Shiitake Mushroom and Pesto Linguine with Spinach

I love mushrooms so much, that this recipe uses two kinds in this dish: your workaday standard creminis and somewhat-exotic shiitakes. These umami vessels are joined by healthy spinach, savory sun-dried tomatoes, and herbaceous, flavor-eous pesto. It’s all twirled together with pasta that makes for an easy-peasy, maximum flavor meal just when you need it.

 

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 oz. Cremini Mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch
  • 3 oz. Shiitake Mushrooms, stemmed and sliced 1/4 inch
  • 1 Shallot, peeled and thinly sliced.
  • 4 oz. Baby Spinach
  • 5 oz. Linguine
  • 1 oz. Julienned Sun-Dried Tomatoes
  • ¼ cup Basil Pesto (See Cook’s Notes. Recipe Follows Below.)
  • 1 small plum or Roma tomato, sliced
  • 1 oz. Shredded Asiago Cheese
  • Salt  and Ground Black Pepper, to taste

 

Directions:

Bring 8 cups water and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a medium pot. Once water is boiling, add pasta and cook until al dente, 9-11 minutes. Reserve ¼ cup pasta cooking water. Drain pasta in a colander. DO NOT RINSE THE PASTA. Set aside.

While pasta cooks, brown mushrooms. Place a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, cremini mushrooms, and shiitake mushrooms to the hot pan. Stir occasionally until well-browned, 4-5 minutes.

Add shallot to pan. Stir occasionally until tender, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the spinach reserved pasta cooking water, sun-dried tomatoes, a pinch of salt salt, and ¼ teaspoons black pepper. Cook until spinach wilts, 2-3 minutes.

Add the pasta and pesto to pan and stir to combine.

To serve, add the finished pasta to a large bowl, garnishing with Asiago and sliced tomatoes.

 

Bon appétit!

 

 

 

Cook’s Notes:

Pesto is a mouthful of bright brightness. You can buy it in a jar , found in  the refrigerator section of your grocery story, but there is nothing better than making it yourself. Fresh basil can be found in abundance at farmers’ markets in the summer. Just clean, take the stems off and throw the leaves in a food processor with nuts and garlic. Dribble in the oil and you’ve got a versatile sauce for pasta, chicken or fish.

Yields 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves (no stems)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

 

Directions:

  1. Combine basil leaves, pine nuts or walnuts and garlic in a food processor and process until very finely minced.
  2. With the machine running slowly dribble in the oil and process until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Add the cheese and process very briefly, just long enough to combine. Store in refrigerator or freezer.

 

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Cassoulet

So, it looks like I ‘m stuck in France, at least in the Kitchen at home……….

 

 

 

 

 

There is no dish in the Southwest France more iconic and cherished, than the cassoulet.

This  rich and  hearty slow-simmered stew has peasant roots and is made with of  pork ,  duck or garlic sausages, confit (typically duck), pork, and sometimes mutton, pork skin (couennes) and Tarbais white beans (haricots blancs), originating in  the New World , more than likely first cultivated in Mexico and imported to Europe by Christopher Columbus. Subsequently, Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, facilitated the mass importation of the white bean, which started to be cultivated extensively throughout Southwest France.

The dish is said to have originated in the town of Castelnaudary, and is particularly popular in the neighboring towns of Toulouse and Carcassonne. It is associated with the region once known as the province of Languedoc.The dish is  named after its traditional cooking vessel, the casserole, a deep, round, conical e arthenware pot with slanting sides.

Legend has it that the first cassoulet is claimed by the city of Castelnaudary, which was under siege by the British during the Hundred Years’  War (1337 to 1453) . The beleaguered townspeople gathered up the ingredients they could find and made a large stew to nourish and bolster their defenders. The meal was so hearty and fortifying that the soldiers handily dispelled the invaders, saving the city from occupation. But the origin of cassoulet is probably the result of more global interactions than the Castelnaudary legend would suggest.

Since its composition is based on local  availability, cassoulet varies from town to town in Southwest France. In Castelnaudary, cassoulet is prepared with duck confit, pork shoulder and sausage. In Carcassonne a cassoulet will typically have mutton, and the Toulouse version has duck confit, Toulouse sausage, and is breaded on top. In Auch, only duck or goose meat is used, and crumbs are never added on top. And each town believes they make the one true cassoulet. Regardless of the which town has the most complete recipe, the best versions are cooked for hours for  several days,  until the beans and meat meld into a dish of luxuriant, velvety richness.

