Minestrone Soup

I’ve been a bit in a slump lately. At least when it comes to blogging recipes. I’ve been making food I’ve already done on here or making other people’s recipe or even just making stuff that I ultimately deem “not blog-worthy.” (That parmesan French toast was pretty delish, though!)

I blame it on end-of-the-year laziness. I seriously get so lazy after Thanksgiving. I think I only worked out 2 times in the entire month of December. I barely do any housecleaning and the laundry starts when we are all on our last pairs of underwear. Well, it’s January now and a new year has started. I have a list of things I want to start doing. Work has been absolutely CRAZYPANTS but it should calm down in the next few days and my head will stop spinning and perhaps I can actually start accomplishing things.

First up, this soup. It’s been raining like crazy here in SoCal the past couple days. Now, I happen to enjoy the rain. I don’t like going out in it, but I do love being warm and cozy and listening to it pitter patter outside my window. I always like to think Fall weather is soup weather, but in SoCal that is not at all the case. It’s usually pretty warm until mid-December to January when it starts to get a little chilly.

Minestrone soup is a thick Italian soup made of a flavored broth and veggies with optional beans and pasta added in. There is no set recipe for minestrone since you can use whatever veggies are in season. This soup dates back to the Roman Empire, but the basic premise remains today.

This soup really hit the spot and was so easy to make. It hit my trifecta of easy, healthy, and delicious!  If I weren’t in the beginning of a Biggest Loser Challenge, I would have served this with a side of bread as well.

30-Minute Minestrone Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ yellow onion, diced

4 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper

1 16 oz bag frozen veggie medley (green beans, corn, peas, carrots. You can really use whatever veggies you want.)

Parmesan rind (optional)

1 28-oz can low-sodium crushed tomatoes

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 15oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

12 oz box of shell pasta (or other small pasta of your choice) *I used Banza chickpea pasta and it was DELISH! You can’t even tell the difference and it punches up the protein of an otherwise-vegetarian dish.

Add olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another minute or so.

Add the frozen veggies, basil, oregano, some salt and some pepper. I had a leftover rind from some parmesan, so I added this as well. You don’t have to.  Stir and cook for a few minutes until veggies start to soften.

Add the crushed tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to a boil for about 10 minutes.

Add the beans and pasta and cook about 10 minutes (or per package directions for the pasta). Remove the parm rind if you used one and taste the soup for seasoning. I ended up adding more salt, pepper, and basil, but make it how you like it.

Spaghetti Carbonara 

I’ve always loved pasta. I mean, who doesn’t, really? But I feel like I’ve been taking it for granted my whole life. No matter what diet you decide to follow or how you plan on eating healthy, pasta is usually one of the first things to go. Sure, there are healthy alternatives to regular pasta like veggie noodles, whole wheat pasta, brown rice pasta, even garbanzo bean pasta. The problem is, it just really isn’t the same!

When I made a commitment to eat clean and healthy last year, it put me and pasta on the outs. Now that I’m in a good “maintaining” place (though those last 5 pounds would be nice to see gone!), I feel like I can reacquaint myself with my carby friend again. Every once in a while, of course. For special occasions, like New Year’s Eve, for example.

We don’t usually go out for NYE mostly because everywhere you go is super crowded, crazy expensive, and not nearly as much fun in practice as in theory. All the best New Year’s I’ve ever had were always spent at home or at someone else’s home. It’s warm, you can wear comfy clothes and it’s much cheaper. Plus, there’s still booze, so it’s still a good time!

Since we don’t go out, I always try to make a special dinner for the hubby and myself. This year I decided to make pasta from scratch and use it to make carbonara. Carbonara is one of my favorite pasta dishes and making it with homemade pasta was such a treat! 

I’ve made homemade pasta before when I first got my pasta attachment for my stand mixer, but I just never could quite get it right. This time I tried using Semolina flour and I really think it made all the difference. I used the Bob’s Red Mill brand from Sprouts, but I think you can get it at any grocery store.


It does take some time to make the pasta, but once you do, the rest of the dish just comes right together in minutes. If you don’t want to make your own pasta, go ahead and use store bought.

Spaghetti Carbonara (makes enough for 2-3 plus a little leftover)

For the pasta, I just followed the directions on the package:

1 ½ cups Semolina Flour

½ tsp Salt, optional (I included it in mine)

2 eggs or 3 egg whites, beaten (I did 2 eggs)

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the Carbonara:

4 oz diced pancetta

1 leek, chopped, white and light green parts only

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup shredded parmesan cheese

2 eggs

Black pepper to taste 

Make the pasta according to the package directions. I tried to be fancy like on tv and just make it on my cutting board. It does work this way, but it is a MESS. This is the part that takes awhile, because once you have all the ingredients mixed together, you have to knead the dough for 10 minutes. It is well worth it though, so pop on some tunes and get to work.


Once the dough is kneaded, cover it in plastic wrap and let it sit for 20 minutes.

When you are ready to actually make the pasta, you can either roll it out to your desired thinness and cut it into the shape you want or you can use your pasta maker if you have one. I think pasta makers are worth it and they come in a wide range of prices and sizes. 

