parmesan

Winter Veggie Stew

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Apologies for the absence- a couple things have happened in the past month or so, including a wedding (yes, ours) and a honeymoon (also ours!). We are back to cooking and today we are pining for the long, lost seasons! In California everyone raves about the weather, but we miss having actual weather- and four, distinct seasons!

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Because the rest of the country is still sort of experiencing what some might call “winter,” we decided to make a stew with a few seasonal, winter veggies. To be fair, calling this a stew is a bit generous. It’s a fairly thin soup that isn’t chunky. However, it has all of the super comforting and cozy makings of a good stew, so we’re going with it!

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This recipe was inspired by a NYT recipe, you can find that here. I do love the NYT cooking section, however I often find their vagueness disconcerting. They leave much of the decision-making up to the reader, which is fine for experienced cooks who know all of their favorite flavors and combos, but not really useful for your average person who just wants to follow a recipe and get a tasty meal out of it.

We developed our own version that changes up the ratios to make this soup not only heartier and healthier, but also less wasteful. One notable thing we southerners tend to do is try to use every part of the veggies we are cooking with. That’s what we did here. No discarding of vitamin-rich greens, and very little peeling. (It also happens to be less work- yay!)

One caveat for this recipe- you will need a blender or food processor. You will also want some string for your bouquet garni. (Don’t be offput by the fanciful French. It’s just a bunch of yummy herbs for a “broth” base).

Winter Veggie Stew

8 servings (2 cups, 120 calories each!)

Ingredients

for the bouquet garni
3 bay leaves
2 tarragon stalks
4 sage stalks
3 thyme stalks
3 rosemary stalks
2 parsley bunches

4 carrots
2 celery stalks
3 leeks
3 garlic cloves
2 turnips
1 lb russet potatoes [yes, it’s possible you’ll only need one, giant potato for this!]

salt and pepper
1/4 cup crème fraîche + more to top [if you want to keep it vegan, skip the crème fraîche!]

optional to top
french bread
parmesan cheese

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Begin by creating your bouquet garni. Wash all the herbs and stack them in a giant pile. I recommend placing the bay leaves in the center to keep them from falling out. Tie them together with string like this:

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Place your bouquet garni in about 6 cups (1 1/2 quarts) of water. You will want the largest pot you have for this!

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Next, prepare your veggies. This is the most time intensive process of the entire meal, and it’s a great opportunity to get your family in the kitchen to help out! You need to: wash, peel, and dice the carrots; wash and dice the celery (please include the leaves, no need to waste them!); wash and clean the leeks, slicing all but the yellow portions on the innermost layers; mince the garlic; clean, peel, and dice the turnips; clean and dice the potatoes (or potato).

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After your veggies are prepped, you’re ready to begin the super easy cooking process!

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Throw all of the veggies into the pot of water along with 4 teaspoons salt and 4 teaspoons pepper. You’re making about 16 cups of soup, so don’t worry if this sounds like a ton of spice. Simmer all of this for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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After your soup is done with its initial cooking, carefully remove and discard your bouquet, I recommend even counting the bay leaves to ensure none of them escaped during cooking!

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In batches, blend your soup to a thick, but creamy consistency.

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Place it all back into the pot, and add in 1/4 cup of crème fraîche. If you are vegan, you can skip this part!

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Serve topped with parmesan, additional crème fraîche, or even some french bread!

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Enjoy!

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P.S. You can freeze this soup and it gets even better when you reheat it! Great for meal-preppers, who like to have go-to healthy meals in the freezer for a quick dinner on a busy weeknight!

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Rosemary-Mozzarella Pretzels

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I am the biggest fan of huge, soft pretzels that ever existed. I know that is a hefty statement to make, but it’s true! These massive, buttery pretzels outrank their crunchy, baked cousins in every possible way… except maybe standards of healthiness. No, these are not clean-eating pretzels that you got in your lunchbox as an alternative to chips. These are big, fluffy, cheesy, salty pretzels- the kind you salivate over at ballparks and stadium events.

