Monday, November 30, 2009

Ina Garten's Italian Wedding Soup • Gluten free! Or not.


This blog is seriously turning into a Barefoot Contessa fan page, isn't it? And two soup recipes in a row? But I can't help it! Ina's recipes are SO GOOD. They are exactly my favorite kinds of food: classics that have been updated to be lighter and brighter, and which pack a powerful punch of flavor. And of course, this soup is no exception.


Being a Californian (and not an Italian or from Ohio/Pennsylvania, where this soup is apparently very popular), I had never had Italian Wedding Soup before making this recipe. The most I had to compare it to was plain Jane chicken noodles soup, and may I say that this soup absolutely blows chicken noodle soup right out of the water? It's like everything that chicken soup ever wanted to be, it's so deliciously perfect. Not to mention that it's ridiculously easy. I love that the meatballs are baked in the oven; it's so much less work than frying them, and they are much less greasy and heavy than traditional fried meatballs. This isn't Nate's favorite chicken soup (go figure. Probably the dill), but it sure is mine. Next time I come down with a cold (or I just get a hankering for something warm and comforting) this is going to be the first thing I ask for.


Ina Garten's Italian Wedding Soup • Gluten free! Or not.

I had a dickens of a time finding chicken breakfast sausage, and I had to go to four (yes FOUR) grocery stores before I could find it. I finally found some at Trader Joe's, which is the only place I know of that carries it. If you can't find it anywhere, I think turkey breakfast sausage (as well as ground turkey) is much more widely available. Alternatively, you might use chicken/turkey italian sausage and even pork sausage if you really can't find anything.

The second difficulty for me was that the recipe calls for 1 cup of very small pasta, like stars. I haven never seen any gluten-free pasta that small, so I wasn't sure what to do. Finally (brilliantly, if I do say so myself), I gave some uncooked rice spaghetti a whirl in the blender, and it came out perfect! If you don't eat gluten-free then don't worry about it, but if you do end up using this method, keep in mind that rice spaghetti is much starchier than wheat spaghetti, and all that starch may thicken up your soup. To avoid this, you can use less pasta, or cook the spaghetti separately, strain and rinse it, and then add it to the soup. Or you can do nothing, if you don't mind a thicker soup (I don't).

For the Meatballs
3/4 lb ground chicken (or turkey)
1/2 lb chicken sausage, casings removed
2/3 cup bread crumbs (I like to pulse up leftover gluten-free bread in the blender, and then store it in he freezer until I need it)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (the kind that comes in a green can works great. Save the expensive fresh stuff for grating over the hot soup)
1 extra large egg, slightly beaten
3 tablespoons milk
kosher salt and freshly ground black Pepper

For the Soup
olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup finely diced carrots (2-3 carrots)
3/4 cup finely diced celery (2 stalks)
2.5 quarts chicken stock (10 cups, preferably home made)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup small pasta, such as stars or broken up spaghetti (precooked or not)
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
12 oz baby spinach

freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix together ground chicken, chicken sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Parmesan, egg, milk, and salt and pepper to taste (all the meatball ingredients). Using a teaspoon, scoop meatball mixture in even measures, placing each scoop on the prepared pan. Don't worry about making the meatballs round, just scoop and plop. Bake meatballs in preheated oven until firm and browned, about 30 minutes.

2. In a large heavy bottomed pot, heat olive oil, and saute onion and garlic until softened and translucent. Add carrots and celery, and saute another 5 minutes or so, until vegetables begin to brighten in color.

3. Add stock and wine, and bring soup to a boil. Add (precooked or not) pasta, and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 10-15 minutes, until pasta is al dente and vegetables are soft.

4. Add meatballs, and dill. Simmer 2-3 minutes. Remove heat from pot, stir in baby spinach. Serve, top with freshly grated parmesan, enjoy!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, two ways


Before James was born, I thought that a baby would have zero impact on our food budget. After all, babies are so tiny! They couldn't possibly eat more than a few tablespoons of food at a time.. right? Well, maybe some babies don't eat much, but my baby has an appetite the size of Manhattan. I cannot fill that kid up! I feel like I spend most of my time roasting, steaming, and sauteing food for that kid, because, number #2945 of things-they-don't-tell-you-before-you-have-a-baby, BABIES EAT A LOT. You think that a person who only weighs 20 lbs would eat less than his parents, but sometimes I think he eats more than the both of us put together.

If you are new here, I can't eat gluten (wheat protein), and James can't eat casein (milk protein) or soy, and James isn't old enough to eat eggs or meat yet, which means, essentially... I have a voracious infant vegan on my hands. Who is also gluten-free and soy-free. Oh my. (I would like to point out that we eat this way for legitimate medical reasons, not as an affectation or because it happens to be the fad right now. Why people think diet restrictions are hip or sophisticated is beyond me. After three years of eating gluten free, I would kill for a chocolate croissant or a slice of sourdough bread that wouldn't, you know, kill me.)


In the beginning, I had no idea what to feed him, and so for the first couple of weeks we ate quite a lot of bananas, rice noodles, apple sauce and steamed carrots (and oh, how that child needed more fiber in his diet. Whoops! Sorry baby.) But after a while I started to get my groove on and got smart to some excellent vegan alternatives: coconut oil for butter, almond milk for cow's milk, coconut milk for cream. After a while, it actually got a little fun, and to be honest, this whole "feed a vegan baby" has turned out to be quite a good thing for all of us. We are cooking lighter and fresher, and it has forced me given me the opportunity to try all kinds of new vegetables. Scary vegetables. Vegetables I have been putting off trying for about 20 years. Things Like kale (yummy), brussel sprouts (so fun!), beets (stains everything pink), and squash (FAAAB!). I can't believe that until now I have never even tried butternut squash. If you like pumpkin flavored anything, you'll like butternut squash. It's got the same rich buttery taste and smooth texture, but is pumpkin's sweeter, lighter cousin. It's great roasted, steamed, mashed, sauteed, slathered in butter, sprinkled with kosher salt etc. etc. I love it and we have been eating one or two a week all month.

The following recipe can be made two ways: soup for mama, and soup for baby. Vegan, and not vegan. Mama's way includes butter and half & half, baby's vegan way includes coconut oil and coconut milk. Both ways are delicious!


Roasted Butternut Squash Soup • Vegan and Not-Vegan

Butternut Squash is in season right now and tastes its best this time of year. Roasting it is my favorite way of eating it; it really brings out the flavor and adds in all these delicious caramel notes. Look for fruits that are very firm with smooth waxy skin, and are heavy for their size. Those ones taste the best!

1 medium butternut squash
1 medium brown onion, diced
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh thyme, minced (2-3 tablespoons)
4 cups stock (vegetable, beef, or chicken)
2-3 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
1/2 cup half & half or coconut milk
kosher salt and cracked pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut butternut squash in half lengthwise, and roast, cut side down, on a baking sheet, until skin is browned and flesh is soft when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and let cool. Scoop out seeds.

Scoop and scrape the flesh from the skin, and reserve in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat butter (or coconut oil) in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic, and thyme, and saute until softened and beginning to brown.

Add stock, scraping up any browned bits that cling to the pan. Add squash, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you stir. Bring to a boil.

Lightly puree soup in a food processor to taste - some people like it more chunky, some like it less. Just don't over-puree it so that it has no texture at all! Return soup to pot, add 1/2 & 1/2 or coconut milk, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Depending on the thickness of the soup, you can add more stock (or some water) to thin it our, or if it is too thin simmer it down to the desired consistency. Adjust seasonings, serve, and enjoy!