Peposo : Tuscan Peppery Beef Stew

Tuscan Beef Stew

 

It’s April.  It’s still cold.  It’s. Not. Fun.

Normally at this time, I would be thinking of springs vegetable bounty, but unfortunately, my body is still asking for belly warming dishes such as these.  I came across this recipe from one of my cook books, “The Country Cooking of Italy” by Colman Andrews.  It is a beautiful book, full of regional recipes with beautiful pictures and anecdotes.  My decision to make this was the absolute ease of the recipe.  You basically just throw the ingredients in a dutch oven and slow cook for hours.  Perfect for when you want something delicious and homemade but don’t have the time to sit at the stove.

These ingredients are also readily available in your pantry - Pepper, Salt, Garlic, Tomato Sauce and Wine.  That’s it.  Easy as 1-2-3. (Now you’re thinking of the Jackson 5, aren’t you?)

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I made this last night for some friends who came to dinner.  Yet, I had to run a whole bunch of errands, but no problem.  Slow roasted in the oven for 8 hours, it left me plenty of time to do what I needed and still come home and whip up some boiled and buttered potatoes.

This recipe did not taste at all like any other Italian food I have ever eaten, the simplicity was very italian, but it’s peperiness reminded me more of an Asian dish than a Tuscan one.  It was truly delicious nonetheless!

So, if you have things to do and still want to make a hearty homemade meal that the family will love, you absolutely must try this dish.  And you won’t even need a knife.

 

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 4-6

1 kg of beef for stew

2 tbsp crushed peppercorns (not ground)

12 garlic cloves, peeled

Salt

1 cup tomato sauce

1 bottle Chianti

Preheat the oven to 135C.  In a large dutch oven, add the beef, peppercorns, garlic, generous amount of salt, tomato sauce and the wine to cover.  Cover the dutch oven and place in the oven, cooking for 6-8 hours, do not take off the lid.

Serve with your favorite starch…..or not.  It’s delicious on its own.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

 

 

Pane Siciliano – Sicilian Bread

Rustic Bread

There is something utterly rewarding about making bread at home.  Whenever I pass by a bread bakery, I swoon at the smells wafting from inside, just wanting to dive into the dough, and lie in a puddle of happiness.

Unfortunately, making good bread isn’t easy.  It is alchemy, turning base ingredients into something worth raving about.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like bread, but I completely understand that it isn’t something you want to tackle unless you have plenty of time and patience.  This recipe isn’t easy, but if you are up to the challenge, you will not be disappointed.

It is three days work, you can cheat a little bit by omitting one of the steps, yet you would be cheating yourself out of an opportunity to taste something utterly delicious.  I think the most important step is preparation, considering you have to bake the bread emulating a steam hearth.  So, I suggest you read through the recipe once or twice, and make sure you have all the tools necessary.  Don’t worry, they are not some confounding instruments you’ve never heard of, but it does make a difference to have everything on hand once you begin to cook.

bread

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Courtesy of “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”

Makes 3 loaves

3 cups pâté fermentee (recipe follows)

1 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour

1 3/4 cups semolina flour

1 1/4 tsp salt

1 1/4 tsp instant yeast

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp honey

1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups water, lukewarm

Natural brown or black sesame seeds for topping (optional)

1. Remove the pâté fermentee from the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough to take off the chill.  Cut it into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife.  Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.

2. Stir together the bread flour, semolina flour, salt, and yeast in a 4 qt bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer).  Add the pâté fermentee pieces, the oil, the honey, and 1 1/4 cups water.  Stir with a large spoon until the dough forms a ball (or mix on medium-low speed with the paddle attachment).  If the dough seems too stiff, dribble in water 1 tsp at a time until all the flour is gathered and the dough feels soft and pliable.  If the dough seems sticky, don’t worry; you can adjust the flour while kneading or mixing.

3.  Sprinkle bread flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and knead (or mix on medium – low speed with the dough hook).  Add flour as needed, sprinkling in a small amount at a time to make a smooth dough that is tacky but not sticky and has the same pliability and suppleness as French bread dough.  Knead for about 10 minutes ( or for 6 to 8 minutes by machine).  The dough should pass the windowpane test.  (Grabbing a piece of the dough, stretch it out, and if it forms a “pane” and doesn’t break, that is slightly translucent, then it is done) It should register 77 – 81 degrees F.  Form the dough into a ball, lightly oil a large bowl, and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

4.  Ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

5.  Gently divide the dough into 3 equal pieces.  Shape as for baguette into long cylinders, extending each piece to about 24 inches in length and taking care to degas the dough as little as possible.  Then, working from each end simultaneously, coil the dough toward the center, forming an S shape.  Line a sheet pan with baking parchment and sprinkle some semolina flour on the parchment.  Place each loaf on the pan, mist the loaves with water and sprinkle sesame seeds on the top of each loaf.  Then mist the tops with vegetable spray oil and place the pan in a food-grade plastic bag or loosely cover with plastic wrap.

