Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Pasta e Fagioli and Beet Salad, February 9, 2015

My library has a wonderful book discussion group----the genre is cookbooks! So, every other month, we get together in one of the meeting rooms to eat and talk about that month's selection. We all bring a dish from whatever it is, sample them, talk about the book and the author, and generally have a good ol' time. Our first meeting was in December and we could choose any cookbook by Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman. No, it's not pioneer food. It's really yummy, pretty easy, and mostly unhealthy food good for people who are burning scads of calories every day working on a ranch. I did malted chocolate chip cookies for that one. You can find that recipe on Ree's website.

Tonight's choice was any cookbook by Lidia Bastianich. It required me to seriously step up my game. I had a difficult time finding a recipe that A. sounded good to me, B. wasn't insanely involved, and C. worked well for a potluck away from home. First, I checked out Lidia's Family Table. While I loved the stories, most of the recipes were ones I couldn't imagine making even for the family, much less to serve at a potluck. Next, I looked on Pinterest and decided there was hope, after all. I went back to the library and picked up Lidia's Favorite Recipes. I did find a couple of recipes to make. Neither one was at all for beginning cooks, but they turned out okay. But I would not go to all the trouble the recipes require for the end result. You know, actually, I liked the beet salad a whole lot and will likely make it again. I'll just do it my own way. The beet salad was the favorite, for a lot of book club members, of all the dishes presented. General consensus was that, although the food was quite good, we all felt that most of the recipes were too labor intensive for us. If, however, you love to spend hours fiddling around in your kitchen, Lidia's your woman! I'm a much lazier cook, so these recipes are not as she would make them, to be sure (and I think it needs some red pepper flakes). But, they turned out pretty good. By the way, if pink goo scares you, the step of making a paste of the garlic and raw bacon in the soup-making process might be a little much for you. But you can do it! It's just bacon. This combo, in addition to being suitable for potlucks, would make a great lunch or supper for company.

Pasta e Fagioli
1 lb. dried cranberry beans, soaked overnight in cold water & drained well
6 quarts water
3 large russet potatoes, peeled but left whole
3 sprigs rosemary
3 bay leaves
12 slices bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces (vegetarians & vegans can probably omit this, although it will alter the flavor)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 c. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand, with their juice
Salt and pepper
1-4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 lb. ditalini (can sub 3 c. macaroni)
Grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano (vegans can skip this)

Bring beans, water, potatoes, rosemary, and bay leaves to a boil in a very, very large pot. Simmer while you prep the veggies & bacon. Process bacon and garlic to a paste in a food processor. Heat oil in large skillet. Add bacon/garlic and cook golden, about 5 minutes. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add carrots and cook until the onion starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, bring to a boil, and simmer about 5 minutes. Pour 2 ladlefuls of bean broth into the skillet and bring to a boil. pour skillet contents into soup pot. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper. Bring to a boil. Simmer on medium until beans are tender, 45 minutes to an hour. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until it's quite a bit smoother, although not entirely puréed. Lacking an immersion blender, you can remove about a third of the beans, allow them to cool, and purée them in a regular blender or food processor before returning them to the pot. You will also need to remove the potatoes and mash them, returning them, as well. They will already have fallen apart, but you don't want big hunks left. Cook the soup another 10-15 minutes, then let it rest off the heat, covered, another 10-15 minutes. While the soup is resting, cook the pasta al dente in salted water and drain well. Add to the soup. Let it rest another 5 minutes, then serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of cheese on each serving. Serves 12-15. 

Roasted Beet and Beet Greens Salad with Apples and Goat Cheese
8-10 small yellow and red beets with greens attached
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
4 oz. goat cheese (vegans can omit this)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice off the greens, leaving only a smidge of stem. Scrub well, poke several times with a fork, and place in a shallow baking dish with about 1/4" water in the bottom. Roast until they are shriveled, dark, and caramelized on the outside and tender inside (when tested with a knife). This will take 45 minutes to an hour and a half. Cool thoroughly. Rinse greens well. Cut off the tough stem bottoms and separate leaves from middle, more tender stems. Cook stems in boiling water about 7 minutes. Add leaves and cook another 15 minutes, until stems are very soft. Drain well and season with half the salt. Peel beets and cut off stems and roots. Cut into thick slices or thin wedges. Toss with greens. Whisk oil and vinegar with remaining salt and pepper. Drizzle on beets and toss to coat. Mix beets and apples, then crumble goat cheese onto the salad just before serving. Serves 4-6.

Next meeting's cookbooks are Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian and Del Sroufe's Forks Over Knives Cookbook. I am excited to check those out!

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