Thursday, February 13, 2014

Comfort Foods

Since moving to Naples, I have become obsessed with the extra starches Italians add to pasta. Never, in my carb-conscious American life, would I add potato or beans to pasta, but they do, and the resulting miraculous textural amalgamation creates one of the world's great comfort foods. I always perk up when I find out I'm being served pasta fagiola (literally, pasta and beans). I say "when I find out," because it's rare to actually order your food around here. You sit down at a table, and they start bringing out food. Whatever is fresh, and whatever the chef makes well. It's marvelous. Anyway, I've never tried to cook Pasta Fagiola myself, and figured the recipe in The Epicurious Cookbook was as good a place as any to start.

This recipe produced a very nice tomato-based soup, chock full of sausage, onions, cannellini beans, pasta, and spinach. It would take well to any veg you may have laying around.
It bore no resemblance to any pasta fagiola I've had here in Italy, and misses out on all that creamy, starchy, thickening that the beans and pasta can give each other, but it was a good, cozy soup. I wish I made a plate for Charlie before adding the frozen spinach, because he refused to touch it once he saw green.

Conclusion: Liked it.

We (ie, Matt) planted a winter garden for the first time in our lives this year, just to see if we could produce some vegetables that are hard to find around here. Some seeds have done better than others. Swiss chard and turnips are growing like champs. Red carrots are slow and steady. We had no luck with parsnips or spinach. Our Tuscan Kale, which I thought would take off like a rocket, since we're in Italy and all, has remained quite small. Matt pulled up a bunch of turnips and a few carrots the other day, and asked if I could figure out a way to use them this week. He doesn't like pot pie much, but when I saw that Chicken and Fall Vegetable Pot Pie (pg 249) called for a pound of turnips and a few carrots, I was sold. Our turnip greens are inedibly bitter, so I used some of my swiss chard instead.
The crust is supposed to have extra pizzazz with the inclusion of fresh parsley and thyme. I was sure I had parsley in the fridge, but didn't find it until two minutes after I was done cooking. I threw dried thyme into the crust and called it a day. The pastry dough was surprisingly easy to work with (surprising, b/c pie crust type things usually infuriate me), and it turned out flaky, which I was afraid would not happen, as it was sitting on top of a puddle of goopy filling.
Tastes better than it looks.
Conclusion: Liked it. Matt ate it, too. I didn't try to figure out the WW points, and I don't want to know. Suffice it to say, there's enough butter, flour, and shortening in here to blow it off the chart.

Last night, I made Braised Chicken with Tomatoes and Olives (pg 52). This is an easy roast chicken recipe. Toss tomatoes, onions, olives, and sliced garlic with oil, herbes de Provence, fennel, salt and pepper, and dump it into a roasting pan. Rub the same mixture, sans fennel, into the chicken skin. Add chicken to the pan. Roast.
Next time, I'd rub the spices under the skin. I always pull the skin off, so the seasoning was lost on me. Still, some salty garlicky flavor did seep into the meat.

I've never roasted tomatoes alongside a chicken before, and it turns out to be a lovely combo. I didn't like the olives. Their time in the oven concentrated their saltiness until they were flat-out unpleasant to eat. I'd omit them next time. 

Conclusion: Liked it.


  1. Everything looks good! We have planted a small winter garden for several years now but didn't get it done this year. I miss the fresh salad greens! Pasta Fagiola is something from my childhood. We lived across the hall from an Italian couple when I was a very young child and that's how my mother learned about it. It was a staple of our family meals and its nothing like what we see here in the States.