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Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou

I read this article in the New York Times yesterday (Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries).  Here’s a little quote to blow your mind:

For example, only 23 percent of meals include a vegetable, Mr. Balzer said. (Again, fries don’t count, but lettuce on a hamburger does.)

Truthfully, I am not surprised by this.  With busy schedules, it does seem difficult to eat enough fruits and vegetables.  There are plenty of nights in my house when I ask my husband, “Do we really need a salad tonight?”  I am often hoping for a response that goes something like this:  “No.”  It’s just that washing the lettuce and spinning it dry and making dressing and then washing the salad spinner and washing the salad bowl sometimes seems like an insurmountable task.  It’s ridiculous, I know, but I am pretty sure ours isn’t the only household where this happens.  (And yes, I know I should wash all of my salad greens the minute I bring them home and store them in a bag with a paper towel and then magically use as needed while wearing a Mary Poppins costume.  But I don’t generally do that, OK?)

What did surprise me about this quote is how the study authors defined a “vegetable.”  A single piece of lettuce on a hamburger apparently qualifies as eating a vegetable.  One piece.  A piece that is probably a wilted up scrap of iceberg with more water than nutrients.  If only 23% of meals contain a vegetable serving with those pathetic standards, we are in trouble.

And I’m sorry, but I don’t think putting baby carrots in a vending machine with super cool graphics is the answer.  First of all, the junk food they are competing against is so loaded with fat, sugar, sodium, and chemical flavor enhancers that the carrots are just not going to win.  They’re just not.  Beyond, a super sweet vegetable like a carrot is not the flavor profile we need to develop in kids (and obviously adults too).  We need to get children eating the non-sweet, non-starchy vegetables — things like dark leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and zucchini.  When we start our babies out with sweet and starchy things like sweet potatoes and peas, do we really expect them to develop a taste for broccoli as two year olds?

In my entirely unscientific opinion, I think we need to begin training our children’s palates as soon as they begin solid food.  That means pureeing some zucchini or broccoli and as the infants get older, maybe even adding in some spices or a bit of garlic.  If we constantly train them to expect sweetness (in their vegetables, in their snacks, in their yogurt, etc.), I am just not sure how they will ever develop an appreciation for the other wonderful flavors that exist.

Beyond, here are a few ideas for the older ones … My kids have learned to love sauteed garlicky greens (spinach, chard, kale, etc.) and they especially enjoy the fact that they can eat a tablespoon or two and that equals about 2 cups of fresh greens.  Another idea is roasting vegetables.  This works well with asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans.  Simply roast at about 425 degrees Fahrenheit after tossing with olive oil and salt and pepper.  The veggies get crispy on the edges and are delicious.  A soup like this is also a wonderful way to integrate a lot of vegetables with different flavors or textures.  You could puree it for the most finicky, but I do think that if we always hide vegetables or puree them away, it is harder for kids to learn to like anything in its normal form.

So, make some vegetable soup and be truly Un-American.  You are not limited by the vegetables that I have used here.  This is what I needed to use up and you can certainly add or substitute based on what is languishing in the back of your crisper.  And by the standard of one-piece-of-lettuce-equals-a-serving, you should be good on nutrients for about a month and a half.

Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou

Serves 6-8 with leftovers

2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-4 sweet peppers, chopped
8 cups of broth (I used homemade beef broth)*
24 oz. pureed tomatoes (I used the Bionature Brand in glass)**
1/2 cup of red wine
2 cups of green or yellow beans, stemmed and in bite sized pieces
1 1/2 cups of edamame (cooked and shelled soybeans) or peas, limas, etc.
1 cup of pasta or rice (your choice, I used penne)
2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
Red pepper flakes
1/2 cup of heavy cream
Olive Oil

Pistou:
Handful of fresh basil, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup of olive oil
3/4 cup of parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
1/2 t salt
Freshly Ground Pepper

1.  In a large stock pot, heat 1 T olive oil.  Sauté garlic, onions, and peppers until just softened.  Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup of red wine and cook until reduced slightly.

