Thursday, June 7, 2012
I am incredibly lazy about soup. It's not a difficult dish to make, but I often end up obsessing about the nuances. It's not just a hot bowl of liquid, but flavors that need to be tweaked and balanced. With my obsessive need for perfection in soup, borne from a lifetime of my mother's perfect broths, I've given up.
Last week, I arrived home from a fabulously fun dinner and my throat felt a little scratchy. I chalked it up to too much wine and too little water and went to bed. The next day, the sore throat was worse, along with some heavy congestion. That was last Tuesday. Today, I'm still fighting the last dregs of the cold, which yo-yo'd from bedridden to 95% and back.
At least, it's not like last year's plague.
I was already semi-awake one morning last week, unable to sleep due to the heavy congestion. Breathing, apparently, is necessary for a good night's sleep. Who knew? I wanted soup, but there was none in the house except for some delicious chicken broth that Dan made (I can't win on the broth front). I was cranky and ravenous, which meant broth wasn't going to cut it.
I know! Pasta e fagioli.
I was alone, meaning that I'd have to change out of PJs to go to the market. I was tempted to buy a tub of the store-made minestrone, but I was not in the mood for a salt bomb. I also really, really, really wanted pasta in my soup.
Stubborn? Yeah, that's me. I wanted pasta, I wanted fresh soup, and I wanted it NOW. I'm ill, dammit! *foot stomp*
With a big wadded handful of clean tissues, a relatively clean outfit, and big sunglasses to hide my bloodshot eyes, I made my way to the local market. Quickly, I piled celery, carrots, small shell pasta, and a can of cannelloni beans into my basket. Used the self-checkout to minimize human contact. At home, as I deteriorated further into a snotty mess, I put together the soup. It isn't complicated, although it's best done in stages versus dumping everything into the pot. It doesn't require a long simmer period and is not an enormous batch, a plus in a household of two. One bowl is hearty enough for a meal, which I had before passing out in an awkward semi-upright position.
Ever the food blogger, I took advantage of the fact that I was home during the day (natural light!) and snapped a photo. They're a bit craptastic, but hey, it ain't a post without a photo.
I started with this pasta e fagioli recipe from Epicurious. After reading the comments, I made my own adjustments to the recipe. I highly recommend the sherry, which was a very nice touch. I used minimal salt and cubed a little bit of pecorino romano to put into the simmering soup. If you have Parmesan or Pecorino Romano rinds, use those instead, but the wedge of cheese in my fridge didn't have much of a rind, so I cubed it.
Pasta e Fagioli
(inspired and adapted from Pasta e Fagioli, Gourmet 1993, and accompanying comments)
2 slices of bacon, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 cup shallots, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 small to medium carrot, sliced thinly
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup amontillado sherry
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained and liquid reserved
1 14.5 ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
20 grams Pecorino Romano, cubed
2/3 cup small shell pasta (conchigliette, see Note)
Note: I like my pasta e fagioli with a lot of pasta, which 2/3 cup becomes when it's soaking in all of that broth. If you prefer less pasta, reduce to 1/3 cup.
Optional: place garlic, onion, and shallots into food processor (a mini-food processor is perfect for this) and mince. Do not allow the onions to become mush.
***Tip*** For a quick chicken broth, I place the bones and a little bit of skin from half a chicken (usually leftover from another use) into a mini-crock pot (mine is 3 quarts) with 2 carrots, 1 rib celery, 1 small onion, 8-12 peppercorns, 8-12 coriander seeds, and 1 bay leaf. Fill crock pot with water and cook on high overnight to produce about 3 cups of broth.
Medium-sized pots are best. I used a 2 3/4 quart dutch oven, which isn't very large.
Over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp, then drain fat until 1 tbsp remains. Remove bacon from heat and add onions, shallots, and garlic. Cook until onion and shallots are softened, then add celery and carrots. Cook for 2 minutes, then add broth, thyme, oregano, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, salt, sherry, and red wine vinegar. Simmer covered for 5 minutes.
Mash 1/3 cup of the beans, then add the bean mash and the whole beans into the soup. Add the tomatoes and, if the liquid looks low, add the reserved tomato liquid. Add cheese and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
Add pasta and reserved bacon. Simmer, covered, for another 10 minutes. Use salt and white pepper, if necessary, to adjust taste. Garnish with chopped parsley and halved cherry tomatoes.