The best pesto, and sore arms

June 17, 2018 at 9:13 pm (Cooking tips, Italian, Sauce/dressing, Summer recipes, unrated, Website / blog)

I got a ton of fresh basil from my CSA this week, so I decided to make pesto. I followed this “best pesto” recipe from Serious Eats. Wow was it hard work! I like that it gives the amount of basil leaves by weight, but the recipe did not prepare me for how much work it would be. It took a huge amount of effort to grind all those basil leaves down by hand. Maybe it was because I was using a big thai mortar and pestle instead of the little white (marble?) one they show in the video? By the end I could barely grip the mortar any more. And I never did get my basil leaves as fine as they show in their photos. The pesto did taste really good though (even though I didn’t have any Fiore Sardo, and used all parmesan, and left out the final 2 tablespoons of olive oil).

Alma tasted the pesto but wouldn’t eat it. I froze the bulk of it in two small glass jars.

I have more basil. I might try making the same recipe in the food processor, and see how different it tastes to me. Maybe I’ll even freeze my basil overnight first.

I’m out of pine nuts though. Maybe I’ll try making the next batch of pesto with sunflower seeds instead? Or maybe I’ll just freeze my basil (in oil?) and save it in the freezer for some other recipe.


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Saffron cauliflower with raisins and olives

July 2, 2016 at 3:09 pm (B_, Cruciferous rich, Fall recipes, Italian, Ottolenghi, Quick weeknight recipe, Spring recipes, Winter recipes) ()

This is a standard Sicilian combination that I’ve seen in many cookbooks. Sometimes the recipe also includes pine nuts, anchovies, garlic, basil, tomatoes, pasta, and/or parmesan. I’ve tried many different variants, but I’m never that excited by the dish. It’s flavorful, but somehow just not my preferred flavors. But a student of mine from Iran gave me a ton of saffron as a gift and I was trying to figure out what to do with it. I came across this Ottolenghi recipe in Plenty, and was surprised to see that—unlike other recipes which usually call for only a pinch or 1/8 tsp. of saffron— his version calls for 1.5 teaspoons (!?!) of saffron. I decided to give it a try. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pumpkin risotto with sage and arugula

December 31, 2014 at 4:30 pm (Derek's faves, Fall recipes, Grains, Italian, Meyer & Romano, Necessarily nonvegan, Starches, unrated, Winter recipes)

I’m doing an end-of-the-year pantry cleaning, and wanted to use up some risotto rice. Derek and I looked at a couple of different recipes and finally decided on this pumpkin risotto recipe from the Union Square Cookbook. The recipe first has you make a pumpkin broth using standard vegetable broth ingredients (onion, leek, celery, carrots, etc.) as well as 2 cups canned pumpkin puree, maple syrup, and sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Once the broth is made, you make the risotto, adding diced winter squash along with the rice, and then tossing in fresh sage, arugula, and mozzarella right before serving. Read the rest of this entry »

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Saucy Italian baked eggs

May 27, 2014 at 6:38 pm (breakfast, Italian, Monthly menu plan, Necessarily nonvegan, One pot wonders, Ottolenghi, Quick weeknight recipe, Spring recipes, Summer recipes, unrated, Website / blog, Winter recipes)

I came across this recipe for saucy Italian baked eggs on a random blog, and immediately started drooling. I’ve been craving tomato sauce lately and this recipe is basically an egg baked in a big ramekin of marinara sauce with a little mozzarella and basil for garnish. It even looked easy enough that Derek could make it himself. Read the rest of this entry »

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Whole wheat penne with masses of broccoli, green olives, and pine nuts

November 9, 2013 at 12:02 am (B_minus, Cruciferous rich, Deborah Madison, Italian, Pasta, Starches, Vegetable dishes)

One of my students recently visited Russia and brought me back a beautiful box of pine nuts. We were trying to decide what to make with them when I found this recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers. I was excited because it calls for either oregano or marjoram. I really like marjoram, but have almost no recipes that use it.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Babbo chickpea bruschetta

July 25, 2013 at 11:45 am (Beans, Derek's faves, Italian, unrated)

We were trying to think of a quick appetizer that would work well with a summer squash, basil, tomato pasta salad.  I suggested a chickpea salad and Derek instead suggested making chickpea bruschetta.  He’s had the dish several times at Babbo in NYC and always liked it. He didn’t follow the recipe amounts too carefully and he used minced garlic instead of sliced and chopped kalamata olives instead of tapenade. Nonetheless, he said it tasted quite similar to the “real thing.”  The rosemary was essential, as without it the chickpeas seemed just a little one note.  I thought that a dash of cumin would be nice as well, but Derek didn’t want to risk messing up a perfectly nice recipe.  Next time!

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What I’ve been cooking: Spring 2013

May 12, 2013 at 2:17 pm (Alice Medrich, Beans, Cruciferous rich, Dark leafy greens, Indian, Italian, Quick weeknight recipe, soup, unrated, Website / blog)

I can’t believe it, but I haven’t posted a proper recipe to this blog since Spring 2013.  At this point my list of recipes to blog about has grown so long that I have despaired of ever posting them all.  So instead I decided to just do one quick smorgasbord post. Read the rest of this entry »

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Escarole and beans in tomato sauce

October 16, 2012 at 7:14 pm (B plus, Beans, Beans and greens, Dark leafy greens, Derek's faves, Fall recipes, Italian, Meyer & Romano, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Spring recipes, Winter recipes)

Derek and I used to love the escarole and beans appetizer at Girasole in Pittsburgh.  It consisted of braised escarole and white beans in a rich tomato sauce.  It was hearty, warming, and satisfying.  I hadn’t thought about it for years, until this week I saw a green that looked a lot like escarole at the farmer’s market.  I asked the farmer what it was and he called it “Endivien”–the German word for endive.  I asked him if you could cook with it and he said Germans only ever eat it raw in salads.  But it looked similar enough that I decided to try making escarole and beans with it.  There are tons of recipes online for escarole and white bean soup, and a few for escarole and bean dishes, but none seem to call for tomato sauce.  So I decided not to try to follow a recipe.  Nonetheless, my beans and greens came out quite well.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Fennel braised in vegetable broth

October 3, 2012 at 10:10 pm (B plus, Derek's faves, French, Italian, Vegetable dishes)

I was planning on making white bean, fennel, and rosemary soup this weekend, but I overcooked my white beans and so I ended up making a white bean and rosemary puree with the beans.  But what to do with the fennel?  I remember making (and loving) a braised fennel recipe from Jack Bishop’s Italian Vegetarian cookbook many years ago, but for some reason I never made it again.  I considered making the same recipe tonight, but I didn’t have any white wine open.  Instead, I roughly followed this epicurious recipe, except rather than braising my fennel in chicken broth I used vegetable broth. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ciambotta, Italian Ratatouille

July 29, 2012 at 2:06 pm (Cook's Illustrated, Italian, Summer recipes, unrated, Vegetable dishes) ()

