Sunday, July 29, 2012

sticks and stones

It takes a crazy person to want soup on a summer day in Dallas. 

Call me pazzo!

It's been several years since I've been able to find a can of Coco Pazzo's Tuscan White Bean Soup with Escarole.  I've been missing that soup.  I remember the flavors so well and I can recall most of the ingredients so I headed to the kitchen attempting to recreate the zuppa.

In our kitchen hangs a picture taken from the book A Tuscan in the Kitchen by Pino Luongo.  He was the owner of the Manhattan restaurant Coco Pazzo which served this bean soup and later sold it commercially. 

The picture is a striking and unusual scene and I liked it so much I wrote the publisher for permission to copy the photo. 

Imagine a large field, the earth prepared for new crops to be planted.  At the far end of the field on an incline but with steeper hills beyond, sits a storied, stone farm house, as picturesque as can be and typical of many you see throughout Tuscany.  In the middle of the dirt plot stands a woman whose back is to you, her long braid falling to her waistline.  There appears to be a young child positioned behind her, leaning into the folds of her skirt though it's all very vague.

It takes a second look to realize the woman is a scarecrow.

In A Tuscan in the Kitchen, Luongo lists ingredients but not quantities.  I believe that's why I was first drawn to this book; I'm very comfortable cooking that way and since his soup recipe is not in the book, I did just that, based on my memory of the ingredients. 

The somewhat familiar smell floating through the house brought Spoke into the kitchen to see what I was cooking.  One glance into the stockpot, ribbons of escarole floating on the surface, and he knew instantly what was for dinner. 

It was 101 degrees and Spoke couldn't wait to eat this zuppa! 

Call him pazzo!

Escarole Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large, sweet yellow onion, diced
2 or 3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
8 cups vegetable stock, divided
12 cups water
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
 5 large green escarole leaves and most of the pale stalk,
2 long sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped fine, divided
1 fifteen-ounce can Cannellini beans drained and rinsed
or other cooked, white beans
salt and pepper

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil and add the onions,
seasoning them with a little salt and pepper. 
Cook until the onions are soft and golden.  
Stir in the garlic and cook a minute longer. 

Add 4 cups vegetable stock, 12 cups water, potato, carrots,
and half of the rosemary, seasoning with salt and pepper. 
Cook until reduced and the vegetables are tender. 

Add the other 4 cups of stock,
escarole and the other half of the rosemary. 
Simmer until the soup has cooked down and is a bit denser. 
Add the beans and heat through. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

elbows off the table

When we got a break in the heat yesterday, temps dropping to 101 from the previous day's spike of 107, I took to the kitchen to make macaroni salad.  A good choice I figured since it doesn't require the oven and if I made a large batch, we could build meals around it for a few days. 

I'll bet you something; I'll bet you make macaroni salad the same way each and every time without giving it thought.  Same goes for potato salad and cole slaw, right? 

Recognizing myself in that rut, I ditched all familiar ingredients, starting with the pasta, and ended up with something new and quite yummy.  Paprika adds smoky interest and although the salad has mayonnaise, fresh lemon juice cuts through it and the dressing is very light. 

I'll be making macaroni through the hot August still ahead, experimenting with more versions.  Next up, one with lemongrass, wouldn't you bet?

Macaroni Salad

half of a large, sweet yellow onion
1 ear of corn
1 teaspoon extra light olive oil
1/2 cups mayonnaise
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained and divided
freshly ground white pepper
ground cayenne pepper
1 four-ounce jar of sliced pimentos
1 cup frozen green peas
1 lb. farfalle (bow-tie pasta) 
3/4 teaspoons paprika
freshly ground black pepper

Peel the onion and cut thin slices lengthwise. 
Soak the slices in a bowl of cold water, changing the water
frequently while you prepare the other salad ingredients.
Before adding them to the pasta, drain the slices on paper towels.

Shuck, wash and dry the ear of corn.  Cut the kernels off the cob. 
In a small saucepan, heat the oil and cook the corn until it takes on some color, then remove from the heat to cool.

