It Ain’t Grilled

If you asked me what the most difficult dietary restriction was, I’d be at an entire loss.

My first answer would be gluten-free – I’m not sure how life would go on without a nice, toasted piece of french bread, or a whole-wheat pizza, or even croutons. But given my love for making things from scratch, from making things myself, I’d be willing to bet I’d adapt pretty quickly, and with all the amazing gluten-free-ers blogging these days, I probably wouldn’t go without nearly as often as I think I would.

So then I think about the diabetics. No sugar? That doesn’t seem like a life worth living, either. Days without chocolate? Caramel? Ice cream? But again, there are a thousand sugar-substitutes available, and maybe I’d adapt to that, too. Maybe I’d get used to using Spenda or Truvia or whatever all the time. I mean, I use them a decent amount now by choice, so how bad could it be if my doctor told me to cut the sugar?

Which brings me to the next one – lactose. Oh, my. No cheese? No milk? But I suppose I could have it all if I just battled a little indigestion and upset stomach for a bit, right? And maybe I could take Lactase and it would be all better. Something tells me it isn’t that easy. And rice cheese? I’m not sure that tastes anything like Manchego or Gouda or Parmesan. I doubt soy ice cream is an ounce as good as whole milk ice cream, but again, if this were my life I’m sure I’d learn to love it, and learn to adjust. People do it all the time, don’t they?

Be that as it may, I absolutely couldn’t imagine life without toasted, cheesy sandwiches. And I could forego the meat as long as the cheese is there, as long as it oozes like this one, and as long as I feel a crunch of crusty, toasted bread between my teeth. Yeah, I don’t need bacon or chicken or any of that.

In fact, I’m quite happy with a large whopping mound of garlic-infused kale. Again, as long as cheese and bread are at the party, too.

Word on the street is that it’s National Grilled Cheese Month. Did you know? I have to thank podcasts and Facebook for this niblet of info, I do. And while I could really get behind a grilled cheese sandwich right about now, I realized I’d made this kale and provolone sandwich (aka grinder to anyone who uses that term. who uses that term, anyway?) a few weeks ago and I think I’d be more than happy to have it again.

Then again, a panini-style samich with sharp cheddar and a fresh tomato would also be pretty awesome. But since tomatoes are quite in season yet, maybe I’d better wait. At the end of the day, eating this one is hardly a sacrifice.

Kale & Provolone Grinders
adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2012; makes 4

time commitment:  ~1 hour

printable version

ingredients
white bean puree
3 T olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans with liquid
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

sandwiches
2 bunches of lacinato/Tuscan/dinosaur kale
Kosher salt
3 T olive oil, divided
1/2 head of garlic, cloves peeled and thinly sliced
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
2 c arugula or spinach
2 T fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
4 6″–8″-long French rolls, split lengthwise
4 ounces thinly sliced provolone heese
1 jalapeño, seeded, very thinly sliced

instructions
white bean puree
Heat 1 T oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat; add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until garlic begins to turn golden, about 4 minutes. Add beans with liquid. Bring to a simmer; cook, stirring often, until liquid thickens, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a food processor; add 2 T oil. Process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

sandwiches
Cook kale, 1 bunch at a time, in a large pot of boiling salted water for 2 minutes (return to a boil between batches). Transfer kale to a baking sheet; let cool. Squeeze dry; coarsely chop.

Heat a large pot over medium heat; add 2 T oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until garlic is fragrant and beginning to turn golden, 2–3 minutes. Add kale and arugula/spinach; cook, stirring often, until stem pieces are just tender, 4–5 minutes. Add remaining T oil and lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper, and more juice, if desired. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet and let cool. (you can do this a day early if you’d like)

Arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven; preheat to 400 F. Open rolls and arrange on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Spread bean purée on one side of each roll; add greens. Top with cheese, then jalapeño. Toast, rotating pans after 5 minutes, until cheese is melted, 7–10 minutes. Top, slice, and serve.

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Once Bitten, Twice Boiled

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I found my very own Italian Stallion while drinking & eating my way through Europe’s boot. Hubs and I met during a 5-week Florence-based study abroad trip, and despite his trying to woo me from week 1, I was (somewhat) slow to reciprocate.

Nonetheless, those 5 weeks were some of my very favorite weeks, for many reasons. Well, the obvious – meeting the person I hope will put up with me until the end of time. And making wonderful friends, even though we only keep in touch with less than a handful of them. Where else can you buy a decent $3 bottle of wine? When you’re downing a bottle a night, that’s more than economical :).

