to all

Sorrow said...

My favorite cookbook was one I picked up at a second hand shop, it's recipes with the stories of their origins. A many of them have a humorous beginning.
One never knows what treasures you may be leaving for your grandkids...

Mel said...

Okay,'s too good not to try without meats and without pasta.

(of course ya know I'm grumbling about missing out on the pasta--the meatballs, I could fake it with gluten free breadcrumbs, BUT it just ain't the same as having pasta....omg I miss pasta!!!!)

<-- now going to print!

katherine. said...

well that sounds yum.

My stepdad is Italian...and likes Minestrone. I may have to get this a try.