2020 has definitely tested a lot of us. The world has turned its heads and many of us are trying to adapt in the best possible way. There are a number of things I do to keep my energy and my head clear. Keeping a house tidy, talking to friends on the phone, and wearing my favorite lipstick daily are just a few examples. However, I tend to preach the importance of cooking well and eating well. Delicious, sexy and healthy meals keep your mind and body under control while delighting your taste buds. All of this helps to cope with our new daily obstacles.
If there's one food I can always count on to give me the comfort I need, it's pasta. So when it came to choosing a particular dish for 'World pasta day' there was a recipe that came to my mind that is perfect for these days of self-isolation; 'Pasta and fagioli". In English, this translates to "pasta and beans". With the addition of other humble ingredients, this is a true representation of 'cucina povera'- Italian peasant cuisine. Regional cuisine is so important in Italy, however, it is one of the few recipes enjoyed throughout the country. He is really loved by many. Enjoying this dish here in the UK is no problem as all the ingredients can be found in any local supermarket. However, believe me when I tell you that this dish will give you a lot of comfort on those colder and darker evenings to come.
When it comes to my pasta of choice, it's not just important that you choose the perfect shape, (for this recipe I'm using wacky, baby bows) but it's just as important to use a brand of pasta that will give you the perfect 'al dente' bite. For me, it's Garofalo.
I have a long history with Garofalo because I was selling it at my Italian food stand years ago. Made in Gragnano, a town in the province of Naples, it is better known as'pasta town". The pasta produced here is of such a high standard that even the European Commission has given it IGP status (guarantee of origin for foods produced in specific areas; Italy).
Using only the best quality semolina flour, their pasta has a high protein content which helps to retain starch, hold its shape and give that perfect 'al dente' texture that we should all be looking for. Second, Garofalo pasta is dead bronze, which gives pasta a rough and porous surface, making it perfect for binding and hanging sauces. So when it comes to enjoying that hearty pasta soup, it absolutely enhances your experience.
Below are a few key ingredients to consider when making this wonderful pasta and fagioli, followed by my version below. Good food and stay safe.
The basis of this recipe is a delicate and tasty "soffrito" which means lightly fried vegetables. Traditionally, a soffrito is made from finely chopped onion, celery and carrot. You can even use leeks and fennel as alternatives. Softening these vegetables is the key to this recipe. The liquid they release at the start creates a wonderful flavor base that you can then build on with the other ingredients.
I then like to add a selection of Italian dry herbs which, when added to the softened vegetables, create a wonderful aroma.
The addition of pork fat gives the dish a nice, salty smoke flavor that is beautifully balanced with the sweetness of the vegetables. There are a number of ingredients you can use, such as pancetta, bacon, parma ham, or sausage meat. Although not Italian, you can also add smoked chorizo.
I like to finish the soffrito base with a little wine to help intensify that base flavor.
When it comes to choosing your legumes, you have a number of options. Borlotti, cannellini, butter beans and even chickpeas can be used. Or why not a mixture. I prefer to use canned legumes because they are convenient and easy to store in your pantry. Dried pulses are also fantastic. They tend to have more bite. But, you have to consider that they take longer to prepare with soaking overnight and cooking in water for a few hours. However, leftover cooking water from the beans is a great, delicious bonus to a stew. But like I said before, canned legumes are also great.
When choosing pasta for this dish. I like to use small pasta. I prefer it to be the same size as the legumes I use, which makes it easier to consume with a spoon. If you don't have baby pasta, you can break up spaghetti, linguine or whatever on long pasta into matchsticks.
Paste e fagioli '- pasta and beans
Extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 celery, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of dry Italian herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary)
70g pancetta, diced (or bacon, parma ham or sausage)
1/2 glass of white wine
1 can of borlotti, or cannellini, or butter beans, or chickpeas
1 can of peeled tomatoes or 250g of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
500 ml vegetable / chicken broth
100g cavolo nero, kale or spinach, chopped
125g Garofalo farfalline or any other baby paste
Grated Parmensan, for serving
pasta and fagioli
- Liberally pour extra virgin olive oil into a medium saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery. With a wooden spoon, make sure the vegetables are evenly coated with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to stir and gently soften the vegetables over medium / low heat for 5 minutes.
- Then sprinkle with dry herbs, mix, coat and cook for another 5 minutes. Make sure to keep stirring so the vegetables don't brown.
- Now add the pancetta. Again, continue to stir and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Pour in the white wine, increase the heat to medium and cook until the liquid has evaporated.
- Then add the beans, tomatoes and pour in the broth. Bring it to a boil and simmer for at least 30 minutes. This will allow the tomatoes to cook and decompose.
- When the stew has cooked for 30 minutes, remove a few ladles of the stew and place them in a bowl. With a potato masher or hand blender, break it down. Return it to the pot.
- Add the cavolo nero. Stir for a few minutes.
- Finally, add the pasta. Cook 1 minute less as directed on the package. The pasta will continue to cook after being removed from the heat.
- Serve in a bowl. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan. Serve immediately with crusty bread.