6.  Place the pan in the refrigerator overnight. (This is a step you can omit, but don’t, it is totally worth it.  If you do, let rise for at least 2 hours before baking.)

7.  The next day, remove the pan from the refrigerator and determine whether the loaves have risen enough to bake or if they need additional proofing time.  Gently poke the dough.  If it springs back quickly, leave the pans out, still covered, for a couple of hours, or until it wakes up and rises more.  The dough should stay dimpled when poked, and the loaves should be nearly twice as large as when first baked.

8.  Prepare the oven for hearth baking, making sure to place an empty steam pan in place.  You do not need a baking stone.  Preheat the oven to 500F with the oven rack on the middle shelf.

9.  Uncover the bread dough and place the pan in the oven.  Pour 1 cup hot water into the steam pan and close the door.  After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls using a plant mister with water and close the door.  Repeat twice more at 30 second intervals.  After the final spray, lower the oven setting to 450F and bake for about 15 minutes.  Rotate the pans 180 degrees for even baking and continue baking for 10-15 minutes more, or until the loaves are a rich golden brown all over.  If there are still light or white segments of the dough extend the baking time for a few extra minutes to maximize color and flavor.  The internal temperature of the bread should register 200-205 F.

10.  Remove the pan from the oven and transfer loaves to a baking rack.  Cool for at least 45 minutes before serving.

Pate Fermentee Recipe

(enough for one batch of this bread)

1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/8 cups bread flour

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp instant yeast

3/4 cup to 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp water, at room temperature

1.  Stir together the flours, salt, and yeast in a 4 qt. bowl (or the bowl of an electric mixer).  Add 3/4 cups water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low-speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment).  Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff.

2.  Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter.  Knead for 4 to 6 minutes ( or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky.

3.  Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it swells to about 1.5 times its size.

4.  Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it lightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap.  Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.  You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Saveur Magazine Classic Recipes No. 61 – Carbonnade (Flemish Beef and Beer Stew)

Beef and Beer Stew

I had heard about this dish a log time ago.  My friend Kiana, who lives in Brussels, was always posting on Facebook that she was making it.  Initially, I thought she was talking about Carbonara, a.k.a, spaghetti carbonara.  Then, I humbly learned that not only was it not even close to carbonara, but the only thing similar is that it both has bacon in it, at least according to this recipe.

I was obviously intrigued about making this, and was quite pleased upon seeing it in the magazine.  This became a no-brainer, since the weather is quite accommodating here in Madrid at the moment.  This beef stew begs for rainy or snowy days and toasty evenings snuggled under a blankie.  This is the stuff of wood chalets and fire places my friends.  Unfortunately, I don’t have either.  But, I can imagine my friend Kiana and her gorgeous family eating it a-la-ski-lodge, in their pj’s all snuggled around their fire.  Dreamy!

Anyhow, I digress.  The stew is quite easy, and the ingredients readily available.  It is imperative that you use a nice dark beer, preferably Belgian.  I used Chimay Red Cap, in absence of any other type of Belgian beer here in Spain. Kiana recommended Rochefort……if you can find it, use it.  But, what I thought gave this dish such an elegant and nuanced flavor, was the tarragon.  Oh, my beating heart.  The sauce, well, it speaks for itself.  If you don’t make this, you’ll be sorry.  Really.  I’m that serious.

So, on to the ratings:

Overall Points:  8.9/10 – the most points yet!