Drain and rinse the jar of pimentos.

Mix mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice until smooth. 
Season to your liking with freshly ground white pepper
and dashes of ground cayenne pepper.  Set aside.

Place the green peas in a bowl to thaw.

 While the ingredients are soaking, cooling, and thawing, bring a large stockpot of water to a boil.  Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of salt.  Drop the pasta and stir. Time the pasta to al dente. 
Don't overcook.

Drain the pasta and transfer it to a large bowl.  Season with salt, add the green peas and stir gently.  Allow the pasta to cool down.

Once it has cooled, add the onion, corn, pimentos, and mayonnaise, mixing to combine and distribute the dressing. 
Season with paprika and freshly ground black pepper.
Add additional salt if needed.
Drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and gently toss once more. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.  

Posted in Dallas; a cool 97*

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

goodness and graciousness

The first time I met Mu, she wrapped our arms together as she led me to a table, all the while chatting with me in her quiet way, as though we were long lost friends.  She'd just met my sister a few days before and at Ruang Thai, no one is a stranger for long. 

Mu and her husband Tai own this little gem named after Mu's father.  Don't let the dull, suburban retail strip fool you; Ruang Thai is a warm and inviting restaurant. 

Opened just over a year, Ruang has many dedicated fans who claim it to be the best Thai food in Dallas.  My knowledge of the cuisine is limited but of the several places I've tried, I do exclaim it's the best I've ever eaten.  It's a feast for the eyes as well by the owners' attention to the beautiful presentation of their food. 

Appetizers are often, to me, the highlight of meals and at Ruang I've enjoyed several; shrimp wrapped in filo dough and fried until they are golden and crisp, the classic, crunchy egg rolls, and my absolute favorite, corn patties which are always fresh and hot.  So good!

The first entree I ate at Ruang was a broccoli-black pepper-cilantro dish to which I added shrimp.  I liked it a lot and would order it again if only I could stop eating the lemongrass!  In it, a variety of vegetables cooked to perfection, are submerged in a most fragrant broth.  Why have I never tried lemongrass until now, I ask myself.  Shame, shame, shame on me.  

I am so taken with this newest discovery, I attempted to cook myself a similar lemongrass dish last night.  I knew I couldn't replicate Ruang's but I hoped mine would be a decent first trial.  Here's a quick version of what I did.  Better than decent; it was actually very good. 

For an excellent version though, head to Ruang Thai where Mu will graciously greet you.  Be sure to give her my love.

Vegetables with Lemongrass

I got some Jasmine going in the electric rice steamer; comes out perfect every time!

Roasted some peanuts.  (Didn't have cashews.)

Heated a few cups of vegetable stock. 

Using a blender, I made a paste of (close to) equal parts garlic, ginger, scallions, and the usable part of one stalk of chopped lemongrass.
Thinned the paste with a little water to get it to pulse in the machine.

Chopped another stalk of lemongrass and simmered it in a bit of the vegetable stock.

Chopped vegetables for the stir-fry.
Used what was on hand:  yellow onion, carrots,celery including the leafy tops, one small ear of corn-cut off the cob, scallions, mushrooms.
Advice: keep the vegetables in large chunks.  I chopped all the vegetables too small.
Big mistake; resembled a mirepoix more than stir-fry.

In a little oil, I cooked together over fairly high heat, the onion, carrots, celery, and corn for about 10 minutes.  Needed to add more oil.
Threw in the scallions and cooked a few minutes longer. 

Mixed in about 2 tablespoons of the garlicky paste and cooked for a minute or so.  Added the lemongrass and its broth, mushrooms,
and additional stock a half-a-cup at a time. 
Added a few splashes of fish sauce. 

Simmered until the liquid had somewhat cooked down.  It looked a little thin
but worked out fine and it tasted fresh and full of lemongrass. 

Served with steamed rice and hot peanuts.  

Ruang Thai
1301 Custer Road just south of 15th Street, Plano 
972.422.4143   BYOB!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

on this day

St. Swithun's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain

St. Swithun's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mare

Feast day of St. Swithun
July 15th