Archives for category: Pasta

Pasta-Fagioli-14

This is the first in a series of guest blog posts. This week I’m delighted to introduce Jill Ulicneya Brooklyn-based photographer and food lover. You can find her latest photos and drawings at jillieu.tumblr.com and at Instagram via @jillieu.

There used to be a wonderful Italian cafe on Bleecker Street named Scali, which I would frequent for its incredible vegetarian pasta e fagioli soup. Six dollars would get me a generous serving of steaming hearty tomato, white bean, and pasta goodness along with a crusty piece of bread. Since they closed in 2012, I haven’t found a better lunch deal nor have I found a pasta e fagioli that compares to theirs.

Now that winter is here in New York, I’ve been dreaming about a reunion with this soup. After researching, I found countless methods for pasta e fagioli, but nothing that sounded quite like Scali’s version. This is my attempt to recreate my old favorite.

Note: many recipes suggest cooking the pasta in the soup. I chose to cook it separately because I didn’t want the pasta to absorb too much liquid since I prefer a brothy soup.

Pasta e Fagioli

40 minutes
Serves 6

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion chopped
4 cloves garlic chopped
1 medium carrot chopped
1 small rib of celery chopped
1 bay leaf
1 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes
4 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried Italian parsley
5 fresh basil leaves torn
1 15-ounce can of white beans
12 ounces small pasta, like malloreddus or ditalini
Parmesan (optional)
Salt
Pepper

Soup Directions

Heat a large pot with two tablespoons olive oil.
Add onion, garlic, carrot, celery and bay leaf to the pot. Season with salt and pepper and cook for five minutes on medium heat or until onion is tender.
Add canned tomatoes (do not drain), vegetable stock, red pepper flakes and dried parsley and stir to combine.
Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally.
Remove bay leaf (do not discard) and use immersion blender to blend ingredients to preferred smoothness.
Return bay leaf back to the mixture and add basil leaves and white beans.
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Pasta Directions

Fill a medium pot with water and set to high heat.
When the water begins to boil, “salt it like the sea” as my pasta nerd friend says.
Add the pasta and cook until pasta reaches preferred state
Drain the pasta.

To serve, place pasta in individual bowls and ladle the soup on top.
Grate some fresh parmesan over the soup and enjoy!

Pasta-Fagioli-3

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When I saw Sam Sifton’s gooey wild-mushroom lasagna in last weekend’s Times magazine I 1) held the magazine up to my nose and tried to inhale the aromas and 2) logged onto Fresh Direct’s website and ordered all the ingredients in the recipe. And thus began this weekend’s cooking adventure.

I’m into mushrooms. I have a friend who puts them in the category of “things that are slimy like sushi and therefore gross,” but I couldn’t disagree more. They are a vegetarian’s best friend, a meat-lover’s confidant, an umami-laden, savory, rich, earthy delight that adds depth and complexity to any dish.

This was not a thirty-minute meal. I started cooking last night at 6:30 and didn’t get the dish on the table until 10 pm. And I worked relatively quickly, or so I thought, but did not have a sous chef to help me cut all the shallots or grate the cheese or assemble the herb oil. But it was so worth it.

Let’s start with the herb oil. As Sifton writes, Monica Byrne and her partner Leisah Swenson run a tiny restaurant in Red Hook, Brooklyn, called Home/Made, and this herb oil infuses many of their dishes. It’s essentially good olive oil marinated with sage, rosemary, thyme, salt, and garlic. It’s an oily pesto that you use to roast the radicchio and cook the shallots and even make the bechamel in this recipe. I made extra so plan to use it to marinate sandwiches for lunch this week or even use as a pistou in soups.

I used three different kind of mushrooms for this lasagna: cremini, shiitake, and oyster; and four different kinds of cheese: Gruyère, Fontina, Parmesan, and smoked mozzarella. This is not a cheap dish to make, but it does yield about ten servings so in actuality it’s not too bad. Plus the results taste like something you’d pay good money for at a restaurant, with layers and layers of taste. It’s the perfect cold-weather dish to savor warm, rich flavors, and if you’re into wine, would go well with a dry, crisp white to cut the richness of the cheese.

I didn’t, however, use the optional truffle oil. Personally I don’t use the stuff. I find the smell slightly nauseating and besides, it’s not made with real truffles so what’s the point? But the herb oil should not be optional—it’s worth the extra effort.

If you’re hosting a dinner party this would be a great dish to make to serve lots of folks, including vegetarians, and could even be made in advance and just popped in the oven an hour before serving. I only wished I’d had a nice crunchy green salad to serve on the side, but made do with some crisp sliced carrots and sour green beans I had pickled over the summer. I would even try serving this to my anti-mushroom friend in the hopes that she could make nice with the fungus once and for all.

