Minestrone Soup

Fall in the Bay Area brings a few weeks of sunshine to ripen tomatoes, then rainy and chilly days, perfect Minestrone Soup weather. Pick those ripened tomatoes off the withering vines, combine them with broth and chopped veggies and herbs in a big pot. This is a pretty forgiving recipe, so if you want to clean out the veggie bin of your fridge, throw in what you’ve got. You could use frozen veggies  or canned tomatoes. There is a use for everything, even Parmesan cheese rinds! The rind lends a wonderful flavor to the soup. If it doesn’t break up, leave it in the pot when serving.

10 servings:
1 or more Parmesan rinds
1 large onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 bunch red Swiss chard, leaves torn off ribs and chopped fine, to make about 3 ½ cups, dice the ribs
1 large red bell pepper, diced to make 1 cup
1 large green bell pepper, diced to make 1 cup
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms
1 Tb salt (to taste)
½  tsp fresh minced rosemary
1 Tb fresh minced oregano
1 tsp dried basil
6 cloves garlic, minced
several grinds black pepper
One package (4 links) Aidells chicken sausages. either artichoke and garlic or sun-dried tomato with mozzarella cheese (optional)
1 bay leaf
several shakes red pepper flakes
10 cups (2 1/2 quarts) homemade chicken or vegetable stock Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup or vegetable broth (you can use boxed stock, but it won’t be as good!)
1 can tomato paste
4 cups diced tomatoes (Roma is best)
OR 28 ounce can San Marzano peeled tomatoes to sub for tomatoes and tomato paste
4 dried Porcini mushrooms
1 rind Parmesan cheese
1  cup peeled and diced carrots (2 large carrots)
2 peeled and diced red potatoes
2/3 cup small pasta (I used the tiny tubes called ditalini for my last batch, but I have also used salad macaroni)
4 small zucchini, diced to make 1 ½ cups
1/2 pound green beans, chopped
1 15-oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels
1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
1 small bunch Italian parsley, chopped.
1 Tb fresh minced basil (about 5 leaves)
 
Garnish:
a few pinches dried oregano to taste
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

Heat stock, Parmesan rinds, tomato paste, tomatoes or canned tomatoes  in a large pot.

Grind dried Porcini mushrooms in a coffee grinder or small food processor and add to the stock. Add salt to taste.

Scrub mushrooms and rinse well. Dry in paper towel. and cut off woody ends from the stems. Place mushrooms on toaster oven tray and spray with olive oil spray. Broil for 10 minutes. When they cool, cut them in quarters and add to stock.

Stir-fry onions, red bell pepper, chard ribs, garlic, celery, and herbs in  olive oil in a heavy skillet until translucent. Add to stock.

Slice sausages in quarters lengthwise and then into half-coins. Stir fry in the same skillet as the onions were in for about 4 minutes, until browned. Add to soup, then ladle some soup into the frying pan and scrape the browned bits into the soup, then pour back into the pot.

Stir in carrots, chard leaves, canned beans, and potato and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in pasta, green beans, zucchini, parsley, corn and peas. Cook 10 minutes on medium. Stir in fresh basil.

Discard bay leaf and ladle into bowl. Stir in a pinch of dried oregano, fresh basil, and a few spoonfuls of grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy with a slice of good bread such as Acme herb slab, foccacia, olive bread, or sourdough baguette. Manga!

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Seven Vegetable Lasagna

This lower-fat lasagna is filled with delicious veggies, 7 in all if you use  Eggplant Marinara I put in fresh picked young squash when I made it in late summer.

Ingredients

1 recipe of Eggplant Marinara sauce (In a hurry or just too tired to do all that? Add one cup sliced mushrooms and 2 tsp. fresh basil to 2 jars of sauce.)

½ package lasagna noodles

One head of spinach or a 10 oz bag of spinach

3 small zucchinis

One 14-oz. can of artichoke hearts

16 oz container low fat ricotta cheese (Calabro is the best brand)

2 eggs

3 Tb. minced Italian parsley

12 oz. low moisture, low fat mozzarella cheese, grated or cubed

8 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated

1 Tb olive oil

Directions:

Wash spinach well and remove  long stems. Microwave it in a covered container for 1 minute until just wilted.