I used my attachment with the spaghetti noodle disk in place and got to pumping out some pasta. This time, I didn’t make the little nests that I did before, and they did not clump together, so WIN.

 

Once your pasta is cut (or during the process, if you can do both), make the sauce for the carbonara. In a bowl, whisk together your two eggs, parmesan cheese, and some black pepper. It is important to have that ready to go so that you can add it to the hot pasta right away. The pasta needs to be hot to cook the eggs.


Cook your pancetta and leeks in a skillet until the pancetta is brown and the leeks are softened. When they are almost done, add the garlic and cook until soft.

 

While the pancetta mixture is cooking, add your pasta to a pot of boiling water and cook until done. It only takes about 5 minutes to cook fresh pasta, so keep your eye on it. When it is ready, add it to the skillet with the pancetta and leeks over LOW heat and mix together.

Add in the eggs and parmesan and toss until all the pasta is coated. Some people say to do this off the heat so the eggs don’t scramble, but I’ve never had a problem with the eggs scrambling. I just make sure to keep tossing so the eggs cook through and I am left with a creamy, dreamy sauce.

Then, turn off the heat and serve it up with a little more parmesan on top.

When you spell it out, carbonara seems like a lot of work, but in practice it is actually pretty simple, but it makes a really rich, decadent dish that you will want over and over again.

Meaty, Cheesy Lasagna 

Recently, some friends of mine had a baby, a little boy. This was baby number 2 for them (their oldest daughter and my oldest son are the same age).

As someone who has had a couple of kids herself, I can attest to the fact that after having a baby, the last thing you want to do is worry about making dinner (or breakfast or lunch for that matter). Not only are you exhausted in the first couple weeks while adjusting to this new person now living in your house, but you are also just completely engrossed in the sweet, sweet baby snuggles that your newborn is providing you with. 

That’s why I think one of the best things you can do for someone after having a baby is to bring them food. Preferably something that will create leftovers that will last them a few meals. I’m talking some good comfort food here. It will give them one less thing to worry about taking care of and they will appreciate it more than you could even imagine. Trust me. 

There are many options that would make for a good meal to take to someone, but this is one of my favorites. This lasagna is so good. It’s meaty and cheesy and pasta-y (yeah, I said it…). Paired with some warm, buttery garlic bread and a nice salad (you gotta get a little green in there!) and you’ve got yourself the perfect comfort food meal. 

I’d like to point out that this lasagna freezes very well and lasts up to 2 months in the freezer. This makes it a good addition to any freezer meal plan you may have if you do the make-ahead meals, or if you know lots of other people will also be bringing someone food. This way they don’t have to eat it right away. 

Lasagna may have different components to prep, but it is very easy to put together: 

9 Lasagna noodles, boiled per package directions

1-1/2 to 2 pounds ground beef (you know those packages at the store aren’t exact. You can also use turkey if you want.)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tsp each salt and pepper

15 oz tub of ricotta cheese

2-1/2 cups of Italian cheese blend

2-3 cups tomato sauce (homemade or jarred; it doesn’t matter)

Boil your noodles per the package instructions and set aside. If the noodles are done early, drizzle a little olive oil on them so they don’t stick together.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown your ground beef. When it is almost done, carefully drain as much of the rendered fat as you can, put it back on the stove and add the garlic, oregano, basil, and salt and pepper. You don’t need much salt because of all the cheeses you are going to use. Mix together until the meat is cooked through.

Add the tomato sauce and let simmer for a few minutes.

Now assemble:

Spread a little tomato sauce on the bottom of your pan. (PS: I love these disposable aluminum pans for freezer meals and meals to take to friends.)

Add a layer of noodles, then 1/3 of the ricotta, 1/3 of the meat sauce, and a 1/3 of the Italian cheese blend.

Repeat the layers, ending with the cheese blend on top.

Bake covered at 350 for 40-45 minutes, then uncovered for another 10-15 until the cheese is all bubbly and golden brown.

 

Sorry I don’t have an “after” shot of the baked lasagna, but since I was giving it to a friend, I didn’t want to bake it first. I did receive a text message the next day saying they all loved it so much and everyone had seconds. They barely saved room for the chocolate cake I made them for dessert, which I will share in my next post because it was super easy and the frosting was to die for.

What’s your favorite take-along or freezer meal?

Bucket list: Cooking in Italy 

I’ve mentioned before that my husband and I went to Italy on our honeymoon 7 years ago. I absolutely fell in love with the country and have been counting down the days until we can go back. I don’t know when that will be, but I’m counting down nonetheless!

   
 I’ve already decided for our next trip to Italy, we are going to spend the entire time in the Tuscany region. Rome was great. Venice was beautiful, but Florence was just magical. Taking the train through the Tuscan countryside on the way to Venice was breathtaking. I want… No. I need to spend as much time there as possible.    

    
 The food in Italy is so pure and unpretentious. They use the freshest ingredients and create dishes that let the ingredients shine through and speak for themselves. I want to experience that. I want to do a foodie tour of Tuscany. That has been on my bucket list for awhile now.