Gooey Wild-Mushroom Lasagna
Sam Sifton, adapted from Monica Byrne, Home/Made, Brooklyn

1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil or herb oil
6 large shallots, peeled and minced
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, wild or best available (oyster, shiitake, cremini), trimmed and sliced
1 c dry white wine
1 softball-sized head of radicchio, halved, cored, and cut into small pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp unsalted better, or herb oil
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 tbsp flour
3 c whole milk
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 c Gruyère cheese, grated
1 c Fontina cheese, grated
2 tbsp best-quality truffle oil (optional)
2 9-oz boxes no-boil lasagna sheets
1 baseball-size ball of smoked mozzarella, sliced
1 c fresh Parmesan, grated

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 1/4 c of the herb oil. When it’s hot, add half of the shallots and cook until translucent. Add the mushrooms, toss to coat, and cook for approx. 12 to 15 minutes, until they start to turn color but remain plump. Add the white wine to deglaze pan and allow to cook down into a syrup, approx. 5 to 7 minutes. Put the mushrooms into a large bowl and reserve.

2. In another bowl, toss the radicchio with 1/4 c herb oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the strips onto a baking sheet and place in the oven approx. 15 minutes, until the strips are lightly browned. Combine with the mushrooms and reserve.

3. Make the béchamel. Place a saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. When it foams add the rest of the shallots and cook until they’re translucent. Add the garlic, stir to combine, and cook until the garlic has started to soften. Stir in the flour and cook gently until the mixture turns light brown and gives off a nutty scent, approximately 10 minutes. Add the milk to the mixture, whisking, until the sauce is thick and creamy. Add the nutmeg and 1/2 c of the Gruyère and 1/4 c Fontina, and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Reserve a cup of béchamel and pour the rest over the mushroom-radicchio mixture and stir to combine. Add the truffle oil, if using.

5. Assemble lasagna. Spread all of the plain béchamel across the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Place a layer of lasagna sheets across the sauce, and do not overlap the sheets. Spread a generous layer of mushroom mixture on top of the pasta, and follow with some grated Fontina and Gruyère. Put another layer of pasta above the cheese, and top with smoked mozzarella. Repeat until the pasta is gone and the pan is full. Top with remaining cheeses and grated Parmesan. Cover with a buttered sheet of aluminum foil and place in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and cook (or broil) until the top is golden and crispy. Pat yourself on the back for making such an awesome dish.


Last month, my roommate hosted a party in our apartment celebrating his grandmother’s 90th birthday. I was in Milwaukee, but enjoyed the leftovers when I returned to New York. One of my favorite dishes Mark made with his mother was this Israeli couscous salad with dried cherries, arugula, and walnuts. We had so much of it left in our fridge I brought some out to my grandmother, knowing she’d probably never had couscous (which she now calls “frou-frou”) but might like it nonetheless.

Did she ever. I was sorry I’d only brought a pint-size container full. She wanted more and has asked for it ever since. So Labor Day weekend, before driving out to Long Island, I whipped up a batch to take over. I had most of the ingredients on hand; the day before, at the co-op, I only had to pick up some more couscous in bulk (Israeli couscous, also known as pearl couscous, is made from baked wheat and is bigger and rounder than North African couscous, which is finer and made from semolina). Instead of orange juice, like the recipe called for, I used grapefruit juice since that’s what I had in my fridge.

Of course, this recipe is just asking for substitutions. I bet fresh squeezed lemon juice, cooked eggplant, feta, and mint would work nicely. Or chickpeas, turmeric, a dried red chile pepper, and cilantro.

This salad makes for a great lunch during the week, and doesn’t require heating up. Leftovers last a few days at least, although the arugula will begin to wilt once dressed. Give it a try, and hey, offer it to someone who thinks couscous is called “frou-frou” because I think they just might like it.

Couscous salad with dried cherries, walnuts, and arugula

For the couscous:
1 c water
2/3 c orange or grapefruit juice
1 1/3 c (1/2 lb) Israeli (pearl) couscous

For the salad:
1/4 c orange or grapefruit juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2/3 c dried cherries
2 stalks celery, finely diced
3 oz (a couple handfuls) arugula
1/2 c walnuts, lightly toasted
1 shallot, peeled and minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the water and the juice in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover the pan, and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. Prepare a large baking sheet by covering it with parchment paper. When the couscous has absorbed all the liquid spread it out on the baking sheet to cool.

Whisk together the juice, olive oil, and red wine vinegar in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Add the dried cherries and microwave for 2 minutes on high. (Alternatively, you can bring the mixture to a simmer in a small saucepan on the stove, then stir in the cherries and turn off the heat.) Let the cherries stand in the liquid for at least 5 minutes, until they are glossy and plump. Drain off the liquid into another cup and reserve.

When the couscous has cooled to lukewarm, slide the couscous into a large mixing bowl. Take the reserved liquid drained from the cherries and whisk vigorously until thoroughly combined. Stir this into the couscous. Stir in the steeped cherries, celery, arugula, walnuts, and shallot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4–6.

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