2.  Add broth and pureed tomatoes.  Season with 2 t. of salt, freshly ground pepper, and a few red pepper flakes (more or less depending on spice preferences).  Simmer for about 15 minutes uncovered on medium heat.

3.  Meanwhile, make the pistou.  You can chop it finely, use a food processor/chopper, or a mortar and pestle.  Simply chop up the basil and garlic, add the olive oil, cheese, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.  Set aside.

3.  Add green/yellow beans and pasta to soup.  Simmer for an additional 10 minutes until pasta and beans are done.  Add edamame, chopped rosemary, and cream.   Cook for about 5 minutes longer.   Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. (You can certainly let this simmer and reduce longer if you like, but we like ours with vegetables that aren’t cooked to death.)

4.  Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a spoonful of the Basil Pistou on top.

*Use a simple homemade broth rather than buying it.  It’s much better for you and much cheaper. Just cover some chopped onion, garlic, a few herbs, celery if you have it, salt and pepper, etc. with water and simmer for as long as you have.  Strain out the solids and use the broth in just about anything.

**Research is showing that BPA is easily transferred to anything acidic in a can.  If you don’t have your own tomatoes to use, buy tomatoes only in glass containers if possible.

Garlicky Bread Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Sweet Corn

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day lamenting the fact that I have had nothing to post because my summer cooking has been so simple — and really not recipe worthy.  How can I legitimately write a recipe for tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil?  Or chicken on the grill? Or lightly cooked corn with butter and salt? Or cucumbers with a bit of sour cream and mint?

It’s just all so … basic.  When you start with seasonal produce grown down the road and picked the same day, you just really don’t have to do much.  And late summer has all of our favorite stuff — corn, tomatoes, raspberries — which are not exactly challenging to eat up.  Zucchini, on the other hand…

So after my little pep talk, I decided to make something slightly more “recipe worthy.”  A counter full of heirloom tomatoes, a crate of sweet corn, a bunch of basil, and some beautiful artisan sourdough bread were the inspiration — and I’m pretty sure nothing bad can happen when you combine those ingredients.  The key to dishes like this are simple, but high quality ingredients.   Your dish will go from delicious to “out of this world and I feel like I’m in Italy” if you invest in wonderful olive oil and have a great artisan baker for the bread.

This would be perfect for a picnic or party and is still good the next day (the bread in the leftover salad loses its crispness, but my daughter and I didn’t mind and polished the rest off for lunch.)  Pour yourself a large glass of red wine and savor summer.

Garlicky Bread Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Sweet Corn

Serves 6-8

1 1/2 loaves of sourdough bread (about 1.5 pounds)
4-5 ears of corn, husked
1 large handful of basil, washed and torn into pieces
4-6 heirloom tomatoes, cored (I used 2 large and 4 smaller ones)
3-4 T good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (plus 1 T)
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1.  Prepare bread:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove crusts from bread (reserve crusts for another use) and tear bread into bite size pieces.  Don’t cut it — the rustic nature of the torn bread is perfect.  Toss the bread with 1 T olive oil and salt and pepper.  Place on a baking sheet and toast (stirring occasionally) for about 8-10 minutes until just lightly toasted. Set aside.

2.  Prepare corn:  Cover ears of corn in a large pot with cold water.  Bring water to the boil (as soon as it boils, the corn is done).  Remove and allow to cool for a few minutes.  Cut corn off the cob and set aside.

3.  Prepare dressing:  Mix 3-4 T of olive oil with lemon juice, chopped garlic, a healthy pinch of salt, and freshly ground pepper.

4.  When you are ready to serve, cut tomatoes into wedges or small chunks.  On a large platter or in a bowl, gently mix toasted bread, corn, tomatoes, basil, and dressing.  Taste and adjust with more salt and pepper or additional olive oil if necessary.  Using a vegetable peeler, make large strips of Parmigiano Reggiano and scatter over top of salad.  Serve immediately.