The French have always taken their food  and the sanctity of cassoulet very  seriously that there is a brotherhood – the Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet  de Castelnaudary– that defends the glory and quality of cassoulet in Castelnaudary, in part by conducting surprise taste tests of the cassoulets offered by local chefs. Since 1999, the Brotherhood has organized competitions and fairs featuring cassoulet . And there is an Academie Universelle du Cassoulet, whose members promote the cassoulet and its significant cultural heritage (they even have a theme song).

You will need plenty of time and patience when making a cassoulet, Prepared in advance, it’s an excellent option for entertaining — especially on cold winter nights when the  cold weather calls for a stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal. 

 

Bon Apetite!

 

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
1 pound dried Tarbias beans
2 1/2 quarts unsalted chicken broth (10 cups)
3 ounces salt pork
2 duck confit legs
8 ounces fresh French garlic sausage
4 ounces boneless pork shoulder
4 ounces fresh pork skin
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Day 1:
Place 1 pound dried great northern beans in a large bowl. Add enough cold water to cover the beans by 2 to 3 inches. Soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight.

Day 2:
Boil the beans for 5 minutes. Drain the beans. Place the beans in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring to a rapid boil over medium-high heat and boil for 5 minutes. Drain again.

Bring 2 1/2 quarts unsalted chicken stock or broth to a boil over medium-high heat in the same pot. Add the beans, bring back to a boil, and skim off any scum. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook uncovered until the beans are just tender but still whole and unbroken, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Cut the meats. Dice 3 ounces salt pork. Halve 2 duck confit legs between the joint so that you have 2 drumsticks and 2 thighs. Cut 8 ounces garlic sausage into 2-inch pieces. Cut 4 ounces boneless pork shoulder or belly into 2-inch chunks. Cut 4 ounces fresh pork skin into 2-inch squares if using.

Make a salt pork and garlic paste. Place the salt pork and 3 garlic cloves in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Process into a sticky paste, about 15 seconds. (Alternatively, chop by hand into a paste.) Refrigerate until ready to use.

Sear the duck and pork. Place the duck skin-side down in a large frying pan over medium-low heat and cook until golden-brown, 5 to 10 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Add the sausage to the pan and cook into browned, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the plate. Add the pork belly or shoulder and cook until browned on a few sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to the plate. Refrigerate the meats until ready to use.

Cool the beans. When the beans are ready, remove from the heat and let cool until warm to the touch, about 1 hour.

Season the beans. Add the garlic-pork paste, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt to the beans and stir gently to combine, breaking up the paste so that is it evenly distributed.

Drain the beans. Pour the bean mixture through a strainer fitted over a large bowl.

Line the cooking vessel. Use a French clay cassole if you have one. Otherwise you can use a 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed, oven safe pot. Line the bottom of the vessel with the cut pork skin if using.

Assemble the cassoulet. Layer half of the beans on top of the pork skin. Place the duck confit and pork shoulder or belly on the beans. Layer the remaining beans over the duck and pork. Top with the sausages, nestling them into the beans until just their tops are visible.

Top with cooking liquid. Pour enough of the bean cooking liquid into the cassoulet to barely cover the beans. Sprinkle a dusting of freshly ground black pepper across the surface. You can immediately move on to the next step and bake it for 3 hours, or the cassoulet can be covered and refrigerated overnight. Refrigerate the remaining bean cooking liquid.

Bake the cassoulet for 3 hours. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325ºF. Bake the cassoulet uncovered for 3 hours. While it is cooking, it will develop a brown crust on top. Pierce the crust and moisten the surface by spooning some of the cooking liquid over it, taking care not to disturb the layers below. Allow the crust to re-form 2 or 3 times. If the beans start to look dry, moisten them with several spoonfuls of extra bean-cooking liquid or chicken broth. Let the cassoulet cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

Day 3:
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325ºF. Uncover the cassoulet and bake for 1 1/2 hours, breaking the crust with a spoon and moistening the surface at least twice. If the beans look dry, add spoonfuls of extra bean-cooking liquid or chicken broth. You can serve the cassoulet now, or let it cool to room temperature and cover and refrigerate overnight.