Difficulty:  Easy to medium, just cause it takes a long time

Availability of ingredients:  Readily available, except maybe for the tarragon

2 lb beef chuck, cut into 2″ x 1/2″ thick slices

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup flour

4 tbsp. unsalted butter

4 slices bacon, finely chopped

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced lengthwise

2 cups Belgian – Style ale, like Ommengang Abbey Ale

1 cup beef stock

2 tbsp. brown sugar

2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

3 sprigs thyme

3 sprigs parsley

2 sprigs tarragon

1 bay leaf

Bread, for serving

Season beef with salt and pepper in a bowl; add flour and toss to coat.  Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Working in batches, add beef; cook, turning, until browned, about 8 minutes.  Transfer to a plate; set aside.  Add bacon; cook until its fat renders, about 8 minutes.  Add remaining butter, garlic, and onions; cook until caramelized, about 30 minutes.  Add half the beer; cook, scraping bottom of pot, until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes.  Return beef to pot with remaining beer, stock, sugar, vinegar, thyme, parsley, tarragon, bay leaf, and salt and pepper; boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until beef is tender, about 1 1/2 hours.  Serve with bread.  Serves 4.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Minestrone

Minestronne

 

Nothing screams homey, comfort and belly-warming to me more than Minestrone.  Growing up, it was my mother’s preferred way to get me to eat veggies, mine too now, of course; I also remember watching my uncle carefully chop all the vegetables, and explain to me in which order they should be sautéed, for how long, and of course, his secret ingredient.

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The hard rind of the parmesan cheese.  He rarely threw out any food out, there was always some use for it.  I remember as a kid, watching that incredibly hard and inedible rind being plopped into the soup mid way, and upon its extraction, it was a soft, gooey, gloop of a mess.  For me it was alchemy, magic.  And the taste of the soup…..incredible!

I still make my minestrone exactly the way my uncle taught me, digging out as many veggies from the fridge as I can, but always respecting their taste profiles.  I remember him saying never to put eggplant in, as it would give the soup a more acid taste.  So I don’t use it.  Also, he used broccoli, but this time I found this beauty:

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I think this is purple cauliflower, but the taste seems to be a cross between the two.  It gave the overall dish another beautiful color profile, which I love…..I love eating the rainbow, it just makes me feel so healthy!

The recipe I am going to give to you is by no means written down anywhere, I always make it from my memory.  So, the amounts are not perfect, so hang in there.

So, here’s what you’re going to need

Serves 8-10

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 stalk of celery, sliced

1/2 leek, halved lengthwise and sliced

6-7 cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 handful of green beans, chopped into 2 inch sticks

1/2 zucchini, diced

6-7 broccoli or purple cauliflower florets, chopped

1/2 cup white beans, from can or jar

1 tsp dried oregano

3 cups vegetable stock

1 large can (800 g) crushed tomatoes

1 parmesan cheese rind (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots, celery and leeks.

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Sprinkle in some salt and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes.  Raise the heat to medium high, and add the rest of the veggies, except for the beans.

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Saute until the mushrooms are just starting to soften, about 6 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the vegetable stock, crushed tomatoes, parmesan rind and oregano.  Let it come to a boil, and then lower the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Five minutes before you take it off the heat, add the beans.  Taste and add more salt if needed, and some pepper.

Serve with the grated parmesan.

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From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Buckwheat Polenta with Gorgonzola Cream and Toasted Walnuts

 

Buckwheat Polenta

 

The first time I tried Polenta I was 11 years old, my first year in Switzerland.  I remember seeing these enormous vats of polenta, being stirred constantly by a mechanical arm.  To tell you the truth, it really didn’t look very appetizing.  It looked like a big mass of yellow mush.  Then I tried it.  I’ve been hooked since.

I love the versatility of polenta.  It can be eaten soft, or left to harden then baked or fried.  It allows you to top it with an infinite nuber of possibilities, savory or sweet.  Buckwheat Polenta, or as they call it in Italy, Polenta Taragna, is quite different.  It has a saltier and denser quality, and usually it is eaten only with savory, and with a final addition of Bitto cheese.  In Lombaridia, the region where Milano is capital, there is an area called Valtellina.  This is the northern alpine area, and buckwheat is used in many recipes, two of the most famous being this polenta and a type of pasta called Pizzocheri.  They are both some of my favorites, but for my belly it needs to be quite cool to eat this since it is much more filling than normal pasta and polenta varieties.  That said, it is also a heck of a lot more nutritious too!

On my last trip to Lugano, I brought back some of this polenta, and finally the weather cooled down enough for me to make some.  I have a few friends here who are die-hard fans of polenta, so I wanted to introduce this variety to them.  I chose to top it with a creamy gorgonzola sauce, and some toasted walnuts.  If you are so lucky to find some, make sure you get the express variety, which cooks in about 5 minutes.  If not, you will have to stand over the stove and CONTINUOUSLY stir the polenta for 40-50 minutes!  (I haven’t had an arm workout like this in years.)  But, the end result is well worth the exercise, and throughout the process, I was channeling my inner nonna.

