grandma’s minestrone

There’s a market about 10 minutes from my house that’s a grocery shopping adventure unlike any other. A trip there is a total sensory experience; from the Benetton ads worth of languages being spoken, to the enormous varieties of produce being sold (some completely exotic and unfamiliar). From the olive bar, fish market and cheese counter (which on any given day may include a sweet little old man making fresh mozzarella) to the fresh “you name it-they’ll make it” smoothie stand and united nations of a bread aisle. And let us not forget the bakery and chocolate department; an enormous chocolate fountain, hand dipped fruit, and chocolate Easter eggs the size of a small child’s head— Yeah they have it. Sounds like a crazy place, right? It is, but it’s also such an interesting no-two-visits-are-the-same kinda place that my kids actually jump at the chance to go. Even the NY Times has written about the experience of shopping there: “It’s mid afternoon, and as usual, Corrado’s is thronged with customers. In front of the deli counter, two women chat in Italian as they wait to buy sausage. A woman in a diaphanous pink sari prowls the spice aisle. In the produce section, a young Chinese man examines huge papery heads of garlic. ‘We cater to everybody and everybody comes to us,’ said Joe Corrado of Corrado’s Family Affair, one of the Northeast’s largest ethnic markets.” Don’t you wish you lived near me? Anyway, on to the point of my story…

Corrados has an entire aisle dedicated to pasta and grains. Seriously, an entire aisle! I’ll be honest with you, typically when I buy pasta I buy the brown rice type— it is after all the healthier and less filling option. But when I’m at Corrados all bets are off. You’ll find pastas there in shapes, sizes and varieties that you never imagined existed. How could I possibly walk away from such an amazing selection?!? On a recent shopping trip I loaded my cart with enormous rigatoni, spaghetti the thickness of no. 2 pencils and a couple of bags of pearled Italian Farro. In case you’re unfamiliar with Farro I’ll give you a quick primer: Farro is an ancient grain that’s steadily gaining in popularity. It can be made into hot cereal, served as a cold or warm side dish, turned into a risotto of sorts and even be served as a warm dessert with a little crumbled fresh ricotta and a drizzle of honey. However when I bought those bags of Farro I didn’t really have any of those uses in mind. In fact I didn’t really have anything in mind, I just thought I’d buy it now and figure things out later. The Farro sat in my cabinet for a while just waiting to be used until one day I found myself thinking of my little Italian grandmother. Not for any particular reason or of any particular memory, just thinking of her.

Grandma Perrone was the littlest of ladies, sweet and soft spoken and an amazing cook. She could take the simplest of ingredients and turn them into a feast. I can’t think about her without remembering the delicious soups she used to make; pasta fagioli, chicken with pastina and tiny meatballs and a hearty minestrone… and suddenly I found my inspiration.

Minestrone with Chicken Sausage + Farro (á la Grandma Perrone)
This is a wonderfully hearty soup that works equally well with escarole, kale or spinach. And while I prefer to use chicken sausage you can certainly use spicy pork if that’s more your thing.

farro soup

7 oz. pearled Italian Farro
2 tbsp. olive oil
14 oz. chicken sausage, broken up
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced celery
1 1/2 cups diced onion
4-6 garlic cloves, grated
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup red wine
2 14.5 oz. cans fire roasted tomatoes (with their juice)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
6 cups low-sodium beef broth*
1 medium head fresh escarole, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for garnish

  1. The night before you plan to make the soup place the dry farro in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water and allow to soak overnight. The following morning drain, rinse and set aside.
  2. In a large stockpot over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the sausage pieces and allow to brown. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add to the pot the carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Cook 5-6 minutes or until everything begins to soften. Add the mushrooms, salt and black pepper and cook until the mushroom have released all their liquid.
  3. Add the red wine to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom. Then add the tomatoes, broth, farro and reserved sausage. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 15 minutes. Add the escarole and crushed red pepper and allow to simmer for 3 more minutes or until the escarole is tender.
  4. Adjust seasonings and serve garnished with additional crushed red pepper and a healthy sprinkle of grade cheese.

*I realize this seems like a lot of broth, but the longer the soup sits the more liquid the farro absorbs. 

bitter, spicy + obsessed

There are two types of people in this world; those who enjoy sweet, mellow and subtly spiced food and those who prefer savory, assertive and intensely flavored dishes. I happen to fall in the later category; give me salty chips, strong coffee and spicy vindaloo and I’m a happy girl.