Day 4:
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325ºF. Heat the cassoulet for 1 1/2 hours, moistening with extra bean-cooking liquid or chicken broth as necessary. Serve immediately in its vessel, gently simmering and unstirred along with a simple green salad dressed in a sharp vinaigrette, a loaf of crusty bread, and a full-bodied red wine.

 

 

Cook’s Notes:

Beans substitution: Great White Northern beans of Cannelli Beans will work well with this recipe.

Garlic sausage substitution: Fresh pork sausage, such as a mild, sweet Italian sausage without fennel can be substituted for the garlic sausage.

Salt pork substitution: You can use bacon but it is not traditional and does add a distinct smokiness, which is not unpleasant but cassoulet purists would disapprove.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 5 days.

 

 

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Italian Minestrone Soup

 

This hearty minestrone is easy to make and totally worth the effort.
The recipe calls for seasonal vegetables and affordable pantry ingredients you can find in any local grocery store, making it budget friendly. Like an Italian minestrone soup, this recipe is loaded with vegetables, beans, spinach and ditalini pasta. The soup packs great for lunch, and tastes even better the next day. You can make this dish dairy free, gluten-free and vegan friendly. Just see the following  Cook’s Notes.  This recipe calls for about 24 servings, so just know that it also freezes and defrosts well too. It is extra nice to have on hand in the freezer on during those days when you feel like being a lazy cook in the kitchen, especially during the winter months.

Serves 24

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 cup of small diced pancetta bacon
2 peeled and small diced yellow onions
4 finely minced cloves of garlic
2 thinly sliced leeks, optional
4 medium diced stalks of celery
4 peeled and sliced carrots
1 peeled and medium diced turnip
1 peeled and medium diced parsnip
½ small diced bulb of fennel core removed, optional
3 peeled and large diced russet potatoes
Three 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes in juice
Three 15-ounce cans of drained cannellini beans
128 ounces of chicken stock
3 parmesan cheese rinds (See Cook’s Notes)
2 cups of frozen peas
2 cups baby spinach, chopped kale or chopped collard greens
juice of 1 lemon
2 pounds of cooked and cooled ditalini pasta (See Cook’s Notes)
Salt, to taste
Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese and fresh oregano and rosemary sprigs, for garnish

 

Directions:
In a very large pot or stockpot over medium heat add in the pancetta and cook until browned and crispy. Set aside the pancetta lardons.

Add in the onions, garlic, leeks, celery, carrots, turnip, parsnips and fennel to the pot and sauté for 10 to 12 minutes.

Add in the potatoes, tomatoes, beans, stock and cheese rinds and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Add the peas, spinach, lemon juice, cooked pancetta, salt, and pepper.

To serve, ladle into bowl and garnish with parmesan, oregano and rosemary, if desired.

 

Cook’s Notes:
Minestrone soup is subject to change based on what you have and what’s in season. This minestrone soup recipe may look completely different in the summer since things like zucchini, yellow squash and squash peak in are that season. For the Spring, you might want to use peas, green beans and leeks for the soup. As for autumn seasonal vegetables, potatoes turnips, butternut squash, also work for this recipe. Basically, whatever vegetables you have on hand will work in this recipe. Left over vegetables will also work in a pinch too.

Grains or Pasta: Italian minestrone soup can also use things like farro or cous cous as the grain or pasta in the soup, such as orecchiette, elbow or small shell pasta. To make this soup gluten free, you can also substitute your favorite sturdy gluten-free noodle, such as DeLallo’s Whole-Grain Rice Shells.

Parmesan Cheese: The Parmesan cheese rind is not a necessity, but it will add some delicious umami flavors to the soup. You can add grated Parmesan to the soup as a substitute, or shredded Parmesan can be added as a garnish.

However, if you want to make the soup dairy free and vegan friendly, do not use Parmesan cheese or the pancetta. Most Parmesans are not technically vegetarian because they contain animal rennet. As a reliable substitute, Whole Foods 365 and Bel Gioioso brands do offer vegetarian Parmesan cheese, and both will work really well in this recipe.

How to Reheat: To reheat the minestrone soup simply add your desired portion to a small sauce pot and heat over low heat until hot. You can also simply add your desired portion to microwave safe bowl and heat for 2:30 stirring after 1:15.

How to Store: Minestrone soup will hold well in the refrigerator covered up for up to 5 days. It will also freeze well covered for up to 3 months. Simply pull it out as you need it and reheat following the directions above.

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Ditalini Pasta

 

 

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