So, here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 6

500 g Polenta Taragna (or regular polenta if you can’t find it)

250 g Gorgonzola Dolce Cheese

200 ml cream

Salt, Pepper and Freshly Grated Nutmeg to taste

100g Walnuts, toasted

Cook polenta according to package directions.   In a small saucepan over medium low heat, add the cream and gorgonzola cheese, stirring until it melts.  Take off heat and add the salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Keep warm.

In a small frying pan, toast the walnuts until darkened and fragrant.  Take off heat.

On a plate, heap some polenta on it, then drizzle as much cream sauce as you want ( I like a lot) and top with the toasted walnuts.

It’s that easy and it’s even more delicious!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Arroz Caldoso a “Seis Manos” – “Six Hand” Seafood Stew and Rice

Arroz Caldoso de Pescado

 

This is one of those feel good Sunday dishes.  All over Spain, you can find variations of this.  Truly one of the most comforting and homey dishes, it is also a main feature in many menus here, from small family run restaurants to Michelin starred dining rooms.

Rice is taken very seriously in Spain, with a plethora of incarnations, from Paella to Rice Pudding, Salads to Stews, it is almost national pride.  I have called this “Six Hand” because it was a collaboration between three people, our amazing hostess, Dolors, long time friend and extraordinary woman, my friend Fer, who hails from Zaragoza and is a killer in the kitchen, and myself.  Each one of us had a part in making this dish, and it was such a great experience, because that is what Sundays are all about.  Family, Friends, Food and Fun.  Oh, and spending an afternoon in our hostesses breathtaking Ramblas loft was a plus, too.

The key to arroz caldoso is in the stock.  This is an inexpensive way to make a dish for a large family, and because you are showcasing the stock, it has to be quite amazing.  It is the canvas to the rest of the ingredients, and you can let your imagination go wild.  We decided on monkfish, squid, shrimp and mussels.  Then, the finishing touch, is obviously the rice.  And bomba rice is the one that you need to splurge on, since I was informed that if you use regular short grain rice, there is a chemical reaction that occurs when paired with shellfish stock.  Apparently, the grain splits, and lets out too much of its starch, making this more of a cream than a stew.

It was an amazing lunch, and all of us, even the kids (all 10 and under) repeated three times.  Now that speaks for itself!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 6-7

3 liters good quality shellfish stock, preferably homemade (recipe below)

3 tbsp olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

6 roma tomatoes, finely diced

1 nyora pepper, soaked and peeled

2 tsp spicy Pimenton powder (or hot smoked paprika)

400 g monkfish, cubed

1 large squid, cut in bite sized pieces

a few pinches of good quality saffron threads

400 g Bomba rice

400 g shrimp, peeled and deveined

200 g mussels, steamed and shelled

Fresh parsley, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

 

In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and sauté until sauce has thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Add the nyora pepper, stir until mixed, and sauté another 5 minutes.  Salt and pepper the squid and monkfish, and add to the tomatoes along with the pimenton and saffron.  Cook for about 15 minutes or until tender.

Add your shellfish stock to the fish and squid, add the rice and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium and let simmer, about 10 minutes.  In the last few minutes of cooking, add the shrimp, mussels, parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately.

For the stock:

5 liters of water

shrimp shells and heads from the shrimp you will be using in your stew

monkfish heads and bones (ask your fish monger to give these to you when you buy the monkfish)

fennel, stalks and fronds

1 onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

2 tomatoes chopped

1 bay leaf

some saffron, nyora peppers, pimenton and salt and pepper to taste

Add all the ingredients and boil for about 40 minutes.  Spoon the foam off the top as it cooks.  When done, leave on the stove and cover, and let it sit, so the flavors will meld, about 20 minutes.  Strain and reserve.

 

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

 

 

Cherry Tomato, Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onion Tart

Cherry Tomato, Roquefort, and Caramelized Onion Tart

 

Last night we had a small gathering at a friend’s house, and since she offered up her wonderful roof top terrace, I wanted to chip in not only by bringing some wine, but making something to take to the party.   But, I also didn’t want to spend too much time cooking, since that is what I do everyday, for my family, and for work.  I do love what I do, but sometimes I just don’t feel like doing anything.

Well, this recipe is perfect for those situations, and it works just as well for dinner, or lunch in a pinch.  The prep time is absolutely minimal if you buy some store-bought pizza dough or Pate Brisee.  This leaves you plenty of time to enjoy your friends or family, and all you have to do is serve a salad to go with it, and you have an exquisite, easy meal.  Isn’t that the best?