My main failing as a vegetarian is that I’ve never been able to abide eggplant.  But recently I’ve eaten it a few times without minding it so much.  I ate a very tasty tiny roasted eggplant in Tokyo, and when Derek and I went to Copenhagen recently a friend of his invited us for dinner and served not one but two dishes with eggplant in them.  I ate both and didn’t even really mind the eggplant!  So I decided to be brave recently and added a small eggplant to a lasagne I was making.  I used Cook’s Illustrated suggested cooking method of dicing it, sprinkling it with salt, placing it on a plate with coffee filters (except I didn’t have any so used a paper towel) and microwaving it until it’s slightly shriveled and dried out.  I didn’t even notice it in the lasagne, so I decided to push the limits a bit more and try this Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Ciambotta, which they say is an Italian ratatouille-like stew.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Asparagus with gremolata, lemon, and olive oil

April 25, 2012 at 10:02 am (Italian, Spring recipes, Uncategorized, Vegetable dishes, Website / blog)

This post is about another recipe I found on the New York Times, in Martha Rose Shulman’s Recipes for Health series.  Besides being really tasty, asparagus is a nutritional power house.  And its one of the first fresh green vegetables that is available here in the spring.  (Okay, actually the asparagus here is usually white, but I don’t like it very much, and always try to find green asparagus.)  I usually roast asparagus and then drizzle it with balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese, but I had a big bunch of parsley in the fridge and decided to try something new—steamed asparagus with gremolata. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sardinian chickpea, fennel, and tomato soup

February 11, 2012 at 10:18 pm (B plus, Beans, Della Croce, Fall recipes, Italian, Root vegetables, soup, Spring recipes, Winter recipes) ()

This recipe from The Vegetarian Table: Italy (by Julia Della Croce) is for a Sardinian version of pasta e fagioli.  It didn’t look too exciting to me.   I like all the ingredients, but there didn’t seem to be anything to give it punch.  But a friend told me it was one of his favorite recipes from the cookbook, so I figured I’d give it a try.  It turned out it was delicious—much more than the sum of its parts.  I have no idea why.  Even Derek, who complained bitterly about me making soup again, liked it a lot. Read the rest of this entry »

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Simple Italian lentil soup

February 6, 2012 at 2:39 pm (Beans, B_, Della Croce, Fall recipes, Italian, Julia, soup, Winter recipes)

I have a lot of recipes for lentil soup on my blog already.  I have three recipes that call for brown lentils (my mom’s recipe, a simple version with only five ingredients, and a version with quinoa), plus three recipes for red lentil soup (Turkish, curried, and one with lemon and spinach).  So I have no idea why I decided to try another pretty basic looking lentil soup recipe.  This one comes from Julia Della Croce’s cookbook The Vegetarian Table: Italy. Read the rest of this entry »

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Socca (chickpea flour flatbread)

December 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm (breakfast, Fall recipes, Italian, Spring recipes, unrated, Website / blog, Winter recipes)

I bought a big bag of chickpea flour (called besan in India) over a year ago, used it once in a recipe, and then didn’t touch it again.  I decided it’s been sitting long enough, so I went searching for recipes that called for chickpea flour.  The obvious first recipe to try was socca, a simple flatbread made from chickpea flour, olive oil, and liberal amounts of salt and pepper.  I actually had a version of socca a few years ago at a bakery in Florence, but there they call it Torta di Ceci. (In other parts of Italy they often call it Farinata).  Whatever the name, despite the rave reviews online, the version I got at the bakery in Florence had a somewhat odd texture (more creamy than crisp) and not all that much flavor.  Maybe a homemade version would be better.  I used Mark Bittman’s recipe on the New York Times website. Read the rest of this entry »

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Whole grain pasta with salsa cruda

August 23, 2011 at 9:51 pm (B_minus, Italian, Pasta, Peter Berley, Sauce/dressing, Starches, Summer recipes)

It’s finally gotten hot in Saarbruecken, so I decided to make this uncooked pasta sauce from the Summer section of Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast.  The sauce is made of raw, chopped tomatoes, olive oil, parsley, basil, chives, balsamic vinegar, and minced garlic.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Spring vegetable pasta

May 22, 2011 at 7:50 pm (B_minus, Cook's Illustrated, Italian, Pasta, Spring recipes, Starches)

It’s unusual to find a light, vegetable-inspired recipe on the Cook’s Illustrated website, so I was intrigued when I saw their recent recipe for a spring pasta dish with leeks, asparagus, peas, mint, chive, and lemon.  The ingredient list sounded delicious, and the technique was interesting as well.  They toast the pasta in the oil and then cook it in a small amount of liquid, like risotto.  The sauce is made from just vegetable broth, a moderate amount of olive oil, and white wine, and they claim it is “light but lustrous and creamy”.  Supposedly the starch from the pasta helps it thicken up. Read the rest of this entry »

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Curried cauliflower with penne, peas, and chickpeas

December 24, 2010 at 8:21 pm (AMA, Beans, B_, Cruciferous rich, Italian, Pasta, Starches)

This AMA recipe is a strange combination of a standard Indian curried cauliflower dish with peas and chickpeas, and a standard Italian cauliflower dish with parmesan, raisins, and pinenuts.  It also has tomato sauce.  I love curried cauliflower, but I’ve never been that excited about the sweet Italian cauliflower dish. (I’ve tried several versions, including one in Bishop’s Italian Vegetarian Kitchen and this Sicilian recipe from 101 cookbooks).  But I was curious to find out how I would like the combination of the two recipes.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Chili pasta with arugula and coriander seeds

September 2, 2010 at 4:15 pm (B_, Dark leafy greens, Italian, Other, Pasta, Quick weeknight recipe, Starches)

This recipe comes from the cookbook Rancho la Puerta, by Bill Wavrin.  I was intrigued by the idea of a somewhat Italian-style pasta but with coriander seeds and chilis as the main flavoring.  I made a few modifications though.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Artisanal balsamic vinegar… not

July 24, 2010 at 7:29 pm (Cook's Illustrated, Dessert, Ice cream & toppings, Italian, Sauce/dressing, Summer recipes, unrated)

We had friends over for dinner the other night, and Derek wanted to make a summery dessert.  He decided on panna cotta. He considered making green tea or earl grey panna cotta, but in the end he decided that he shouldn’t mess around on his first attempt, and made plain vanilla panna cotta.  He thought it sounded a bit boring though, and so he decided to top the panna cotta with fresh strawberries and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  I only had cheap supermarket balsamic vinegar though, and so we decided to reduce it to make it sweeter, less harsh, and more syrupy. Read the rest of this entry »

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Farro and yellow soybean risotto with spinach

March 24, 2010 at 12:33 am (B plus, Beans, Beans and greens, Dark leafy greens, Grains, Italian, Peter Berley, Soybeans & edamame, Spring recipes, Starches)

It’s that time of year again.  As Passover approaches I try my best to do a Spring pantry cleaning, using up all the grains and beans that I purchased in the previous year but never got around to using.  I bought a large bag of dry yellow soybeans at the Asian store when I first moved to Saarbruecken, and I suspect that the two cups still in my cupboard are from that original batch.  I could have just cooked them up and eaten them with nutritional yeast and soy sauce, as I normally do, but I was in the mood for something different.  I looked around on the web, but found very few recipes, and almost nothing of interest.  The Farm Cookbook has a couple recipes for soybeans that I remember from my childhood, but the only one that I considered trying was the recipe for barbecued soybeans (kind of like baked beans).  Then I found this recipe in the Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, by Peter Berley, for a risotto with black soybeans and spring white wheat.  I subbed in my yellow soybeans for the black ones, and used farro for the wheatberries.  The recipe also calls for fresh sage, but I used what I had on hand — fresh oregano.

