Creamy Broccoli and Fennel Soup with Cheddar, Gruyere and Crispy Onions

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Spring is here!  What a wondrous and renewing season it is.  Wait, that was a couple of weeks ago, Mother Nature seems to have other plans and has brought back the biting cold weather reminiscent of winter.  What a cruel, cruel, joke!  Yesterday I was so cold, with the wind and rain whipping outside of my window, all I craved was something warm to fill my belly.  So, soup was naturally a perfect choice for our dinner.

I remember when I tried Broccoli and Cheddar soup for the first time.  It was magical.  It was sublime.  It probably had no real broccoli OR cheddar in it.  I still love it though, but have now realized how easy and healthier it is to make at home.  My version has fewer calories too, because I swap full fat cream for 2% milk and a little bit of cornstarch to thicken it.  I added some fennel to make it sing, and I love topping soup with crispy things, mine with french fried onions, but you can use whatever your heart desires!  Silky, delicious, and filling, what more could you want?

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 a small onion, chopped

2 tbsp of fresh fennel tops, chopped

1 small head of broccoli, chopped

1 cube vegetable stock

1 tsp salt

2 cups water

3 cups 2% milk

1 tbsp instant cornstarch

3/4 cup grated white cheddar cheese

1/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese

Crispy onions (or whatever you want)

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot over medium high heat, add the olive oil.  Add the onion, fennel tops and broccoli, sauté for about 8 minutes or until soft.  Add the vegetable stock, salt, water and milk and lower heat to medium low.  Cook for about 20 minutes.

Take off heat and let cool for about 10 minutes before processing.  Place soup in a blender and pulse, for less time if you want it chunky.  I wanted mine smooth, so I pulsed for about 45 seconds.

Return to stock pot, add the cornstarch and reheat for about 2 more minutes.  Add the cheeses and stir.  Serve into bowls and top with a little more cheese, crispy onions and freshly ground pepper.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Penne Con I Broccoli – Penne with Broccoli

Penne with Broccoli

 

This is our second recipe from our cookbook “Italy, The Beautiful Cookbook”, and one that my daughter chose.  I wasn’t very surprised, as she loves broccoli, but then I read the rest of the ingredients and thought, she obviously only read the title.  I was quite perplexed at the combination of ingredients as well, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, raisins, anchovies, pine nuts…….in my brain, these ingredients really shouldn’t go together.  But they did, marvelously well, and we were all really surprised.  My hubs mentioned that he felt that it was because there were really no overpowering flavors, it was just the right amount of each ingredient for it to be harmonious, delicate even!

This recipe is from the southern Italian region of Apulia (Puglia).  As the south of Italy was conquered and influenced by the Arabs, this recipe started to make more sense, it was an obvious melange of Arabic and Italian cooking!  The use of savoury and sweet is very Arabic, hence the pine nuts and raisins, but then combining it with broccoli, tomatoes, garlic and anchovies is redolent of southern Italian cooking.  Many of you will want to omit the anchovies, as I know that not everyone is on that bandwagon, but I ask you to try it out, if my daughter, who hates all things fishy, couldn’t tell and was waxing poetic about this recipe, I am positive you won’t either.  Because the recipe calls for you to mash it and then fry it in the olive oil with the garlic, it basically melts in the oil, and adds just a hint of salt and umami to the dish.  If you are still hesitant, reduce the amount, but don’t leave it out!

So here is what you’re going to need:

Serves 6

1/4 cup raisins

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped

1 can (1lb/500g) whole, peeled tomatoes

salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 head broccoli

500g Penne pasta

6 anchovy fillets in oil, mashed

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/4 cup pine nuts

Grated Pecorino cheese

Soak the raisins in lukewarm water to cover until needed.  Heat half the oil in a large skillet over moderate heat.  Add the onion and sauté until translucent.  Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook for about an hour to reduce the sauce.

Meanwhile, separate the broccoli into florets and stems.  Peel and slice the stems.  Drop into a saucepan of boiling water and cook until the penne are al dente.