Whether I’m at Shop Rite or one of the ethnic grocery stores I like to frequent, I’m always on the lookout for interesting foods or ingredients to try. I recently discovered Shim’on Ariche Harissa Forte at Fairway and I’ve become a bit obsessed with this little condiment. Harissa is a spicy paste of chili peppers, garlic and salt that adds a delicious kick to everything and anything. I’ve been putting it on everything from grilled chicken and salads to sunny-side-up eggs and my morning toast. (Sometimes when I need a little pick me up, I actually eat it by the spoonfull right out of the jar.) The other thing I can’t seem to get enough of these days is broccoli rabe— I just love, love, love this bitter green! I usually sauté it with garlic, olive oil and some harissa (of course) and then throw in a few chickpeas or poach an egg for on top. Delicious!

You already know that I make a lot of soup, so it seemed like a natural progression to try to incorporate my harissa/broccoli rabe obsession with my soup infatuation. Happily this proved far easier to do then I expected. The soup turned out to be wonderfully soothing creation; filled with fiber rich beans, super antioxidant broccoli rabe, and some fantastic chicken sausage just to round things out. I added a little harissa for a background kick of metabolism boosting heat and served it with a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. A simple bowl was enough to put a smile on my face!

But my quest to combine my two latest obsessions didn’t stop there, my final creation was a panini of broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic and anchovies, a little fresh mozzarella and a hearty schmear of harissa all sandwiched between some lovely fresh ciabatta bread. Man it was good, just typing these words makes me want to hit save and head into the kitchen for another one.

I realize I have a bit of a bitter/spicy monkey on my back, but I’m okay with it. Thankfully we have a Fairway close by so I’m never without this obsession evoking condiment or my favorite greens for long. However if anyone from Fairway is reading this… I’m begging you, please start selling the harissa in larger jars. I don’t have enough pantry space for all the little jars required to feed my need!

Broccoli Rabe & Fresh Mozzarella Panini
This would no doubt be equally delicious with a couple slices of sharp provolone or perhaps a combination of mozzarella and provolone. But— even if you don’t like anchovies don’t omit them, the flavor is very subtle but it really does make a difference.

panini2

1/2 a bunch of fresh broccoli rabe, chopped into thirds
4 flat anchovies packed in oil, finely chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of salt
2 wedges ciabetta bread (or other hearty bread), sliced in half
4 thin slices fresh mozzarella
harissa

  1. Quickly steam (or blanch) the broccoli rabe until it is just crisp tender and set aside.
  2. Cook the anchovies and garlic in olive oil until the garlic just begins to turn golden and the anchovies begin to dissolve, about 2-3 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe to the pan, sprinkle it with a pinch of salt and cook (stirring frequently) an additional 3-4 minutes.
  3. Heat a panini or sandwich press according to manufacturer’s instructions until hot. Brush one side of the bread slices with olive oil and place on a work surface. Layer the broccoli rabe mixture and two slices of mozzarella on each bottom slice. Spread the top slice with harissa and place on the sandwich.
  4. Put sandwiches on the press, pull down the top and cook until the cheese has melted and the ciabatta is browned and crisp, 4 to 7 minutes.

Broccoli Rabe & Chicken Sausage Soup
This soup is one of my all time favorites. It’s makes a wonderfully satisfying lunch and is perfect with a simple panini for dinner.broccoli rabe soup3

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. chicken sausage, sliced into bite sized pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup carrot, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 cans small white beans, rinsed and drained
1 bunch broccoli rabe, chopped into 1″ pieces
2 quarts chicken stock
4 tsp. harissa
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, garnish

  1. Heat olive oil in a medium stock pot over high heat. Add the sausage and brown 2-3 minutes, breaking up any large pieces.
  2. Add the carrots, onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, until the vegetable begin to soften. Add the chopped broccoli rabe, stir well to coat with the vegetable mixture and allow to cook 1-2 minutes until the greens begin to wilt.
  3. Add to the pot the chicken stock, bay leaf, harissa and beans and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Fish out bay leaf, adjust seasonings and serve with grated cheese and some crusty bread.