The recipe says to cook the soybeans and wheat berries separately from the rice.  Perhaps because my soybeans were quite old, by the time the soybeans were soft, the farro was extremely well-cooked — with the innards exploding through the husks.  I didn’t have any vegetable broth, so I used bouillon cubes.  The recipe says to use 1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage, but I put in more oregano, and then after the dish was cooked, I put in about another Tbsp of fresh oregano.  (I think almost all fresh herbs taste best added at the very end.)  The recipe calls for 4 Tbsp olive oil, but I think I used 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1-2? Tbsp butter.  Berley says to stir in 1 Tbsp olive oil at the very end, but I tasted the risotto and it tasted so good I didn’t bother to add the extra olive oil.  I think I may have also reduced the salt.

Berley says to cook the risotto in a 2-3 quart saucepan, and I used my 3-quart wide casserole pan.  When it came to adding the spinach, however, it was extremely difficult to get it incorporated into the risotto.  Even just adding small handfuls at a time, it kept popping out and getting all over the place.  If I make this again, I’ll make it in either my big dutch oven or maybe in a 5-quart pan.

I really liked the combination of the arborio rice and the exploded farro kernels.  Berley calls the combination of arborio rice with whole grains and beans “new wave risotto”.  I actually think I might prefer it to the old wave.  There weren’t a lot of soybeans, and you couldn’t really taste them per se, but they added a nice textural contrast and a little…heft.  I’m usually not a big fan of spinach, but I actually really liked the spinach in this dish.  Derek always likes spinach, and as expected he thought it was good.  The first time I served it, he said it was tasty but he was a bit concerned about the quantity of risotto remaining.  Berley says it makes 4-6 servings, but I would say six very large servings.  Derek’s anxiety, however, was unfounded.  We easily polished off all six servings.  I actually wouldn’t have minded having it one more time!

Rating: B+
Derek: B+


I liked this recipe a lot, and I still had soybeans and farro left, so I decided to try another recipe from the Modern Vegetarian Kitchen:  Spelt, black soybeans, and vegetable casserole.  The casserole calls for carrots, mushrooms, celery, canned tomatoes and cabbage.  The combination didn’t sound particularly appetizing, but I liked the risotto so I figured it was worth a shot.  I cooked my (yellow) soybeans until soft, then added the farro and cooked until it was al dente.  Meanwhile I sauteed all the veggies until they started to caramelize.  (I used all the olive oil and salt called for.) Next Berley says to add the tomatoes and some of the cooking liquid from the grain/bean pot and bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.  It seemed like a bad idea.  At this point the cabbage was nice and crisp and caramelized, but I didn’t think the cabbage would be so appetizing after simmering it for 30 minutes.  I did it anyway.  In the end, I didn’t care for the dish that much.  There wasn’t anything wrong with it exactly, but neither Derek nor I were particularly interested in eating it.  It just was blah. We had one or two servings each, then I gave away the remaining quart of casserole/stew to a hungry grad student.

Rating: C

Update December 2010:

I made this recipe again, doubling it this time.   I was out of farro so used kamut instead.  Also I forgot to chop up the spinach, and the long, stringy pieces of spinach were pretty unappetizing.  The dish was also underseasoned this time.  Without enough salt and pepper it’s not nearly as tasty.  Derek wouldn’t even eat the leftovers–I had to finish them off myself.  I’ll have to try again with farro, chopped spinach, and enough seasoning.

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Campanelle with two mushrooms and rosemary

February 9, 2010 at 3:30 pm (B_minus, Italian, Jack Bishop, Starches, Vegetable dishes)

I asked Derek what he wanted for dinner, and he very quickly replied “mushrooms”.  Perhaps his decision was influenced by the very tasty mushroom soup I made last week.  I got out the cookbooks and started looking for mushroom recipe.  I found a bulgur mushroom pilaf that I plan on trying, and a pasta dish in Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook, which I’d made once before.  Based on the note in the cookbook I hadn’t been that excited about it, but I wasn’t sure how carefully I had followed the recipe, and I decided to try it again.  Below is the recipe, with my modifications and my version of the instructions.


  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1.5 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 1 pound white button mushrooms
  • 3/4 pound campanelle, orecchiette, or small shells
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about .8 ounces)
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnish


  1. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta.
  2. Place the porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with 1 cup hot water.  Soak until softened, about 20 minutes.
  3. Chop the onion, garlic, and rosemary.  Start cooking the onion.  In a large saute pan heat the butter and oil.  Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and rosemary and cook until the garlic is golden, about 1 minute more.
  4. While the onion cooks, thinly slice the mushrooms.  When the garlic is done cooking, add the mushrooms to the saute pan.  Saute until golden brown and the liquid they give off has evaporated, about 8 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.
  5. When the water comes to a boil, add salt to taste and the pasta.  Cook until al dente and then drain.
  6. While the pasta cooks, prepare the porcinis.  Carefully lift the mushrooms from the liquid.  Wash them if they feel gritty.  Chop them.  Add the choped porcini mushrooms to the pan and cook for 1 to 2 minutes to release their flavor.  Strain the soaking liquid through a sieve into the pan, and bring to a boil.  Cover and remove from the heat.
  7. When the pasta is done, add it to the mushrooms along with the cheese and parsley.  Toss over medium-low heat just until the cheese melts and the pasta absorbs the liquid in the pan.  Serve immediately.

My notes

Based on the post it note comment I had stuck in the cookbook, I upped the garlic from 2 medium cloves to 2 large cloves, and increased the rosemary from 1 tsp. to 1.5 tsp.  The recipe recommends orecchiette, but I didn’t have any so used campanelle instead.  Also, the original recipe calls for 1 pound of pasta, but we always find that the pasta to sauce ratio in Bishop’s recipes is too high, so I reduced the pasta to 3/4 pound.

The recipe worked fine.  All the instructions seem correct and the recipe came out as (I imagine) it was intended.  But I didn’t care for it.  Even increasing the rosemary and adding more as a garnish, I couldn’t taste much rosemary flavor.  The flavor of the mushrooms didn’t excite me, and I found the dish overall a bit boring.  I had to add more cheese to get it to taste like much at all. I also tried adding a little soy sauce, but it was too strong for the delicate flavors.  My post it note from my last attempt sums it up:  “Okay, not great.  Bland at first, improved by adding more rosemary.  Recipe calls for too much pasta, use 3/4 pound.  Not creamy enough to warrant all that butter.”  I’ve tried a number of mushroom pasta dishes in the last few years, and none of them has excited me.  Maybe I just don’t like mushrooms and pasta?  Or maybe (as Derek claims) I just don’t know how to cook mushrooms!