  
   
I’ve been watching Giada DiLaurentis’ new cooking show on Food Network where she cooks in Italy. That has inspired my new bucket list item of staying in a place with a kitchen so I can go out and buy all the amazing fresh local ingredients and cook them up into yummy dishes. 

    
 I don’t know when this will happen but it definitely will happen!

Pea and Parmesan Risotto 

You may remember back in October, I made arancini which was one of my favorite foods from my trip to Italy. I said you start with risotto. You can use that as your risotto recipe, but this is my go-to risotto recipe. And yes, I have to have a go-to risotto recipe because my husband loves the stuff and requests it frequently. Plus, it’s easy because it uses ingredients I pretty much always have on hand.

Pea and Parmesan Risotto

1 ¾ cups Arborio rice (this is important; it really needs to be Arborio)
4 cups chicken broth, warmed in a pan
½ cup dry white wine (optional. You can substitute for ½ cup chicken broth)
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
½ leek, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup of frozen peas
1 cup of shredded parmesan cheese

In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter and olive oil. Add the leeks and garlic and cook until soft and fragrant. Add the rice and stir around until slightly toasted.

Add the wine to the rice and stir to combine into the rice. Turn the heat down to medium and about 1 cup at a time, add the chicken broth. Wait until each cup is absorbed before adding the next one. This is a low and slow process to allow the rice to absorb all the broth and release it’s starches, giving you a really smooth and creamy risotto. Make sure you are stirring frequently throughout.

After all the broth is incorporated, add your peas and cheese. The peas should thaw quickly and the cheese will melt into the rice.

And that’s it! It makes a great side dish, especially for chicken, which is how my hubby requests it.

Dish #12: Chicken Parmesan (Italy)

I love Chicken Parmesan. It’s so warm and comforting to me. I mean, you have pasta swimming in a rich tomato sauce topped with crispy chicken covered in gooey cheese. What’s not to like? And it’s easy to make, so even better!

Not surprising, this dish originates from Italy. While the exact origins are unknown, the northern town of Parma and the southern regions of Campania and Sicily all claim it as their own. The dish is referred to simply as parmigiana and is made with fried eggplant (aubergine). The version using a breaded and fried meat (veal, chicken) is popular in other countries, particularly those with a high Italian immigrant population.

My recipe is very basic:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast, butterflied so you have 4 thin-ish pieces
salt
2 eggs
1-1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I use panko)
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
4 sliced provolone cheese (mozzarella works great too)
Extra virgin olive oil (a couple big tablespoons is fine. Enough to cover the bottom of the pan)
Prepared spaghetti noodles
Tomato sauce (jarred or homemade ) /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d2a/73440846/files/2014/12/img_2889.jpg

In one bowl, beat up your eggs with a fork.

In a second bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, oregano, basil, and garlic powder.

Add your oil to your skillet over medium high heat. Prep the chicken while it gets up to a hot temperature.

Dip a chicken breast in the egg, covering all sides. Let the excess drip off.
Dip the chicken in the breadcrumb mix, covering all sides. Press the crumbs in so it really sticks.
Repeat with the other pieces of chicken.

When the oil is hot (flick a little water in the oil and it should sizzle), put the chicken in. Cook it for about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over to the other side. Ladle some sauce over the top and top with a couple pieces of cheese on each piece of chicken and put the skillet into a 350 degree oven (make sure your skillet is oven-safe. If not, you can let the chicken sit in the skillet for a couple minutes to crisp up and then transfer to a baking dish and add your sauce and cheese at that point). Let the chicken finish cooking in the oven, probably another 7 minutes, or until the cheese is all melted and gooey. (Check the chicken before serving to make sure it’s cooked all the way. The timing depends on how thick the chicken is).

Coat the noodles with sauce and put on a plate. Top the noodles with the chicken and serve, probably with a light green salad because it’s a pretty rich dish. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d2a/73440846/files/2014/12/img_28911.jpg

If you’re feeling particularly carby, serve some garlic bread on the side. Because, yum. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d2a/73440846/files/2014/12/img_2892.jpg

Go-To Tomato Sauce

So a few posts back I made a tomato sauce which I mentioned I don’t normally make. I promised I show you the way I usually make it so here we go.

This is a very simple sauce that can be used for pretty much anything you want. There is no need to buy jarred sauce anymore! Unless you want to, of course. And it freezes beautifully, so you can make a bunch and freeze it batches to keep for use later.

All you need are crushed tomatoes, diced onions, chopped garlic, olive oil, salt, oregano, and basil (fresh or dried. If I have fresh, I’ll use it, but I always have dried in my pantry so it makes it easy).

In pot over medium heat, saute your onions and garlic in a tablespoon or so of olive oil until soft and fragrant. Add about 1 teaspoon each of oregano and basil and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and stir together. Add cans crushed tomatoes and stir. Let simmer for about 20 minutes.

It is technically ready at this point. You can add other seasonings it might need or you might prefer. I usually add more basil (about 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons) and a pinch or two of salt, depending on my taste preferences that day. Mix well and serve with your favorite pasta or chicken parm or lasagna or…. the list is endless! It is very versatile.

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