Slice squash thinly, then quarter slices. Drain artichoke hearts and slice thinly, then mix with squash.  Saute in olive oil with a sprinkle of salt for a few minutes until vegetables just begin to soften. Stir in spinach. Drain any liquid.

zucchini-spinach-and-artichoke-hearts-in-pan

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. Add 1/4 cup cooking water to homemade sauce. The starch in the water will help emulsify the sauce. In a colander, drain noodles well and rinse with cold water. Line up noodles flat on smooth kitchen towels. This will prevent them from sticking together.

Mix ricotta with beaten egg and parsley.

Spread marinara sauce on an 8 x 11 oiled baking pan.

Place lasagna noodles over sauce.

Spread ½ of the prepared ricotta over noodles

top with 1/3 the mozzarella and 1/3 the Parmesan.

Place half of the artichoke hearts, zucchini and spinach mixture over the cheeses.

Cover with sauce and noodles, then top with rest of ricotta, vegetables, and half the remaining sauce,  mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese.

Cover that with the rest of the sauce, noodles,  mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese.

Bake in 375’ over for 45 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and browning on top. Let cool before serving. Garnish with fresh basil. It’s even better the next day!

out-of-the-oven

Eggplant Marinara


Rich with eggplant, mushrooms and fresh tomatoes, spicy with Italian sausage,  garlic and pepper, and fragrant with fresh herbs, this marinara sauce is ideal for pasta or Lasagna. There are two ways to make this marinara: with eggplant purée or sliced Italian eggplant. You could even use both for an extra helping of vegetables. I roasted the mushrooms to bring out their earthy flavor.

I took a tip from The Breakaway Cook Eric Gower, and added ground dried mushrooms for umami, (Japanese for savory deliciousness), which wonderfully expands and rounds out flavors.

Along with my homegrown herbs, I add a fresh bay leaf. I pick them when I get the chance to hike in the hills around Berkeley and Palo Alto. Their aroma brings me memories of my youth hiking and biking those hills. Just be careful about leaving them in too long – the fresh ones are very strong and can overpower the sauce, making it bitter. Just leave it in about 15 minutes.

Serves 8 (with pasta)

3 links turkey Italian sausage or vegetarian sausage

1 Tb olive oil

1 onion, chopped fine

1 Tb  salt (to taste)

½ tsp. red chili flakes

5 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

3 Tb minced fresh oregano OR  3 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary

1 tsp. minced fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp. minced fresh tarragon or 1/2 tsp dried tarragon

several grinds black pepper

2 bell peppers and/or red bell peppers. (can substitute 3 cups frozen or 2 cups jarred roasted red peppers)

1 small (6 oz) can tomato paste

¼ cup red wine

2 lbs or 14 large soft Roma tomatoes (substitute 24 oz can of crushed tomatoes and 24 oz diced tomatoes

1 Tb sugar to taste

1 bay leaf

3 dried mushrooms

1 roasted globe eggplant  and/or  4 Italian eggplants, cut in rounds and quartered

1 cup quartered mushrooms

1  14-oz can artichoke hearts, quartered

I bunch (1/4 cup minced) fresh basil

Italian eggplant method: Roast or barbecue eggplant and peppers. Discarding ends, slice eggplant into rounds, then quarter the rounds.

Globe Eggplant Method: Pierce globe eggplant with a fork, and roast in a heavy oiled baking pan in 400’ oven for 1 hour until it collapses.  Roast red peppers and mushrooms for the last ½ hour alongside the eggplant. You can roast the vegetables a day ahead of time.

You can also barbecue the eggplant peppers and mushrooms.

While eggplant is roasting and cooling, make the rest of the sauce.

Slice, quarter and brown sausages and drain the fat.

Sauté onion and salt in olive oil until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes Add sausage, chopped fresh or frozen bell peppers (if not roasting them), chili flakes, garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme and black pepper. Sauté another couple of minutes until herbs release their fragrance.

Add tomato paste, then fill tomato paste can with water then stir in the tomato paste that has stuck to the can.