Derek liked it more than me.  He happily went for seconds, and said I should make it again.  I froze the last serving and Derek ate it for dinner the night we got back from our overseas flight from Austin.  He said it was still good, even after it had been frozen and defrosted in the microwave.

Rating: B-

Derek: B

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Cacio e Pepe

February 5, 2010 at 8:12 pm (Cook's Illustrated, Derek's faves, Italian, Necessarily nonvegan, Pasta, Spring recipes, Starches, unrated, Winter recipes)

Derek had had a really excellent version of cacio e pepe in one of Mario Batali’s restaurants, and was very excited about trying it.  Mario Batali’s version has quite a bit of olive oil and some butter, but the Cook’s Illustrated recipe looked unusually light for a cream pasta.  They cook the pasta in very little water so that the water ends up very starchy, and can be used to help make the sauce more cohesive.  We decided to give it a try. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tri-color winter salad with kumquats

January 1, 2010 at 11:06 pm (B_, Italian, Jack Bishop, Salads, Winter recipes)

Before I met Derek, he used to eat frequently at Cafe Sam, in Pittsburgh.  One of his favorite dishes was a radicchio, arugula, and endive salad served with feta cheese and hard boiled eggs.  I was planning to try to replicate this salad, and bought all the ingredients to do so, but as I was checking out at the Turkish grocery store near my house, one of the “seasonal fruits” on display at the checkout stand caught my eye.

A few years ago I went to the Vegetarian Summerfest with my friend Annette, and we had a blast. One of my most distinctive memories from the summerfest is of Dr. Michael Greger asking us “What’s by far the healthiest citrus fruit?”. But no one in a room full of nutrition buffs could answer the question.  His answer, it turns out, was the kumquat.  He argued that it’s the healthiest because you eat the whole thing, rather than discarding the pith and peel like with other citrus fruits.  According to Greger, the bitter flavors in the pith and peel come from a multitude of uber-healthy substances.  Greger exhorted us to never eat another lemon, lime, or orange without first zesting the fruit, and adding the zest to our food.  I can’t recall what he said to do with the zest, but I imagine it could be good in yogurt, smoothies, rice dishes, breakfast cereal–even in tea or ice water!  I was pretty good about zesting all my citrus for a while, but eventually I forgot all about his citrus chastisements.  Until, that is, this week, when I saw those kumquats at City Basaar.  I bought a handful to bring home, and decided to ditch the feta and egg in this salad in favor of thinly sliced kumquats.

Four years ago: the best lemon bars ever

Read the rest of this entry »

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Saffron Risotto

January 1, 2010 at 9:21 pm (Cook's Illustrated, Derek's faves, Grains, Italian, Jack Bishop, Necessarily nonvegan, Spring recipes, unrated, Winter recipes)

My friend Alex and I took a walk along the river Saar this evening.  Despite the cold, the damp, the dark, and the mist, I had a lovely walk.  In the course of our conversation, we started talking about saffron, and I realized I’d never posted one of our favorite risotto’s to my blog:   saffron risotto.  This dish is plain, but very satisfying. The daisy-yellow color and creamy consistency make me feel like I’m eating macaroni and cheese. There’s just something about saffron that tastes like comfort food to me, even though I never had it growing up.  I can’t actually remember the first time I ever ate saffron, but it very well might have been the first time we made this saffron risotto!

The recipe we typically use is based on a recipe from Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook. The saffron flavor is maximized by dissolving it in a little hot stock then adding it to the rice toward the end of the cooking time.  Bishop’s recipe is good, but quite rich.  We usually cut down on the butter quite a bit.

Below I’ve compared Jack Bishop’s recipe to the saffron risotto recipe in Cook’s Illustrated’s The Best Light Recipe.   I believe Jack Bishop works for Cook’s Illustrated, so it’s a bit odd that the recipe aren’t more similar. Read the rest of this entry »

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Spicy cauliflower simmered in red wine

December 25, 2009 at 11:17 pm (B_minus, Cruciferous rich, Italian, Jack Bishop, Vegetable dishes)

I love cauliflower, but other than cauliflower curry, I actually don’t have any standby recipes for it.  I was looking for something new to try, and I found this recipe in which the cauliflower is simmered in red wine instead of water.  It sounded interesting, and, as an added bonus, it would give me a chance to use up the red wine that we often have lying around from unfinished bottles. The recipe is from Jack Bishop’s The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Roasted cauliflower with tomato and green olives

December 13, 2009 at 6:58 pm (B plus, Cruciferous rich, Italian, Meyer & Romano, Vegetable dishes)

This roasted cauliflower dish was the second dish we made last week from the Second Helpings from Union Square Cafe cookbook.  It’s similar in spirit to pasta puttanesca, but the base is cauliflower rather than pasta. Read the rest of this entry »

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Whole wheat linguine with chard, tomatoes, and chickpeas

November 1, 2009 at 11:53 pm (Beans, Beans and greens, Cook's Illustrated, Dark leafy greens, Italian, My brain, Pasta, Starches, unrated)

This recipe is based on the cook’s illustrated beans and greens recipe.  I used to make it with collards or kale, but since I can’t get those greens here I made it with swiss chard and added tomatoes, which blend nicely with the acidity of the chard.  Normally I add kalamata olives but I didn’t have any so I added a few spoonsfuls of capers instead.  I didn’t have any white beans so subbed in chickpeas.

Serves 4 to 6.


3 tablespoons olive oil
8 cloves garlic, 5 cloves sliced thin lengthwise, 3 cloves minced (1 Tbs.)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 medium red onion, diced small (about 1 cup)
1/2-2/3 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
20 ounces chard, stems halved lengthwise and sliced thinly and leaves sliced into ribbons
3/4 cups vegetable broth
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped (or 3 Tbs. capers)
10-12 ounces whole wheat spaghetti or linguine
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1 cup)
ground black pepper


  1. Heat oil and sliced garlic in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring and turning frequently, until light golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer garlic to plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
  2. Add onion and chard stems to pan; cook until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add half of chard to pan; using tongs, toss occasionally, until starting to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add remaining chard, broth, tomatoes, and salt; cover (pan will be very full); increase heat to high and bring to strong simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, tossing once, until chard is completely wilted. Stir in beans and olives or capers.
  4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in dutch oven or 5-6 quart pan over high heat. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is just shy of al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add the greens mixture to pasta, set over medium-high heat, and toss to combine. Cook until pasta absorbs most of liquid, about 2 minutes. Season with black pepper to taste.  Serve immediately, passing garlic chips and parmesan separately.