Truth be told, the existence of soft pretzels is really my only motivation for ever attending stadium sporting events or visiting overcrowded malls. These soft pretzels are a fabulously souped-up version of their ballpark counterparts. We stuff them with a deliciously cheesy filling and top them with butter and parmesan.

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This is based off of a great recipe by Baker by Nature! It includes a great explanation of yeast and the chemistry behind it, and why some people proof it and some do not. I proof yeast every time I bake with it. It is second nature to me, and I think it’s a good habit to get into. Because of this, I include the proofing process as part of the recipe here.

Growing up, my mom taught us very early how to bake bread from scratch, and she always proofed the yeast before making the dough. I have never had this method fail on me (unless, of course, the yeast is dead). It is super easy to follow, and it creates the fluffiest, moistest breads! If you’re totally confident working with yeast and breads, you don’t have to do this part, but I would certainly recommend it!

 

Rosemary-Mozzarella Pretzels

makes 8 large pretzels

for the dough
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons Rapid Rise yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 1/4 cups AP flour
3 tablespoons minced, fresh rosemary
6 tablespoons salted butter, softened
parchment paper

for the pretzel cooking liquid
10 cups water
3/4 cup baking soda

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for the filling
1 1/2 cups shredded, mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded, parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg + 1 tablespoon water for egg wash

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for the topping
4 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1/2 cup grated, Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

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Begin by proofing the yeast. Preheat an oven to 200°F. After it preheats, turn it off. Mix the sugar with the water in a small bowl (the water should be slightly warm to the touch, around 110°F). Pour in the yeast and agitate slightly to ensure that all of the yeast is moistened by the sugar-water. Place the bowl in the oven and leave the oven open. Let it sit in that warm environment for 10 minutes.

While the yeast is proofing, measure out the flour and salt into a large bowl. Mix them together. Add in the softened butter until it is completely mixed in with the flour (no big chunks).

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Wash, de-stem, and mince the rosemary.

Add the proofed yeast and rosemary to the dough. Use a rubber spatula to mix everything together by folding dough and scraping the bowl.

Cover the bowl with a warm, damp paper towel and place it back in the oven (with the oven door closed this time). Let the dough rise for about an hour (it should double in size).

While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. Mix the mozzarella cheese with the parmesan, pepper, and salt.

When the dough has risen, remove it from the oven and roll it out in a ball onto a floured work surface. (I usually cover my counter with parchment paper and add a bit of flour on top for this process.)

Using your sharpest, unserrated knife, cut the dough into four equal pieces.
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Next, cut each of those slices into two, so that you have 8 pieces in all.

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To make each pretzel, roll one dough ball out into a long string. You want it to be about 1 1/2 feet long.

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Use your hands or a rolling pin to flatten it.

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Place about 2 tablespoons of the mozzarella filling on the dough, along one edge.

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Slowly and carefully, roll the dough back into a circular tube. Be sure to press down on the dough to create a seal around the filling!

Make the shape of the letter ‘U’ with the tube.

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Cross the two, top ends of the ‘U’.

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Flip the crossed ends down over the loop, and you’ve got a traditional pretzel!

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Do this with each dough ball, and in the meantime, set a large pot of water mixed with baking soda on the stove to boil.

As you are forming your pretzels, feel free to have some fun with it. You can even do a double twist, like so:

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After the pretzels are formed and the baking soda water is boiling, prepare two cookie sheets by covering them in parchment paper. Next, place the pretzels in the water one-at-a-time. Let it float there for about half a minute before carefully lifting it out of the water using slotted spoons.

Do this with each pretzel, until they are all partially cooked from the water. This might create a bit of a mess with baking soda residue on the range, but it is super easy to clean, so do not worry too much about it now!

Preheat the oven to 425°F. While the oven is preheating, do a quick egg wash on the pretzels to help them brown.

Whisk together 1 tablespoon of water with an egg. Using a brush, coat each pretzel generously in the egg wash. After the oven is preheated, let the pretzels bake for 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown on top!

Finally, prepare the topping!

Melt about 4 tablespoons of salted butter. Brush the top of each pretzel with the butter.

Measure out the extra parmesan and chop up another tablespoon of rosemary. Mix those two together in a small bowl along with the garlic salt and pepper. Sprinkle this on top of the pretzels!

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Enjoy with tomato sauce for dipping or by itself!

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Minestra con pasta e fagioli

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I am exploring a new cookbook, Share: the cookbook that celebrates our common humanity. It was published by Women for Women International, an organization that helps women in war torn countries. Aside from learning about their stories, I’ve found some neat recipes that I never would have tried before.

This book is really fun to flip through because the recipes come not only from the women being helped, but also the women doing the helping. This provides for an interesting look at food around the world– who’s using enriched ingredients, which traditions favor simpler dishes, etc. I hope to make many of these recipes, especially those that are a bit more unique. However, I started off with a hearty stew that pretty much any mediterranean foodie knows: pasta e fagioli.

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Pasta e fagioli is a very traditional, Italian stew (pasta and beans), and I want to talk a little bit about the terminology here. I have labelled this post in particular as minestra. Any students of Italian will naturally question this, because the word that most commonly refers to “soup” is zuppa. The history of these terms is fascinating, and really important in terms of how we should view dishes like these.

In Italian, zuppa refers to a soup with broth and chunks of bread, no pasta. Apparently, the term actually comes from a Gothic word meaning “soaked bread.” On the contrary, my new favorite, minestra, is a soup that does usually involve pasta. Nowadays, this soup is typically considered a first course (not fancy enough to be an entree). However, minestra was originally the main (and only) course given to slaves in ancient times, and the term comes from the Latin ministrāre, ‘to supply.’ (Thanks to this Italian Life for the crash course!)

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Obviously, I geeked out a bit at that! On a more serious note- I don’t believe we need to look at this simple minestra as just a first course. This soup was originally meant to sustain men and women throughout an entire day. It might be vegetarian, but it’s jam-packed with protein and carbs. I “beef” it up a bit by adding in a fabulous herb mixture, but this soup can truly be anything you want it to be. The base is a vegetable broth with pasta and beans. You decide the rest.

Because it’s summer, and I am on a farmer’s market roll, I decided to throw in some seasonal veggies as well. Thankfully, this soup also doesn’t take long (about forty to fifty minutes in all).

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Minestra: pasta e fagioli
serves about 4, as a main course

Ingredients
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves
3/4 large onion
5 small carrots (with stems)
2 ribs celery
14oz can cannellini beans
14oz can diced tomatoes (if you can find San Marzano, bless the town you live in for carrying them and please make use of them!!)
4-5 cups vegetable stock (I use Knorr bouillon cubes, because it’s cheaper)
1/3 cup frozen peas
1 medium zucchini
2 bay leaves
1 cup macaroni

optional for topping
parmesan cheese (leave off for vegan option)
dill, Italian parsley, and carrot-top herb mix
salt and pepper

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The most tedious thing about this recipe is all of the chopping you are going to have to do! (It’s totally worth it though, so don’t let that scare you!)

First, chop the garlic and onion. [Pro-tip: Bring a miniature cutting station to your living room couch and a bunch of tiny bowls. I watched some Mad Men while making this, so I was chopping everything and separating it out before I even approached the stove!]

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Next, chop off the stems of the carrots (but save those leafy greens for later). Peel the carrots and quarter them. Honestly, you can probably get away with just slicing the carrots, but I knew I wanted a softer stew, so I went ahead and cut them into smaller bites. I even added in a big carrot because it seemed like a good amount of orange…I wouldn’t recommend it, because it ended up leaving me with little broth and LOTS of stuff in my soup! In the end, it will be delicious anyway.

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Trim and chop the celery, adding it into the bowl with the carrots.

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In a large pot, heat up the olive oil and add in the garlic and onions.

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After about a minute, add in the carrots and celery. Make sure you stir everything a bit so that the onions do not overcook at the bottom of the pot.

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Let this cook for about five minutes. During this time you need to rinse and drain the cannellini beans, and prepare your five cups of broth. Drop two or three cubes of Knorr bouillon into 5 cups of boiling water and stir until the cubes have dissolved. If you are using pre-made broth, you’ve saved yourself some time (and an extra pot)!

When the carrots are tender but still have their color, add the beans, diced tomatoes, and broth into the pot. This mixture needs to simmer for about twenty minutes.

During this time you can: watch more Mad Men, finely slice a zucchini (if you want to add that), and chop up your herb mixture.

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For my herb mixture, I used 1/4 cup dill, 1/2 cup Italian parsley, and the stems from my carrots! I washed them all and bunched them all together and chopped them. This was hastily done because I was hungry for soup, so you could probably mince them carefully and separately and it would be fancy and beautiful, but that’s not really what minestra is about, so I say just go for it and slow down just to enjoy the flavors at the end!

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After the twenty minutes is up, add in the peas, zucchini, bay leaves, and pasta. Stir everything together really well, and leave it to simmer for another ten minutes.

Next, serve each bowl with a heaping pile of fresh herbs and Parmesan. Add some salt and pepper to the top for taste.

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Enjoy!

 

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Pão de Queijo with paprika and sea salt

pdqIt’s World Cup time, and although Brazil is not my team, I thought that I’d make some Brazilian snack foods for the games. Pão de queijo, Brazilian cheese bread, is a very common breakfast or snack food. It is SO delicious, and worth trying if you’ve never had it!

I topped half of mine with spicy paprika and sea salt (that is definitely my preference) but they are amazing just plain as well. If you seal them in an airtight container, they should last for a few days. BUT bring these out at your next football viewing and I promise you there will be no leftovers!

pdqThese are airy little cheese puffs, bite-sized for the perfect game day food!

A quick note on finding cassava or tapioca flour: Whole Foods has it and so do most health food stores. You can also find it at Latin markets, if there is one conveniently located near you.

Pão de Queijo
Makes a little over 2 dozen puffs

Ingredients
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups tapioca or cassava flour
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups parmesan-reggiano cheese, shredded
parchment paper for baking

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First, preheat the oven to 450°F.

Pour the milk, oil, and kosher salt together in a medium-sized bowl. (The oil + milk combo is super cool looking, like mercury!) Over medium heat, continually stir everything until a rolling boil gets going and everything is completely mixed together. When it’s ready to be taken off heat, you should see big bubbles coming up through the milk.

pdqPour the milk mixture into a bowl and add in the tapioca flour. Using a rubber spatula or your hands, stir in the flour until there is no more dry flour. It will be hot from the boiling milk, so be careful!

pdqIt will look super weird once the milk is all soaked up, but I promise you haven’t done anything wrong! Let the dough cool until you can put a finger on/in it and hold it for a few seconds.

pdqIn a separate bowl, whisk the eggs thoroughly. Then, mix the egg in with the dough using your hands, only putting in 1/2 at a time. Let each part soak into the dough thoroughly before adding in the second 1/2. The dough will be very sticky!

pdqFinally, add in the cheese!

Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper and pour a small amount of vegetable oil in a cup (this will help with the stickiness of the dough). Measure out 1 tablespoon portions and round them. You can use your hands to form the little balls, continually dipping them in the vegetable oil to keep them from sticking.

pdqSpace them about an inch apart on the baking sheet.

pdqIf you choose, top them with sea salt and paprika!

pdqNow, turn the oven down to 350°F and bake for 25 minutes, or until they are just browning on the outside, more golden brown on the bottom, and have puffed up nicely!

pdqEnjoy!