Halve Roma tomatoes and scoop out seeds and fibrous ribs.

Pulse tomatoes in food processor until desired consistency is reached. I did mine on the chunky side. (If you are using canned tomatoes, add them instead.) Stir into tomato paste and herb mixture. Add sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

If using chopped Italian eggplant, add it to sauce.

If using globe eggplant, scrape it out from the peel and mince it. Stir it into the sauce.

Quarter mushrooms and mix in sauce.

Grind the dried mushrooms until pulverized in a clean coffee grinder or spice grinder. Stir into sauce.

Add 1/4 cup wine and sip some on the side…

If using roasted bell peppers, stir them into the sauce.

Stir well and let simmer for an hour. You can make this in a crock pot and let it simmer for several hours.

Add quartered artichoke hearts and tarragon for last 10 minutes of cooking. Just before serving over pasta or making lasagna, stir in basil and cook a couple of minutes.

Poached Salmon with yogurt dill and lemon sauce

My husband once took my son on a fishing trip and caught a salmon bigger than my 6-year-old daughter! What were we going to do with all that fish? We called all our friends to come over and gave each of them a chunk of salmon to take home!

Here’s an elegant, delicious and easy salmon fillet recipe that uses dill and lemon mixed in nonfat Greek yogurt as a sauce.

salmon topped with lemon and yogurt dill sauce
Ingredients:
dill plant
1 lb fillet of salmon to feed 3 people. A tail piece will not have bones.
1 shallot, peeled and thickly sliced
1 scallion, sliced diagonally into 2″ pieces (both white and green parts)
1/2  cup chicken broth

½ cup dry white wine such as Chardonnay

1 lemon (Meyer lemon is best.)

½ cup plain nonfat yogurt  or Greek yogurt

Several sprigs of dill

Cut a lemon in half.  Cut several slices from the middle and set aside for garnish. Use the rest for squeezing juice.

broth with scallions and shallots

Boil broth in frying pan with shallots and scallions. Add 1 Tb lemon juice, wine and place a sprig of dill in the broth and bring to a boil again.

salmon cooking in broth with lid

Salt the salmon and place in the boiling broth skin side down. Cover pan and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. Turn off heat and let sit for another minute.

yogurt sauce ingredients

While salmon is cooking, mince 1 tsp. dill and 2 Tb cucumber. Mix in yogurt with 2 tsp of lemon juice and salt to taste.

salmon with yogurt dill sauce

Serve salmon with lemon slices and yogurt sauce.

Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup (plus a vegan version)

OK the chicken doesn’t need to be Jewish. But this soup will cure any cold, which is why it’s called Jewish penicillin.

My Vietnamese student Dan gave me a the advice to break the bones to expose the marrow to add amazing flavor and nutrients to the broth.

Ingredients:

Bones, skin, herbs and vegetables from roasted chicken

add 2 more cloves garlic

1 bay leaf

3 stalks celery, leaves also, coarsely chopped

2 carrots chopped, or a handful of baby carrots

1 onion, coarsely chopped with skin

green part of leeks, coarsely chopped

2 tsp. salt, or to taste

black pepper

Water, about 1 gallon

After serving and boning chicken, reserve bones and skin and herbs. Break the bones to expose the marrow (I use kitchen shears). Return the bones to the soup and let it boil while you shred the chicken by hand. Discard lemon, or it will give a bitter flavor to your broth. Fill roasting pan with water, add more celery, garlic, salt and pepper, the green part of leeks and onions. Keep onion skin on for a golden color to your broth.

Directions:

Boil for at least an hour; two hours is better. Stir to get the drippings in the pan into your soup. They add a delicious flavor.

Let cool until you can handle the pan. Strain through a strainer and store in refrigerator. The next day you can skim the fat off with a slotted spoon and adjust seasonings. This broth can be used as a base for various soups. Serve topped with fresh  dill.

Add kneydlekh-(matzo balls) for special occasions like Passover and Rosh Hashanah or just to help the healing process.

You can also add rice or noodles to the broth.