Note: By draining the pasta before its al dente, and finishing cooking in the brothy sauce, the pasta absorbs the flavors of the sauce and release its residual starch, which helps to thicken the sauce slightly.

Derek really loved this dish, even without the olives.  I thought it was reasonably flavorful, but I’m never as excited about beans and greens as he is.

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Pasta and Summer Squash with Tomatoes, Basil, and Pine Nuts

July 20, 2009 at 12:33 pm (B plus, Cook's Illustrated, Italian, Pasta, Starches, Summer recipes)

I made this recipe tonight and liked it so much I decided to repost it.  It was originally posted on August 17, 2006.

I’ve often tried to make this sort of light/summery pasta dish without a lot of success. Unless I use a large amount of olive oil or parmesan in the past the dish has always seemed rather bland. But this recipe is light and delicious! This is based on a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, but I cut down on oil and pasta, and increased the amounts of squash and seasonings. I give options for a number of ingredients depending on how rich, spicy, starchy etc. you want your dinner to be. Read the rest of this entry »

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Summer rice salad

July 19, 2009 at 6:45 am (B_minus, Italian, Jack Bishop, Salads, Starches, Summer recipes)

I was looking for something to do with some yellow and red bell peppers, and I found a recipe in Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook for a summer salad made with arborio rice.  I normally just use arborio rice for risotto, so I was excited about trying something new with it.  The rice is boiled in salted water like pasta, until al dente (about 16 minutes), and then mixed with a vinaigrette and allowed to cool before the vegetables and herbs are mixed in.

Bishop says to peel and seeds the tomatoes and cucumber, but I just seeded the tomatoes, and peeled neither.  If I made this again, I wouldn’t even bother to seed the tomatoes. I think the pulpy parts would add more tomato flavor.  My cucumbers were the little tiny ones that have small seeds–maybe if you have big, waxy American cucumbers it would be worth seeding and peeling them.   I didn’t have fresh parsley, but I doubled the basil to two tablespoons.  I also forgot to add the one garlic clove that Bishop calls for. The salad tasted okay, but was a bit boring, and the ratio of rice to vegetables seemed too high.  I added one red bell pepper, another kirby cucumber, and two more small tomatoes to the salad.  The extra veggies helped, but it was still a little boring.  Derek thought it needed pesto, and I agree that it definitely needed more than 2 Tbs. of herbs.  After my tweaks the salad was pleasant eaten with scrambled eggs and garlicky chard for lunch, but I wouldn’t make it again without making some additional changes.

Here are the ingredients, with my suggested changes:

  • 1.5 cups Arborio rice
  • salt
  • 1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4 small, ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound)
  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
  • 3 small kirby cucumbers, diced
  • 10 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 2 Tbs. minced parsley
  • 2 Tbs. minced basil leaves

Rating: B-

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Roasted tomato pasta sauce

June 6, 2009 at 7:55 am (B_, Cook's Illustrated, Derek's faves, Italian, Quick weeknight recipe, Starches, Summer recipes)

Sitting on my counter yesterday were a number of cherry tomatoes that had started to go a bit soft.  They were still good, but not fresh enough to eat out of hand.  I thought I would turn them into a nice (and fast) pasta sauce, by roasting them in the oven on a cookie sheet.  I roughly followed the instructions in a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, but I halved the recipe and made a few changes.

  • 1 shallot, sliced thin [try 3]
  • 4 Tbs. olive oil [try 3 Tbs.]
  • 2 pounds cherry tomatoes (about 3 pints), each tomato halved pole to pole [try 2.5 pounds]
  • 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt + 1 Tbs. salt for pasta water
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes [try heaping 1/2 tsp.]
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1.5 tsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thin [try 6]
  • 1 pound whole wheat rigatoni [try 10 oz]
  • 1/4 cup torn basil leaves
  • parmesan cheese, grated


  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice the shallots thinly.
  3. In a large bowl, gently toss the tomatoes with the olive oil (except for 1 tsp., which you should set aside), salt, pepper flakes, black pepper, sugar, vinegar, and garlic. Spread in even layer on rimmed baking sheet (about 17 by 12 inches).  In the same bowl, toss shallots with the remaining teaspoon oil; scatter shallots over tomatoes.
  4. Roast until edges of shallots begin to brown and tomato skins are slightly shriveled (tomatoes should retain their shape), 35 to 40 minutes. (Do not stir tomatoes during roasting.) Remove tomatoes from oven and cool 5 to 10 minutes.
  5. While tomatoes cook, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large stockpot. Just before removing tomatoes from oven, stir 1 Tbs. salt and pasta into boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain pasta and add to the large bowl you used for the tomatoes. Using a metal spatula, scrape the tomato mixture into the bowl on top of the pasta. Add the basil and toss to combine. Serve immediately, sprinkling cheese over individual bowls.

My changes:

I didn’t have enough tomatoes so I halved the recipe.  Still, I didn’t have enough cherry tomatoes so I also used some small, dark-brown tomatoes I had bought for sandwiches.  I mis-read the shallot instructions, and just mixed the slices in with all the other ingredients, rather than lying them on top of the tomatoes.  The (halved) recipe calls for 1/2 pound of pasta but I thought that seemed like too much for the amount of sauce, so I made 1/3 pound.

My tomatoes cooked significantly faster than they were supposed to.  I think it was due to a combination of factors:  I halved the recipe, so the cookie sheet wasn’t as full;  I left the fan on in my oven; and my cookie sheet is a very dark black.  According to CI, the halved recipe was supposed to serve 2 to 3, but I thought that the amount of sauce was a little skimpy even for two people. For two people I think next time I would use 1.5 pounds tomatoes, and up all the other ingredients by 50%, except the olive oil.

The sauce was quite good–the tomatoes were still quite pulpy and clung to the pasta, but despite not really being saucy they did taste like a sauce.  I was afraid that the tomato skins would be tough or annoying, but I didn’t even notice them.  The sauce had a very roasted flavor, from the browned bits of shallot and tomato skin.  I would make this recipe again, but next time I would serve something else substantial and low-calorie alongside it.  I think I could eat infinite bowls of pasta and this tomato sauce without feeling full.  Maybe a white bean soup or a chickpea salad would be a nice accompaniment, or a big bowl of steamed vegetables tossed with lemon juice and fresh herbs?

Attempt #2:  On a second try I made the full recipe, but it still didn’t really fill my cookie sheet, so next time I’ll try 2.5 pounds of tomatoes.  I didn’t have shallots, so used a small red onion instead, which was also good.  I served the pasta sauce with polenta and a dish of zucchini and eggplant and egg in a little Thai red curry.  It was a nice dinner.