Corn and Zucchini Bisque

Making soup is one of my greatest pleasures.  After you know the basic models and processes, you can do just about anything and use up just about anything.  It is a tremendous stress reliever for me too — before every presidential debate (I get a little worked up over politics), I have to make soup to focus my attention elsewhere.  Plus, it is obviously about the best comfort food you can find.

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And summer time makes me miss soup a lot.  As much as I like the idea of chilled soups (and love the flavors, to an extent), they are just not the same.  Somehow, I just feel like I am eating a giant bowl of salsa or leftover sauce from the refrigerator.  It just doesn’t seem … finished.

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So, the rainy weather (combined with everyone feeling a little run down) gave me the urge to make a summer soup.  Of course, I had zucchini to use.  And leftover corn.  And some beautiful fresh garlic and onions.  I added smoked paprika because I wanted the smoky quality to add depth and contrast to the sweetness of the corn.  From there though, I went in a slightly Italian direction with lots of basil and a parmesan crisp garnish.  But I am actually going to change this recipe up next time and make a Cuban Corn Bisque (with smoky chipotle, garlic, cilantro, lime zest, and a little queso fresco to garnish).

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See what I mean?   You can do anything with soup.  The only rule is that you cook it until it tastes good.  There is no excuse for a bad soup because you can keep tasting and adding to it (very much unlike other dishes).  You cook soup until it tastes good.  Period.

Corn and Zucchini Bisque

Serves 4

1 large zucchini, cubed (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups of corn
2-3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
3/4 t smoked paprika
Small bunch of basil, chopped
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
Parmesan Cheese

1.  In a large sauce pan or stock pot, heat about 1 T of olive oil.  Saute the zucchini, onion, and garlic until soft (about ten minutes).  Season with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.

2.  Add 3 cups of corn and a nice handful of chopped basil.  Saute for 1-2 additional minutes.

3.  Add water and white wine, cover with lid, and cook 5-10 minutes more until very soft.

4.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until very smooth.  (You can also use a regular blender, however be VERY careful with blending hot liquids.  They expand and can make a huge mess or burn you.  You must do it in small batches and keep the lid slightly off, while covering with a towel, to allow the steam to escape without having the soup splashing out and burning you.  I would strongly suggest an immersion blender … they are great for all sorts of tasks and are not expensive at all.)

5.  Stir in heavy cream and remaining 1 cup of corn.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional smoked paprika.

6.  Garnish with parmesan crisp, additional chopped basil, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

For the Parmesan Crisp: Preheat oven to 400 F.  On a parchment lined baking sheet, thinly slice or grate some parmesan cheese in square shapes.  Bake for 7-8 minutes until very bubbly and golden brown.  Remove from oven and cool (they will crisp up as they cool).

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The Girl’s Italian Meatloaf

Now that we are in our summer schedule, I usually try to get a run in on the treadmill while my son (almost 3)  is napping during the afternoon.  As I am attempting to burn off my last piece of pound cake (how aptly named…), my daughter (7 1/2) is conducting Barbie weddings, which generally always include a pregnant bride.  And why is it that Barbies always seem to get pregnant so easily — even with their obvious lack of genitalia?

Lately, my treadmill entertainment includes cooking reality shows like Chopped and The Next Food Network Star — and even the knocked up Barbies can’t keep my daughter from watching.  She is hooked.  We always pause the show when the ingredients are presented and talk about what we would both make.  And we’ve actually been taking turns picking out real dinner ingredients and coming up with our own menus.

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The other night I chose some ground beef, herbs, fresh shell peas, and new potatoes for her to figure out the dinner.  I helped with the basics, but she chose the meal and all the seasonings.  We had so much fun doing it and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a regular occurrence for us.

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So her menu plan was Italian Meatloaf, Mashed Red Potatoes with Herbs (simply mashed with butter, milk, sage, thyme, and chives), and Sauteed Peas.  I never think of making this kind of food in the summer, but it was such a nice treat.  The meatloaf turned out really well — and I was so impressed with it and with her choice of seasonings that I decided to post it here.  The show stopper was some fennel seeds, which I never put in my meatloaf.  But they were a great addition and gave the meatloaf a sausage flavor.  The girl peeled the potatoes and both the kids helped shelling peas.