So here’s what you’re going to need:

1 store-bought Pizza or Pate Brisee dough

1 box cherry tomatoes, halved

1 onion, sliced

1 small package blue cheese

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 sprig of thyme

3 tbsp olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

In a small saucepan, add the oil, sugar, thyme leaves, and the sliced onion.  Cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until the onion is softened and turning golden.  Strain the onions, set aside.

Roll out the dough, and heat the oven according to package directions.  Place the sliced cherry tomatoes randomly over the dough, leaving a 2 inch border on all sides.  Top with the caramelized onions and the blue cheese.  Place on a baking tray in the middle rack of the oven.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until your dough is crisp.  Remove from the oven.  It’s best when eaten warm, not boiling.  And it tastes marvelous cold, too!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Warm Chickpea Panzanella Salad with Torn Basil

Chickpea Panzanella SaladAs summer begins to wind down, and it’s just that teeny little bit cooler, I feel my body asking for warmer things.  Not your fresh lemony bright food, something with more of a consistency, and warmth.  It’s funny, before I moved to Spain, there were two things that I would have never eaten.  Cold Soup and Warm Salad.  They were just weird to me.  But, as I see that living in Barcelona is coexisting with your environment perfectly, a.k.a. no air-conditioning, you find more creative ways to cool yourself off.  Hence the cold soup.  Now, with the wind just a bit chillier, and not yet time to put on the heating, the warm salad.

Panzanella is such a simple salad, it literally is the epitome of ease.   The large crusty bread chunks soak up the vinaigrette.  I wanted to add some chickpeas because 1) I LOVE EM!  2) well, they elevate this salad from side dish to main dish in my book and 3) they’re healthy!  And what is better than having a few friends over and all you have to do is fry up some bread, and toss some dressing on to the greens?  Nothing, in my book.  It just gives you more time to spend with them.

chickpea panzanella salad

 

Apart from adding some torn basil into the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and chickpeas, I also fried the bread with some basil leaves and cracked pepper.

bread cubes

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 4

1 baguette, cut into cubes

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large bunch basil, 3/4 of  the leaves torn, the rest left intact

200 g cooked chickpeas

1/2 cucumber, diced

10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 head of romaine lettuce, cut

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

Lemon juice

Garlic Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large frying pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil and warm up.  When hot, add the bread cubes, some cracked pepper and the intact basil leaves.  Fry the bread until crispy on all sides.  Keep warm.

In a large bowl, add the rest of your ingredients up to the romaine lettuce.  Drizzle with the olive oil, and the lemon juice (however much you like) and garlic salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.  Add the fried bread and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

“Spanish” Onion Soup

The first time I ever had French Onion Soup was in 10th grade.  Our French teacher took us on a cultural field trip to a French restaurant, and one of my friends ordered it.   I would not have been so adventurous.  She told me to try it, and as an obliging teenager who only trusts her friends, I did, and it was a taste revelation!  I just couldn’t get enough of the gooey cheese, the crusty bread, and then hidden underneath it, that dark, caramel broth filled to the brim with soft, caramelized onions.  Heaven.

Cut to last night.  I have wanted to make this soup for ages.  But I had to wait until I got some earthenware that I could use in the oven to melt that amazing cheese.  So a couple of months ago I purchased two Le Creuset soup bowls, not only are they functional, they are pretty gorgeous too.  (I love Le Creuset by the way, but this isn’t a post about them.)

Also, as I have mentioned before, I have a gazillion cookbooks, and hardly ever get to use them.  So I adapted the French Onion Soup recipe from my Williams Sonoma Comfort Food cookbook.  But I didn’t want just a French Onion Soup.  I wanted the depth of Spanish ingredients.  First of all, I took the time to make my own stock, but instead of making a plain beef one, I did a Chorizo Stock.  This gave the stock a more golden reddish hue.  And as I caramelized the onions, I added a heaping tablespoon of pimenton, Spanish Paprika, to give it a smokiness that is missing from the delicate French version.  And lastly, I used Jerez, or sherry, instead of the wine.  In the end, I think it was a total success, the new version had levels of flavour, from the warmth of the chorizo and pimenton, and then a unique nuttiness imparted by the Jerez.  I hope you’ll be adventurous and trust me on this and try it at home!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Adapted from Williams Sonoma Comfort Food

Ingredients for French Onion Soup


2 tbsp Unsalted Butter

2 1/2 lbs. Onions, yellow, white, red….go crazy!