Update Aug 3, 2012:  I used 2.25 pounds of large cherry tomatoes (actually called “pearl” tomatoes), and cut the oil slightly to 3.33 Tbs.  I increased the chili flakes to a slightly heaping 1/2 tsp., and used only 10 oz. of pasta, but otherwise followed the recipe as stated.  It came out well.  The tomatoes clung to the pasta and made a nice (but slightly oily) sauce.  The sugar and vinegar gave the sauce a nice sweet and sour element.  Derek loved it.  He said it tasted like a pasta he’d get for lunch at Apero, the little Italian-run shop near our house.  I thought that there could be slightly more tomatoes for 10 ounces of pasta (probably 2.5 pounds), but Derek thought the ratio was perfect, if anything a tad too saucy.  He said if I increase the tomatoes to 2.5 pounds I should increase the pasta to 12 ounces.  I liked the shallots a lot.  Next time I’ll use three.  And I’ll use only 3 Tbs. of olive oil.    Note to self:  Make sure not to cook the tomatoes too much.  The halves should get slightly shriveled but maintain their rounded shape, not collapse and shrivel up completely.  I think it helped that I used a light grey cookie sheet this time, not my black one.

Cook’s Illustrated has an interesting sounding variant with goat cheese instead of parmesan (4 oz, about 1/2 cup crumbled) and 1 large bunch arugula, torn into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups loosely packed).  The arugula is tossed with the hot pasta to wilt it, and the cheese is sprinkled over individual bowls.

With 10 pounds of pasta, 2.25 pounds of tomatoes, and 3.33 Tbs. of oil this recipe made four servings of about 425 calories each.  With one ounce of parmeggiano per serving it would total 535 calories (17% protein, 33% fat, and 50% carbs).

Rating: B (very tasty, but a tad ordinary)

Derek: A-

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Sicilian Broccoli and Cauliflower Pasta

January 5, 2009 at 6:02 am (101 cookbooks, B_, Cruciferous rich, Italian, Pasta, Starches, Vegetable dishes)

Whenever I ask Derek what veggies he wants me to get at the store he invariably asks for the same thing:  broccoli and cauliflower.  I have a few recipes that are my regular weeknight standbys for these vegetables (sesame noodles, pan-fried broccoli, stuffed hashbrowns, and cauliflower curry), but I’d like a few more recipes to add to the rotation.  I found this recipe for Sicilian broccoli and cauliflower pasta on 101 cookbooks, and it looked like something Derek would love.   Heidi warns that it is a large recipe, but I decided to make the whole thing nonetheless.  Because it’s such a big recipe, the instructions say to saute the broccoli, cauliflower, and onions in separate batches.  Between all the chopping and sauteing, this was a pretty time consuming recipe.  It’s definitely not a quick week night meal, which is what I was looking for.  The recipe, however, is competently done—the final pasta came out just as I imagine it was supposed to.  The vegetables were well cooked, the onions and garlic created a nice flavor base, I could taste the saffron and a touch of sweet from the raisins, the olive oil and pine nuts added a nice mouth-feel without the dish tasting heavy, and the fresh parsley added a final touch of freshness.  My only complaint is that I couldn’t taste the rosemary, and I think the saffron should be soaked in warm water before adding it to the dish.  But otherwise the recipe is fine as is. Read the rest of this entry »

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Vegetarian food highlights from ten days in Tuscany

January 4, 2009 at 1:58 pm (Italian, Restaurant review, Trip report)

In October, Derek and I took a belated honeymoon to Tuscany, and lucked into a succession of nine perfect Autumn days: sunny blue skies, warm (but not hot) afternoons, and cool (but not cold) nights.  The weather was more consistently fabulous than the food,  but in the course of our holiday we did have a number of memorable food experiences. Here are my top ten food memories from our ten day trip to Tuscany. Read the rest of this entry »

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Farro Risotto with Three Mushrooms

December 21, 2008 at 12:42 pm (B_, Grains, Italian, My brain, restaurant inspired)

In October Derek and I took a trip to Tuscany.  The highlight of our trip was the four nights we spent in Southern Tuscany, at Terre di Nano, an estate perched on a hilltop halfway between Montepulciano and the tiny medieval village of Montechiello.   When we arrived at Terre di Nano our first night, it was quite late, and the manager suggested we eat dinner at a nearby restaurant: La Porta, in Montechiello.  The drive took less than ten minutes, but it felt longer because the road was narrow, unpaved, and pitch dark.  Despite the fact that Montechiello is a tiny village, and off the main road, La Porta was almost completely full; a large group of about 20 Americans took up over half of the tables.  The hostess sat us upstairs on a balcony overlooking the main dining room.  Although the couple at the neighboring table kept complaining about the cigarette smoke wafting down from the attic kitchen, I didn’t notice it.  I quite enjoyed our balcony perch; I liked watching from above as the waitresses brought out the food for all the other guests. We had a lovely, if not spectacular dinner at La Porta, and headed back to Terre di Nano.

The next morning at breakfast we met all the other Terre di Nano guests, and discovered that almost all of them had also eaten dinner at La Porta the previous evening!  One woman (the one who had been complaining about the cigarette smoke) could not stop raving about their mushroom barley risotto.  She said it was the best risotto she’d ever had. I was skeptical, as I’ve never had a barley risotto that I’ve liked.  Still, when we headed back to La Porta a few nights later, I decided to take a chance, and ordered the mushroom barley risotto.  It was excellent.  The texture of the risotto was creamy, but each grain was perfectly chewy and nutty tasting.  The mushroom flavor was intense, but not overpowering.  Even after finishing the (quite) large dish of risotto, I wasn’t tired of it.  It was anything but the one-note, overly-rich dish I was expecting.

My only objection to the risotto was directed at the menu’s claim that it was a barley risotto.  I’ve had pearled barley, and hulled barley, but this didn’t taste like either.  The grains had more fiber and heft than pearled barley, and more chew and flavor than hulled barley.  I suspected that the risotto was actually made with farro, a local Tuscan grain.  I asked the waitress to confirm that the risotto was really made with barley—she said yes.  Then I noticed that behind me was a shelf of local agricultural products that the restaurant was offering up for sale.  The shelf contained both barley and farro.  I held them up to the waitress and asked which was in the risotto.  She looked back and forth between them a few times, then said she had to ask the chef.  When she returned, she confirmed that the risotto was indeed made from farro.

Our waitress and menu aren’t the only ones confused about the difference between farro and barley.  All over the internet you see confusion about whether farro is the same as barley, the same as spelt, or some other grain entirely.  There was an even an article about farro in the New York Times recently, which attempted to debunk some of the misconceptions about farro.

Farro is not barley, but wheat.  The wheat family encompasses a number of related grains, including durum wheat (used to make pasta), spelt, common wheat (used to make bread flour), and kamut.  The precise name for Farro is Emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccon), and it is more closely related to durum wheat and common wheat than to spelt. From Wikipedia, the major domesticated forms of wheat:

* Common wheat or Bread wheat — (T. aestivum) A hexaploid species that is the most widely cultivated in the world. [note: called der Weizen in German]
* Durum — (T. durum) The only tetraploid form of wheat widely used today, and the second most widely cultivated wheat. [note: often used to make pasta, called Glasweizen or Hartweizen in German, according to Leo ]
* Einkorn — (T. monococcum) A diploid species with wild and cultivated variants. Domesticated at the same time as emmer wheat, but never reached the same importance.
* Emmer — (T. dicoccon) A tetraploid species, cultivated in ancient times but no longer in widespread use. [note: most commonly eaten now in Italy, but also still used in other countries like Switzerland]
* Spelt — (T. spelta) Another hexaploid species cultivated in limited quantities. [note: now more popular in the States among the “bio” set, apparently called der Dinkel or der Spelz in German]

Kamut is another wheat variety, with unusually elongated grains.  Unheard of 20 years ago, lately Kamut has been growing in popularity in the states. Kamut’s taxonomical classification is still unclear: some say it represents a unique species, others say it’s simply a form of durum wheat, whereas others argues it’s a hybrid of durum wheat and another wheat. I’ve found Kamut in Germany in my local Biofrischmarkt, under the name Kamut.