Fry the anchovy fillets gently with the garlic and pine nuts in oil, until the garlic is fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.  Add to the tomato sauce.  Mix in the strained raisins, broccoli florets and a spoonful of the cooking water from the pasta, cover and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the broccoli is tender, stirring frequently.

Add the strained penne to the skillet, and raise the heat to high, stirring frequently to incorporate all the sauce.  Serve immediately with the grated Pecorino cheese.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Roasted Summer Vegetable and White Bean Salad

After all these days eating out, my belly needed something healthy, satisfying and delicious.  Ta-da!  Here is the perfect salad to satiate your hunger and make you feel oh-so-good about eating.

It’s so easy to make, and quick too if you buy the beans already cooked.  I love the markets here in Barcelona, because there are these lovely ladies that all they do is cook legumes so you won’t have to.  I could kiss them.  And they are always perfectly done, never too mushy, always fork tender.

Adding a little lemon-dill vinaigrette for that summer zing, and you’re done.  It’s a one plate meal that your taste buds will love and your waistline will thank you for.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 4

6 or 7 medium broccoli florets

6 or 7 medium cauliflower florets

A handful and a half of cherry tomatoes

1 large yellow pepper (or orange, or red, whatever tickles your fancy) cut in half and ribs and seeds removed

1 red onion, thickly sliced

Olive oil, for drizzling over the veggies

Salt and Pepper to taste

250g of white beans

1 large bunch of dill, chopped

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice from one lemon

Sea salt

 

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Place all your veggies (minus the beans) onto an oven sheet, drizzle with a little olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Roast for 10-15 minutes, until they are nicely browned and fragrant.

Let cool a few minutes before chopping the peppers.

In the meantime, make your vinaigrette with the extra virgin olive oil, dill and lemon juice.  In a large bowl, toss the vegetables with the beans and dressing.  Sprinkle with sea salt.

And voilà!  You have your meal!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

I miss chinese take out.  I know, I know, it really isn’t authentic, and it has been americanized.  But boy, you should try the “spanish” version of chinese food.  Blech.  Yuck.  Naaaasty.  So, I have to make it at home.  And it is so easy, but as I mentioned in my previous post, I love it when you can get it prepared for you.  As a single mom and chef, I usually do the cooking.  So it’s nice to get some good take out.  Anyhow, back to the food.

Oddly enough, my daughter has always LOVED broccoli.  So, I try to incorporate it into most of her meals.  Last night, I had a hankering for Chinese food, so I looked in my pantry, and yes, I had all the condiments I needed.  You can use other sauces, but I love the combination of japanese and chinese spices and sauces.  The key to the beef is marinating, at least 30 minutes, but if you can for longer, go ahead!  I was happy to also be able to use these gorgeous japanese ceramic bowls that my friend Miki gave me a couple of years ago for my birthday.  I hardly ever use them because they are so beautiful, and I don’t think I will be traveling to Japan anytime soon.  But last night, I felt like treating myself!

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

Serves 4

3 thin steaks, sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup sesame oil

1/4 cup mirin

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp chinese 5 spice powder

1/8 cup corn starch

1 tsp crushed red pepper

1 cup broccoli florets

1/2 cup bean sprouts

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (straw mushrooms are the best in this case, but I used regular since they are hard to find)

Black sesame seeds, for garnish and a yummy, healthy crunch!

Marinate your steaks with the garlic, sesame oil, mirin, soy, fish sauce, and 5 spice.  Let it rest at least 30 minutes.

In a wok, or a large frying pan over high heat, add a little bit more sesame oil and the red pepper flakes.  When the oil is hot, add your broccoli and stir fry for about 7 minutes, or until bright green.

In the mean time, place the steak, without the sauce (but reserve it) in the cornstarch and mix well.  Add the steak and mushrooms to the wok with the broccoli and brown, about 4 minutes.  When it is browned, add the reserved sauce and about a cup of water.  Let boil over medium heat for 7-8 minutes, and then add the bean sprouts and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  The sauce should have reduced and thickened slightly.

Serve over noodles or steamed jasmine rice.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla