creamy cauliflower and grana padano soup

With yet another snowstorm getting underway here, it seemed like a good day to make this simple and nourishing soup. Last week, I tasted it as prepared by Fabio Viviani, the charming Italian guy from Top Chef.

He was in New York City doing a demonstration for Legends from Europe, representing some pure, natural food products from Italy, including Proscuitto di Parma, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Montasio and Grana Padano cheeses.

Grana Padano is sometimes called “poor man’s Parmigiano Reggiano,” which seems a little unfair. I think it’s just as delicious. And possibly because it’s not as well known outside of Italy, I find it tends to have a more friendly price tag. It’s made in the Po Valley region in northeastern Italy from raw cow’s milk and aged between 9 and 24 months. The cheese develops a rich flavor and granular texture that I absolutely love, with a slightly milder and less salty taste than Parmigiano.  [Read more…]

carrot soup and almond-parsley pesto

carrot soup and almond parsley pesto

Did your mother – or someone else who presumably cared about your well being  – ever tell you that peeling a carrot takes away all its vitamins?

It’s one of those admonitions that gets stuck in your head for the rest of your life, probably because you first heard it when soft brain material was still forming (up till the age of 26, I read somewhere). Those whose job it was to see that you grew up with all parts intact did their best to point out every which way you could inflict damage, wreaking havoc on not only yourself, but others, too. You know:

Don’t run across the room with that sharp pencil – you’ll put someone’s eye out!

You’re going to fall off that tree/roof/high-up-dangerous place on top of the swingset and crack your head open!

If you sit so close to the TV in this dark room; YOU”LL GO BLIND!

I can’t think of such warnings having to do with food equally as menacing as the visions of heads cracked open like watermelons dropped from a tall building and eyeballs plucked whole out of their sockets by an innocent writing tool. Oh, there was something about Vitamin C – not enough and you’d become riddled with scurvy and toothlessness. Other than that my takeaway nutritional wisdom remains; All the Vitamins are in the Skin.

I only just learned (like, yesterday) that in fact, peeling carrots has absolutely little effect on the nutrients contained therein. Other forms of produce, such as apples, pears and potatoes, yes – keep the skins on. But carrots? Turns out that some of the best stuff in carrots, like the beta carotene, is in there all the way through. Lots of vitamins, antioxidants and magical cells live in the colorful parts of fruits and vegetables, and if the food is the same color inside without its skin, no harm done.

I admit I do peel carrots when they have an abundance of stiff, old root hairs and tiny clods of dirt. Who wants to eat that?? Plus they look brighter and prettier without the skin. Fresh little carrot bunches with their green tops on don’t usually have that problem.

Having gone on and said all that (are you still reading this?), it won’t make much difference if the skin is on or off the carrots in this soup recipe since they get pureed in the end. It’s your call.

carrot soup with almond parsley pesto

I’ve just started browsing through Deborah Madison’s tremendously wonderful new book, Vegetable Literacy.  The book is organized by families of vegetables, how they’re related and play together – I LOVE that.

The first chapter covers The Carrot Family, which includes celery, parsley, fennel and coriander. Carrots remind me of spring, and parsley reminds me of carrots, so there’s the starting point for my soup.

carrot soup and almond-parsley pesto

Yield: serves 4 - 6

This soup couldn't be simpler and tastes like the essence of carrot. Use any leftover pesto within a day or two, tossed with roasted vegetables or spread on a warm crostini.

Ingredients

  1. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 2 tablespoons butter
  3. 1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  4. 1 onion, chopped
  5. 2 stalks celery, chopped
  6. 2 teaspoons salt
  7. 1 teaspoon sugar
  8. 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  9. 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  10. 1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur (optional)
  11. Pesto:
  12. 1 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley
  13. ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
  14. 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
  15. ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  16. Salt
  17. ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano cheese

Instructions

  1. Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan until butter melts; add the carrots, onion, celery, salt sugar and coriander. Stir the vegetables around and cook until they begin to release liquid and become softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Pour in 6 cups water and bring to a simmer. Cook about 15 minutes, or until the carrots are tender. Remove from the heat and cool for a bit, then puree the soup in a blender until completely smooth. Stir in lemon juice and amaretto, if using, and taste for salt.
  3. To make the pesto, reserve a few parsley leaves and chop the rest in a small food processor until finely chopped. Add all but 1 tablespoon of the almonds and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped and the mixture forms a paste; add the fennel seeds, olive oil, salt to taste and the cheese and pulse to combine.
  4. Serve the soup with a spoonful of pesto and sprinkle with remaining parsley leaves and almonds.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/04/carrot-soup-and-almond-parsley-pesto/

parmesan and black pepper shortbread

parmesan black pepper shortbread cookies

If by some chance you like to have your wine and eat some cookies too, this is a recipe for the file. And if by another chance you could care less about wine but require a sweet treat no matter what, I’m confident you’ll be equally pleased to indulge in one of these.

The savory elements of black pepper and Parmesan are at play here, which makes them a great partner for wine or other adult concoctions. But at the same time these crumbly, buttery cookies are subtly sweet, with a balance of crunch from cornmeal and some sea salt – just as delicious with tea or espresso.

parmesan and black pepper shortbread cookies

To me that equates to a perfect ratio. I love shortbread cookies for the very reason they’re not overly sugary, yet deliver a richness of flavor I find irresistible.

There’s just enough cornmeal for sandy texture, and Parmesan cheese fills the kitchen with a tempting aroma as they bake. The last touch is some lemon-infused sugar sprinkled over the top of the warm shortbread.

parmesan and black pepper shortbread cookies

parmesan, black pepper and cornmeal shortbread

Yield: 12 - 16 cookies

Ingredients

  1. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  2. ½ cup brown rice flour
  3. ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
  4. ½ cup stoneground cornmeal
  5. 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  6. 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  7. 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  8. 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  9. 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  10. 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Sift both flours and the salt over a medium bowl; use a whisk to stir in the cornmeal, cheese and pepper.
  3. Pulse the butter and confectioners’ sugar in a food processor until creamy; add the flour mixture and pulse just until a soft dough forms (about 30 seconds).
  4. Pat the dough in an even layer into a 9-inch square or round tart pan with a removable bottom.
  5. Bake 35 – 40 minutes, or until the top is very lightly golden and the dough feels set when pressed gently. Stir together the granulated sugar and lemon zest and sprinkle over the top of the shortbread as soon as it comes out of the oven.
  6. Cool the pan on a rack 10 minutes, then unmold the shortbread and cool 10 more minutes. While it’s still warm, cut the shortbread with a large, sharp knife into 16 squares or 12 wedges.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/04/parmesan-and-black-pepper-shortbread/