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Suffice it to say that it was the best meatloaf she has ever eaten.

The Girl’s Glazed Italian Meatloaf

Serves 4-6

1 lb. of ground beef
2-3 slices of slightly stale bread, torn in pieces
1-2 t fennel seeds
1 t dried oregano
1 t fine sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper
3 T fresh parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-3 shallots, chopped (could use onions instead)
1 egg, beaten
Milk
1/2 cup of tomato sauce
1-2 T honey
Freshly chopped basil

1.  Preheat oven to 375 F.  In a large bowl, cover bread pieces with milk and allow to soak for 5-10 minutes.  Squeeze excess milk from cubes and drain off.  Stir in fennel seeds, oregano, salt, pepper, parsley, garlic, shallots, and egg.

2.  Add in ground beef and combine with bread mixture thoroughly, but do not overmix.

3.  Pat into a loaf pan and place in preheated oven.  Bake for 45-55 minutes until the internal temperature is about 155-160 degrees F.

4.  Mix tomato sauce and honey and glaze the top of meatloaf.  Put back into the oven for 5 additional minutes to heat glaze.

5.  Remove from oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting.  Sprinkle with freshly chopped basil before serving.

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Pasta with Fresh Peas, Basil, and Mint

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that summer cooking is almost every bit as good as summer lovin’. Actually, I think it might be what replaces the thrill of summer lovin’ when you get old and boring.  Because seriously, heirloom tomatoes covered with olive oil and basil? Or fresh sweet corn dripping with butter and salt?  I really don’t need to say more, do I?

The beautiful, fresh, exploding with flavor summer ingredients speak for themselves so nicely that we just don’t need to do much to them.  It is the time of year when simplicity rules — save the 20 ingredient dinner recipes for winter when you are struggling to drain some flavor from the cardboard produce from Mexico.  No offense to Mexico — because I am quite sure your tomatoes are wonderful when you eat them there, but once they get to us, they suck.

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And I know I say this all the time, but when you cook simply with local ingredients your kids will start to love all different kinds of vegetables.  This recipe is a case in point:  my daughter “hates” peas.  Can’t stand them.  “Pretend gags” when she eats them.  Cried when she heard I was making pasta (her favorite!) with peas in it.  How could I possibly take the thing she enjoys the most on the planet and render it unpalatable by adding peas?  Well, she tried the peas in this recipe.  Guess what?  Loved them.  It is like fresh vegetables are simply not the same things as their evil commercially-frozen twins.

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Shelling the peas takes a bit of time … but the recipe is so easy that it really is the only prep involved.  And the kids love to help with this job.  Just make sure you give them a REALLY big bowl to do it in or your peas will be rolling around the floor like marbles.   And get extra peas because the kids were eating them raw out of the bowl.   Which is something I so distinctly remember doing with my grandmother — sitting on the back porch and shelling peas or lima beans from the garden and sneaking a few here and there.  Those are the vivid memories I want my kids to have of childhood summers … because some day, when they are beyond the days of camp boyfriends and summers spent working at the beach counting their collective hook-ups, they will settle down and taste some fresh summer peas and feel positively orgasmic.

Pasta with Fresh Peas, Basil, and Mint

Serves 4-6

1 lb. of whole wheat pasta
2-3 cups of freshly shelled peas
Small bunch of fresh basil, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
Small bunch of fresh mint, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/2-1 cup of freshly grated parmesan
Salt and Pepper to taste

1.  Cook pasta according to package directions in salted water.  When the pasta has about 30-45 seconds remaining, throw in the peas and cook.  Drain pasta and peas immediately and leave a bit of the water clinging to the pasta.  Return it to the pan and turn the heat off to the burner (the residual heat on the stove is usually enough to finish the dish).

2.  Toss the pasta and peas with olive oil and garlic and  stir to combine.  Add in the grated parmesan and salt and pepper to taste.

3.  When ready to serve, toss with freshly chopped basil and mint.  Serve with additional parmesan.

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