1 tbsp pimenton or smoky paprika

1 tbsp All purpose flour

1 cup Jerez (Sherry) or dry white wine

Chorizo Stock (recipe follows)

2 tsp minced Fresh thyme

1 Bay leaf

Salt and Pepper, to taste

1 Crusty baguette

2 2/3cups shredded Gruyère Cheese

For the stock:

3 tbsp olive oil

1 lb marrow and beef bones

1 spanish chorizo sausage

2 celery ribs, including leaves, chopped

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 leek, sliced

1 swede or rutabaga, chopped

2 tsp salt

1 bay leaf

1 large sprig of thyme

Water

In a large stockpot, add the beef marrow bones and the chorizo and cook over med-high heat, for about ten minutes or the chorizo starts to lose some fat and color the oil.  Add all the veggies, salt, bay leaf and thyme.  Stir to coat and cook about 5 more minutes.  Add the water, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer vigorously for 30 minutes.  Switch off the heat, cover and let steep for a good 2 hours.

 

To make the soup, in a large heavy bottomed stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onions, stir well, cover, and cook for 5  minutes.  Uncover, add the paprika, and reduce the heat to medium low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and deep golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Onions

caramelized onionsSprinkle the flour over the onions and stir until combined.  Gradually stir in the wine, then the stock, and finally the thyme and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer, uncovered, until slightly reduced, about 30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Discard bay leaf.

Spanish onion soup

 

Meanwhile, preheat the broiler.  Have ready eight 1 1/2 cup broilerproof soup crocks.  Cut the baguette into 16 slices, sizing them so that 2 slices will fit inside each crock.  Arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet and broil, turning once, until lightly toasted on both sides, about 1 minute total.  Set the slices aside.  Position the oven rack about 12 inches from the heat source, and leave the broiler on.

Ladle the hot soup into the crocks.  Place 2 toasted bread slices, overlapping if necessary, on top of the soup and sprinkle each crock evenly with about 1/3 cup of the Gruyère.  Broil until the cheese is bubbling, about 2 minutes.  Serve at once.

 

Antipasto Lunch

Yesterday I had my friend Alex over for lunch, he is as much as an Italianophile as I am.  Since he was supposed to come for lunch on Wednesday and cancelled, and I had made Bolognese, then Thursday and canceled (had made the Nicoise).  I thought, you know what, I’m not going to cook for this sucker.  I have enough products that I brought back from Italy that I can make a killer Antipasto.  And that is what I did.

Sometimes, for me, the best meals are the ones you grab out of your fridge. No fuss no muss.  I love having cold meats, cheese, olives, grilled veggies and a great wine (which I am fortunate, is really really cheap here).  There is nothing that makes me feel more calm, happy, and indulgent than that.  It’s a habit I have picked up here in Europe.  I mean, how can you go wrong with the amazing selection of cheeses and meats and olives?  It makes my heart pitter patter into ecstasy.  I love taking a long time and enjoying every bite, savouring them, talking about what is happening in our country, or within our friends.  It just feels RIGHT.

So, why don’t you look in your fridge and see what impromptu meal you can come up with?  It can be anything and everything.  Mine consisted of bread, a cold cuts plate that was from left to right, Speck (which is a cured ham from the Alto Adige region of Italy, and I served it with the sides that they usually do in that region, which is pickles, pickled onions, and horseradish) Culatello, which is the best and tastiest part of the Prosciutto di Parma, Lardo Salato, which is just the fat from the ham. Before you get on my case, don’t knock it until you try it.  It is the MOST amazing delicacy, especially on warm crusty bread.  It melts.  It’s like butter.  Nuff said.  And then some Salame Cacciatorino.

Bottom plate was Appenzeller cheese, Parmesan chunks with raspberry balsamic, and then some grilled zucchini and yellow bell peppers, marinated in extra virgin olive oil and herbs and spices.

The little bowls on the side were, from top to bottom, pickles and pickled onions, horseradish, and my left over bolognese sauce that is UH-MA-ZING on toasted bread.

Sometimes the most simple and unexpected meals are the best meals.  It is the pure essence of living here in Europe, something I had to get used to, but that sense of nothing too complicated, so we can just sit and enjoy life.  As they say in Italian, “Dolce far Niente”.  Which is basically, the sweetness of doing nothing.

Ain’t that the truth?

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla