I’m mad at myself for not posting earlier this week. I had my blog week all planned out – but I got caught up in another project that prevented me writing about about food (more about that other project at the bottom of this post). Come to think of it, I didn’t cook much at all either, but we ate home-cooked meals at every lunch and dinner. How? This was freezer week; we survived on all the great food I stashed in the last couple of months. When you’re pressed for time, there’s nothing like having things you really like eating (and made yourself) ready to be defrosted and enjoyed at a moment’s notice. We have a chest freezer at home, which allows us to keep our frozen meals for longer, free of frostbite.
Some things freeze better than others. With experience, you learn to sort out what freezes really badly (defrosted pasta = mushy mess) from the recipes that are just as good reheated as freshly made. Soup is the one thing that I always always have in the freezer. Soups are the best and quickest lunch ever! I like to freeze pureed vegetable soups, French onion soup (without the croutons and cheese, of course) and minestrone, which is one of my favorites because it’s so hearty and nutritious. After reheating it, I freshen it up with fresh basil, shaved parmesan cheese and toasted croutons and nobody can tell it comes from the freezer.
But what is minestrone exactly? Good question. It’s certainly the most popular Italian soup out there, but the thing is that there is no one recipe of minestrone. According to Wikipedia, the name of the soup comes from minestra (soup in Italian), and -one, an augmentative suffix. Put the two together and it means something like the big soup, or the soup with many ingredients. Yes, you got it: minestrone is not a fancy, chef-created soup; it’s the go-to soup made from whatever’s in season or in the fridge. The bible of Italian cooking, The Silver Spoon, lists 10 different regional recipes (Milanese, Napoletana, Tuscan, etc.), but these are a “summary” of the flavors used in each region, not set-in-stone recipes.
Minestrone does have its classic and basic components: fresh garden vegetables, fresh herbs and pasta, rice and/or legumes. I have made different variations of the soup over the years, but the one I like best is an Italian-American version created by chef Mark Peel from Campanile restaurant in L.A. His recipe was featured a couple of years ago in Food & Wine Magazine and it has become our favorite because it’s rich in beans (thus, fiber) and it’s really thick, almost like a light stew. It’s the perfect meal in a bowl.
Minestrone with Black-Eyed Peas and Kidney Beans
Recipe by Chef Mark Peel, published in Food & Wine Magazine
When I make this soup, we usually eat two bowls right away and then I freeze the remaining portions. As the freezing process mutes the taste of salt, I only season the two portions that are to be eaten short term and freeze the rest as is. Adding salt to the reheated soup (along with fresh basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano) wakes it up and give it the freshly-made punch it needs.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, finely diced
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 leek, white and pale green parts thinly sliced, 1 dark top thickly sliced and reserved
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ pound Savoy or other green cabbage, coarsely shredded
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup dried black-eyed peas (or 1 15-oz can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed)
2 quarts water
3 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
1 15-oz can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 ounces penne (or other pasta of your choice, I find chunky ones do better in this soup)
Shredded fresh basil
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
In a pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the pancetta, onion, celery, garlic and sliced leek and season with salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage and cook until slightly wilted, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add the dried black-eyed peas and water; bring to a boil. Wrap the parsley, bay leaf, thyme and reserved leek top in a piece of cheesecloth and secure with kitchen twine. Add to the pot.
Cover the pot and simmer over low heat until the black-eyed peas are tender, 45 minutes. Discard the herbs. Add the kidney beans and simmer for 10 minutes longer.
Meanwhile, in a pot of salted water, cook the penne until al dente. Drain and cool under running water. Slice the penne crosswise into ¼-inch rings. Note: If using short pasta, add directly to the soup at the same time as the red kidney beans.
Stir in the pasta into the soup. Taste and adjust seasoning (or not, if freezing).
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle each with a generous tablespoon of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and the same amount of shredded fresh basil. I like to add toasted croutons, but do as you please! Enjoy.
And now for a minute of shameless self-promotion…
The other project I was telling you about at the beginning of this post is the latest desktop application created by E, who, by the way, is a software designer. This application is called Wallcast and it is a PC/Mac application that transforms your computer wallpaper into a dynamic collage of photos from you, your family, and your friends. It periodically updates your wallpaper with a mix of pictures uploaded online, with the Wallcast iPhone app or via email. Having family members and friends scattered across the continent and overseas, E created Wallcast to facilitate the quick sharing of pictures on a support that’s seen everyday yet is often forgotten, the computer wallpaper.
I have participated to this project with great pleasure and passion: I’ve handled graphic design, copywriting, media communications and community management. This week was our official launch, we worked really hard on spreading the word and trying to get reviewed by influential bloggers. So far the product has been very well received: we’ve scored two rave reviews from big-names The Next Web and Mashable as well as 30+ of great reviews from bloggers around the globe (from Japan to Argentina!). We are very excited about the instant popularity of Wallcast and I thought you might want to give it a try as well. It’s quick and easy to install, and once you try it you’ll understand how fun (and somewhat addictive) it is.
I leave you with a short 1-minute presentation video and the screenshot of a sample wallpaper. Don’t you wish your desktop was just as beautiful? :)
Alright. Enough shameless self-promotion. But really – do try it, it’s awesome: wallcast.com