My mother-in-law, the beautiful Conchita, immigrated from Mexico to the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas with a flair for making meals that were bién rica.  I have adapted some of her  recipes such as sopa de fideo, which is Mexican chicken-noodle soup.  She fries the fideo, which is short vermicelli, and adds onions, tomatoes and salsa.

Vegan Version: Omit the chicken. Add 3 sprigs of rosemary, 5 sprigs thyme, 10 cilantro sprigs, a handful of parsley, 3 sage leaves, and 3  garlic cloves to ingredients. Boil the vegetables and herbs for an hour, then strain and use as a base for vegetable soups.

Thai-inspired Barbecue Marinade for Chicken or Shrimp

barbecued chicken

My cousin’s lovely wife, Jeab, introduced me to condiments from her native Thailand, such as sweet-salty oyster sauce and pungent fish sauce. These along with the coconut milk and lemongrass can be found in Asian grocery stores and some large supermarkets. I love fooling around and combining these ingredients with others in my kitchen and herb garden to invent marinades. Frozen garlic and ginger can be found at Trader Joe’s and Berkeley Bowl.

The spices, pepper, onion, lime and herbs add a tangy spiciness to the blandness of the coconut milk. My family likes their food spicy, but feel free to cut down on the chili according to your tastes. If you are on a salt-restricted diet, cut the amount of salt, fish sauce and oyster sauce.

marinade ingredients

Ingredients: (Enough marinade for about 6 pieces of chicken and 2 dozen shrimp.)

1/2 of a 14 oz. can coconut milk (1 cup) (I use low-fat)

1 Tb oyster sauce (can substitute 1 tsp. sugar and 1 tsp. salt)

2 Tb fish sauce

2 Tb chili oil

2 Tb sesame oil

1/2 tsp salt

juice of 2 limes

3 garlic cloves, minced or 3 cubes frozen minced garlic

2 cubes frozen minced ginger or 2 tsp. fresh minced ginger, or 1 tsp. ground ginger

1 Tb yellow curry powder

¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro (you can include stems)

¼ cup coarsely chopped basil leaves

1 onion, chopped

1 chopped jalapeño pepper

1 chopped red chili pepper

Whisk liquids, curry powder, garlic and ginger in a large bowl.

liquid ingredients for marinade

Chop onion and peppers. This is the time to release your emotions and have a good cry!

Remove outer leaves of lemongrass until you reach the tender inner ones. Trim bulb and upper end of stalk where leaves are dry. Use a molcajete (or regular mortar and pestle) or a rolling-pin on the cutting board to crush the slices until softened. The citrus scent will be released. (If you can’t find lemongrass, it’s OK, you can still make the recipe without it!) Slice into 1 inch slices.

chopped lemongrass

Chop herbs, add to marinade.

Pound chicken breasts and remove excess fat. Make several slits in each breast to enable it to absorb the marinade.

scored chicken breasts

Cut each breast in half and add to marinade, coating each piece well. Marinate chicken breasts for several hours, the longer the better.

marinade

Grill on medium flame.

chicken and shrimp on the grill

If it’s raining, you can slice the breasts and cook them in the marinade, like curried chicken.

Put the shrimp in You can use leftover chicken instead of shrimp in the Shrimp-Mango Salad.

Sliced chicken also pairs well with cucumber and  snap peas. Parboil the snap peas for about 3 minutes, until they turn bright green. Cool under running water, then immerse in ice water to stop cooking. Remove stems and slice in half. Mix chicken and peas with sliced cucumber and garnish with cilantro leaves.

Chicken served with snap peas and cucumber

You can also add the leftover marinade to stir fry vegetables, such as broccoli and choy sum or baby bok choy, and mushrooms. Be careful that you only add the tender lemongrass, not the outer inedible parts!

stir fry veggies with bbq shrimp and chicken

Cooking with Fresh Herbs

Growing your own fresh herbs in pots or in the garden is fairly easy. They are there when you need them, always fresh, and there is no waste as there is when you buy more than you need in the market. After the initial cost of planting, you will find you save money by not buying them each time you need them.
My recipes feature fresh herbs. If you are not growing your own, you can often find them at major supermarkets.