And oh my, the food. If I knew then I’d be sitting here today writing about Italian cuisine, I would have taken notes, I would have taken pictures, I would have done my research and made sure to try all those rustic Italian dishes, those dishes I see today and drool over, wishing I’d tasted “the real thing” in 2001. I would have brought back a lot of Caputo 00 flour.

But, alas, I didn’t. And instead, I ate a hella ton of gelato (I think I tried every single flavor at the shop outside of our school), Margherita pizza, and occasionally some pasta with some sauce and some bread. With a drizzle of that heavenly Italian olive oil that at the time, I simply called “dipping sauce”. I don’t remember what type of wine I drank because all I cared about was the price and that, if I bought cheap wine, I could use the rest of my loot to buy pretty Italian clothes and leather jackets and oh yeah, Murano glass.

I know for a fact that I did not have soup. Hell, it was so hot you practically had to wring out your clothes; you couldn’t have paid me to order soup. In actuality, I’d never even heard of “ribollita” until Heidi made it a few weeks ago. It sounded nice, rich, and über-hearty; it seemed like a great Sunday dish. And then I saw it again, in this month’s BA and, despite my general avoidance of vegetable soups, I knew at that point that I had to give it a try.

I do not regret it one bit.

Unlike any veggie soup I’ve ever had, this here is perfect for the (hopefully) last few weeks of winter. Packed with protein and carbs, it’s filling and thus completely appropriate as a vegetarian main dish. It makes plenty (probably more than 8 servings if you use large bunches of greens, as I did) and like a fine Italian wine that I didn’t taste in Italy, it gets better with time, so you can eat it throughout the week and freeze what’s left for later.

Needless to say, I’ll be looking for this dish as we venture out to Tuscany next year in celebration of our 5-year anniversary. And this time, I’ll make sure to take pictures, drink wine that costs a little more than $3, and lay off the Murano glass. I’ll be damned if I’m going to stay away from the gelato, however.

Other Italian dishes:
Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Eggs in Purgatory
Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto (it’s almost asparagus time!)

Tuscan Ribollita
Inspired by 101 Cookbooks; adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2010 & 101 Cookbooks

this recipe is highly adaptable. use any beans you want, and any quantity. mix it up with different greens; the kale is a staple of ribollita but if you don’t like it, substitute chard, cabbage, whatever. i enjoy the potatoes, but feel free to leave them out. and the pesto, i added for extra flavor, but it’s just fine without it. definitely keep the zest – it brightens this rich soup up, just a bit.

also, this is a great time to stock up on cooked white beans. I quadrupled the beans and froze the rest – they’ll last for a long time as long as you freeze them in their cooking water (which I forgot to keep all of, so any water works, really).

printable version

ingredients
8 c water, divided
1 1/4 c dried cannellini beans
1 bunch of fresh sage leaves
8 garlic cloves; 5 sliced, 3 chopped
3 t fine sea salt, divided
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus additional for drizzling
1 lg onion, chopped
2 lg celery stalks, diced
1 med carrot, chopped
2 unpeeled Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered through core, sliced crosswise
1 large pinch of dried thyme
1 sm bunch black (Tuscan, lacinato) kale, cut crosswise into 1-inch ribbons
1 sm bunch redchard, center stem removed, cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide ribbons, stems diced
4 c thinly sliced savoy cabbage
5 large plum tomatoes, chopped
1 2-inch square Parmesan cheese rind (even better if cheese is remaining!)
1 t dried crushed red pepper
1 T tomato paste
2 T basil pesto, optional
4 c vegetable broth
6 1/2-inch-thick slices whole wheat bread, coarsely torn with crusts; if soft, toasted in advance
2 T balsamic vinegar
meyer lemon zest (or regular lemon), for garnish

instructions
Combine 8 c water, beans, sage, and sliced garlic in large saucepan. Bring to boil; reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until beans are tender, stirring occasionally, 2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on age of beans. Add 1 t sea salt; simmer 10 minutes. Uncover and cool beans in liquid. [Can be made and stored in water in advance.]

Heat 3 T oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion; sprinkle with sea salt. Cook until onion is translucent, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add chopped garlic; stir 2 minutes. Add celery, carrot, potato, fennel, chard stems, and thyme; cook until vegetables are tender and begin to turn brown in spots, stirring often, 15 to 18 minutes. Add kale, chard, cabbage, tomatoes, Parmesan rind, 5 cups water, and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add beans with cooking liquid (minus 2 c) and crushed red pepper. Add 4 c broth, tomato paste, pesto. Season with salt and generous amount of pepper.

Add bread to soup and simmer, stirring often until heated through. Season with sea salt and pepper and stir in balsamic vinegar.

Divide ribollita among bowls, sprinkle with lemon zest, and serve.