Oops, back to mushroom farro risotto.

Determined to recreate La Porta’s risotto, I returned from Italy with a pound of farro (purchased from La Porta for 3 euros, compared to the 9-10 dollars you’ll pay in New York), and a bag of dried porcini mushrooms.  I spent some time searching around on the web to try to figure out the best way to cook farro for risotto, but found a lack of consensus.  Some people said just to boil farro in water as you would pasta, then once it’s tender add in butter and cheese to make it creamy.  Other recipes suggsted parboiling the farro, then treating it as if it were arborio rice.  I decided to go with the latter method, as I thought it would result in a creamier risotto, without requiring a huge amount of butter and cheese.

I started out by boiling 2.25 cups of farro in 5 cups of water for 20 minutes.  I ended up with about 8 cups of semi-cooked farro.  I soaked the porcini mushrooms, and cooked the button mushrooms ahead of time, because Derek is picky about overcooked mushrooms.  He likes them plump and juicy, and I was afraid that after 20 – 30 minutes of simmering they’d be dried out and tough. Besides holding the mushrooms aside until the last five minutes of cooking, I followed a standard risotto technique, using the following ingredients:

  • 3 or 4 cups of parboiled farro
  • vegetable broth, plus the strained soaking liquid from the dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1.25 pounds white button mushrooms
  • a bit of red wine
  • 3 Tbs. butter (1 in the mushrooms, 1 for the onions, and 1 after the risotto was done)
  • 1 shallot + a bit of red onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1.75 ounces parmigiano reggiano
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • porcini salt and truffle salt
  • a pinch of sugar

The risotto turned out really well.  It had the same great chewy/creamy texture as La Porta’s version, and good flavor, although perhaps not quite as good as La Porta’s version.  Even Derek, who was very skeptical about my ability to replicate the original, said that it was excellent.

I ended up eating the rest of the farro plain, either for breakfast with soymilk and a bit of granola, or just treating it like brown rice.  It was delicious.  Farro is definitely now one of my favorite grains.

More about my farro: The label says Farro Decorticato, and it’s from Az. Agr. Barbi, which is apparently near Monticchiello.  I think decorticato means hulled.  The bag weighs 500 grams. I think it’s organic because it says “da agricoltura biologica.”  To prepare the farro, the label says to wash in cold water, then cook in a pot for 40 minutes.  It says it serves five people.

Update December 13, 2009:

I cooked 1.5 cups farro in 3 cups vegetable broth.  I brought it to a boil, then reduced to a simmer, and cooked until all the liquid was absorbed, about 35 minutes I think.  This produced 5 cups of al dente farro.  I used 4 cups for the risotto.  I sauteed 1.5 pounds mushrooms in 1 Tbs. butter, and added 1/4 cup white wine and some soy sauce (1/2 Tbs.?).  The mushrooms didn’t end up salty enough.  When the mushrooms were cooked but still quite fat and juicy, I removed them from the pan and set them aside.

I sauted the shallot and red onion (about 1/2 cup) in 1 Tbs. of butter and 1 Tbs. of olive oil, then added 2 garlic cloves chopped.  I added the 4 cups of parboiled farro, and some red wine (1/2 cup I think).  Then I added the liquid from the porcini mushrooms and more vegetable broth.  The farro ended up too soft.  I think I pre-cooked it too long.  Next time I would start with 1 cup of farro and 1.5 cups of vegetable broth, cooked for 20 minutes only.

At the end I added in the soaked, chopped porcini mushrooms and the cooked button mushrooms, and about 1/2 tsp. salt, then beat in the final 1 Tbs. of butter. We were out of truffle salt, and that definitely resulted in a less mushroom-y tasting dish.  It was still tasty, but less mushroomy.  We garnished the risotto with parmesan.  It was tasty, but not as good as last time.  I liked it with al dente farro much better than the somewhat soft farro I ended up with this time.

Derek rated this recipe a B+.  I would give it a B due to the texture and the absence of truffle salt.  With a few fixes it would definitely be a B+.

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White bean, fennel, and rosemary soup

October 22, 2008 at 3:38 am (B plus, Beans, Italian, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, soup)

This is my favorite version of white bean soup, at the moment.  It’s a light soup with a thin broth, but the beans make it very filling.  The fennel adds sweetness and a bit of crunch, and the rosemary adds a subtle forest aroma.  I usually just throw this together, so I don’t have exact amounts yet. I’m guessing here, but I’ll measure everything next time I make it.


  • white beans
  • water or vegetable broth
  • rosemary
  • onion
  • fennel
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • radishes (optional)
  • parmigiano-reggiano (optional)
  • olive oil (optional)


  1. In a 3 quart saucepan, add 3/4 cup small white beans and 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil.
  2. Add 1/2 tsp. salt and a sprig of rosemary, reduce the heat to low, and cover loosely.  Simmer gently for about 1.5 hours, or until the beans are almost soft.
  3. Add a cup of vegetable broth, or more water to the beans, 2 cups of very thinly sliced fennel, and a small onion, diced.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the fennel is tender but still a bit crisp.
  4. Add 1 Tbs. of minced rosemary, and freshly ground black pepper.  A nice garnish is halved or quartered radishes.  They add a pretty pink color, and a bit of peppery bite to the soup. You can also grate a bit of parmigiano over each bowl if you like.
  5. Serve immediately.

If you don’t have rosemary, you can sub in another herb of your choice.  If you use a bouillon cube, remember to reduce the salt.

If I already have beans cooked, then I’ll start by sauteing the fennel and onions and rosemary in a bit of olive oil, then add the beans and broth afterwards.

Derek said the soup was tasty, but it was a little too bland for him.  He thought it needed “a little something extra.”

This soup doesn’t last too long in the fridge. It gets thick and sludgy and unappetizing. I try to finish it the day after I make it, or at the latest, two days later.