Announcement: This recipe is a paid collaboration with Garafalo pasta.
Whether you regularly whip up Michelin-worthy meals at the drop of a hat or your cooking skills are best described as “fine, ” you can always benefit from the helpful little tricks of others. Here, 14 of our friends’, families’ and coworkers’ most-used cooking tips.
There’s a time and a place to whip out that complicated coq au vin recipe you’ve been dying to try. A dinner party isn’t that time. With a new recipe, you’ll likely be chained to the kitchen the whole time, plus, when you’re trying something for the first time, there’s always the possibility that it could go horribly wrong. When cooking for a group, we always err on the side of tried-and-true crowd-pleasers.
You do hours of prep work on an intricate dish, only to be totally disappointed once you taste the terminal product. Bummer. Instead of putting in all that effort only to be disappointed, taste while you cook. That way, you’ll realize sooner that the dish isn’t tasting how you’d like it to, and you can make all kinds of last-ditch exercices to save it. This doesn’t just work for bad-to-OK meals. Tasting midway through and realizing how perfect a dash of cayenne or a squirt of lemon juice would be can take a great dinner to legendary status.
Plating pasta means tossing some onto a plate and finishing it with a nice dollop of sauce right on the middle, right ? Wrong. Here’s how to take your carbs to the next level : On the stove there should be two pans, one with pasta and one with sauce. Cook the pasta to al dente and transfer it into the sauce. Then, add a little bit of pasta water ( literally just the starchy water the pasta has been cooking in ), which will help the sauce cling to the pasta while also keeping it the right consistency. Perfection.
In the pursuit of the perfect steak, you have to be OK with your kitchen getting a little smoky. That’s because, to get the mouthwatering sear we’re all after, the meat has to be dry and the pan should be pretty damn close to smoking hot. Trust us, it’s worth a few seconds of a blaring alarm.
Most foods are ruined by too much salt. Steak is different. When it comes to seasoning your meat ( before you cook it ), more is more. Use a generous amount of coarse Kosher salt—more than you think you need. Since most cuts of steak are pretty thick, even though you’re using a lot of salt, it’s still only covering the surface.
This one isn’t too complicated. Whether you’re making avocado toast, pizza, fried rice or a burger, the addition of a fried egg on top will not hurt your feelings. Trust us.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but we’ve definitely found ourselves in a situation where we assumed we knew all of the ingredients that went into chocolate chip cookies only to find out that we had about half the required amount of brown sugar. Ugh. to avoid a mid-cooking grocery-store trip, read the recipe from front to back—carefully—before you start.
Prepping céréales in mass quantities is less about taste than convenience. Rice, quinoa and even oatmeal last about a week in the fridge after being cooked. When we’re prepping any one of those, we double up our measurements and store the leftovers, which are then impossibly easy to use up throughout the week. Too tired to make dinner ? Heat up some leftover rice from the fridge and toss an egg on top ( remember ? ). Couldn’t be simpler.
So you fried up a pound of bacon for an indulgent ( read : delicious ) brunch. Great, just make sure you don’t throw out the grease in the pan. Instead, save it in the refrigerator or freezer ( it technically lasts for up to a year, but should be used sooner than that to take full advantage of its flavor ). Then, anytime you’re cooking something you typically prepare in oil, try cooking it in the bacon grease instead. You’ll never want to eat Brussels sprouts the old way again.
You’ve probably heard that whenever a dish is lacking a little something-something, the best thing to do is toss in some salt. But, we have it on good authority that salt isn’t always the answer. When you’re tasting a dish at the end and you think it needs a little oomph, often it just needs a splash of acid ( like lemon juice ) to round out the flavor.
You know the difference between a paring knife and a fillet knife, but do you know how to take care of them ? Or, more importantly, how to use them ? A set of good knives can be the difference between a stressful cooking experience and a great one. First, practice your knife skills. Look up tutorials on YouTube and practice chopping, slicing and julienne-ing. It’s amazing what you can do with your cook time when your prep time is shortened with solid knife skills. Then, once you’ve got your skills down pat, learn how to take care of your set. No one ever achieved kitchen greatness with a dull chef’s knife.
The key to tender, flavorful barbecue and roasts ? Cooking it on a low temperature for a long time. The same doesn’t go for roasting veggies. For crispy, perfectly cooked butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and more, remember the magic number : 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Any lower, and you risk pulling a pan of blah carrots out of the oven. It might seem high, but to get the nice roasted flavor, you need high heat. And while we’re on the subject, stop crowding your veggies in the pan, which will also make them soggy.
You know how just about every cookie recipe suggests that you chill your dough in the refrigerator for at least a few hours, but oftentimes you don’t listen because you just want cookies now ? ! ( Same. ) Unfortunately, this step actually does make a difference. In addition to limiting how much the dough spreads while baking, chilling your dough intensifies the flavors and produces that perfect chewy, crispy texture we know and love.
It won’t do your breath any favors, but never ( ever ) scrimp on garlic. In fact, we typically double the amount a recipe calls for. Apologies to anyone who was planning on kissing us.