Rating: B+
Derek: B

Update Nov 6, 2010:

I cooked 1 cup of a medium white bean in 4 cups of water with 1 tsp. of salt.  The beans were just labeled “white beans” in German but I think based on the size that they were great northern.  When they were soft I sauteed about 5-6 cups very thinly sliced fennel in a Tbs. of butter with one small red onion cut into thin rings.  Next time I think I would use olive oil rather than butter.  I added all the veggies to the soup along with another 4? cups of unsalted, homemade vegetable broth.  When I served the soup I sprinkled about 1/2? tsp. rosemary on top of each bowl and let people add grated parmesan to taste.  I thought the soup didn’t have enough beans.  Next time I think I would use 1.5 cups of these beans, or just make less soup so there are no leftovers.  Maybe with small navy beans you only need 1 cup, but the beans I bought were  big enough that there aren’t actually all that many with only 1 cup. Also, I overcooked the fennel and onions by letting them sit a while in the hot soup.  They ended up a bit stringy.  Maybe cutting them into smaller pieces would be better–or at least adding them to the soup only right before serving.  Even a few fennel pieces that were raw when I put them in (that didn’t get sauteed) ended up very soft.  The broth was pretty good I thought, but Derek and my guests added more salt.  I served 3 small bowls as appetizers, and then Derek and two guests both had seconds.  There were about 2.5 cups of soup left.

Derek liked the soup.  He even commented that this is one of the very few soups that I make that he actually looks forward to.

What are the differences between different types of white beans?

Cook’s Illustrated says they all originate from the pole bean, and taste very similar, but the textures are different.

  • Cannellini beans (the largest at about 0.9 inches after cooking, also called white kidney beans) have the thickest skins, which keeps the inside of the bean creamy.  Their flavor is buttery with a subtle mushroomlike character, and their texture is meaty and lush.
  • Great Northern beans are a bit smaller (0.69 inch long when cooked), and have more tender skins and slightly less creamy flesh.  Cook’s illustrated says they have strong mineral notes and their texture is slightly chalky and mealy.
  • Navy beans (0.52 inch long) are the most tender and soft, but their thin skins slip off easily and contributed an almost chewy texture.  Their flavor is nutty and sweet, and their texture is very creamy.
  • Small white beans (not the same as navy beans) are mild and bland, with a chalky texture.

In a test of all three beans in their Tuscan White Bean Soup (January/February 2001), Cook’s Illustrated found that tasters preferred the creamy texture and larger size of the cannellini beans, but the great Northern beans tasted nearly as good. However, they say that the navy beans yielded too high a ratio of skins to flesh. They say that navy beans, however, are excellent in baked beans because the acidic molasses helps keep bean skins intact during the long cooking, so this is not an issue.

A post from July 24, 2006

White beans in a crockpot: I often don’t like how my beans come out–too soft, and falling apart, or still a bit tough no matter how long I cook them, or bland sometimes. But I cooked small white (navy?) beans last week and they came out wonderfully. I started out with beans I had just purchased from the co-op. I put two cups of beans in my crock pot and covered them with water, added a few cloves of peeled garlic and a tsp. of salt. I cooked them overnight on low. When I tasted them in the morning they were done, and the broth was incredibly flavorful. I was happy just drinking the broth! I had soup without adding anything at all.

Note regarding Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Tuscan White Bean Soup:

The recipe calls for pancetta, but for a vegetarian variant they suggest adding a 2 ounce piece of parmesan rind to the beans while they cook.  I’ve done this several times and never detected any great improvement in flavor.  Their recipe (to serve 3 – 4) calls for boiling 1/2 pound of dry beans in 6 cups of water, with a medium halved but unpeeled onion, 2 unpeeled garlic cloves, a bay leaf and 1/2 tsp. salt.  This results in a slightly musty tasting soup.  I suspect that the slow-cooked garlic (and perhaps the onion, bay leaf, and parmigiano too) adds to the slightly dark, funky taste that’s at odds with the light, fresh soup I’m going for.  Also, for me 1/2 tsp. salt is not quite enough for 1/2 pound of dry beans.  Perhaps the pancetta adds salt as well, which is why the vegetarian version ends up not salty enough?

The cook’s illustrated recipe says the best way to infuse the soup with rosemary flavor is to submerge a rosemary sprig in the boiling soup, then cover and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.  I’ve never found that this adds enough rosemary flavor for me.  I like to sprinkle minced rosemary or sage into each bowl.

The original recipe from January 2001 says soaking is not necessary, and the beans can be simmered gently on the stove in salted water.  When I try this with cannellini beans they’re a bit tough, and many of the bean skins have fallen off.  The updated recipe in 2008 for hearty Tuscan bean stew says to soak the beans overnight in salted water.  Brining the beans allows the salt to soften the skins but keeps it from penetrating inside, where it can make the beans mealy.  They say to dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts cold water in a large container, then add a pound of cannellini beans. Soak at room temperature, for at least 8 and up to 24 hours. It’s necessary to drain and rinse the beans well after they’re soaked, or the soup will be too salty. To produce perfectly cooked beans with intact skins they recommend gently cooking the beans at a near-simmer in a 250-degree oven. Cook’s Illustrated also says that if you’re going to add tomatoes to your soup, add them toward the end of cooking, since their acid interferes with the softening process. To make your soup more substantial, they suggest serving the stew on a slab of toasted country bread, drizzled with fruity extra-virgin olive oil.

Note added Nov 9, 2008:

I tried making the chickpea, fennel, and orange zest soup from The Complete Italian Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop.  The soup called for tomatoes, but I decided to leave them out.  I added the 1 tsp. of orange zest called for, but I couldn’t really taste it in the final soup, so I added some minced rosemary to each bowl for more flavor.  In the end the soup was quite good, pretty similar to my white bean version.  I think the white beans are creamier, so I prefer them over the chickpeas, but the chickpeas make a nice variation.

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Pureed Cauliflower Soup with Pesto

October 21, 2008 at 9:21 am (B_, Cruciferous rich, Italian, Jack Bishop, Quick weeknight recipe, soup, Vegetable dishes)

This is a simple but satisfying soup, from Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian cookbook.

  • 1 large cauliflower head, sliced or broken into florets (about 2.5 pounds, or 6 cups of florets)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 Tbs. dry white wine
  • 3 cups vegetables stock or water (I needed a bit more)
  • 1 tsp. salt (I used 1/2 tsp. salt and 1 bouillon cube and it was quite salty)
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup pesto
  1. In a 4-6 quart saucepan, saute the onion in the olive oil until golden, about 6 minutes.  Add the wine and cook until the alcohol aroma fades.
  2. Add the cauliflower and stir to coat the florets with oil.  Add the stock, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 12 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender.
  3. Use a stick blender to puree the soup, and add more broth if necessary to thin the soup.
  4. Swirl 1.5 – 2 tsp. of pesto into each bowl before serving.

Bishop suggests serving this with olive and thyme foccacia.  Serves 4 to 6.  Makes just under 8 cups, depending on how thin your like it.

My notes:

I enjoyed this soup.  It’s thick and creamy without actually adding any cream, and the pesto adds a nice flavor to the relatively bland soup.  I wouldn’t rave about the recipe, but I can see myself making it again.  Derek said it was tasty, but didn’t go for seconds.  The next day, however, he added more pesto and then raved about it, telling me “You should make this for company.”

Rating: B

Derek: A-

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