Posts Tagged ‘Italian’

Creamy Mushroom Soup from Italy

Creamy soups are around for a long time. They were invented based on the famous “balsamella” sauce that is also known as “béchamel”.

Originally, the well-known sauces “balsamella” (or “besciamella” and alternatively “salsa colla” or “salsa colletta”) were used in the Middle Ages in Tuscany in Italy. The sauce was definitely known to the chefs of Catherina de’ Medici in the 1530s. Food historians suggest that it was imported to France by the chefs of Marie de’ Medici, the second wife of King Henry IV. Thus, the flour-based butter & milk sauce was added to the French cuisine. The original name “balsamella” was then translated as “béchamel”, which later became famous all over the world. Also, skilful cooks and housewives turned the sauce into different creamy soups by diluting it and adding different vegetables to it, including mushrooms.

In the United States, the creamy mushroom soup appeared as a canned product in 1934 by the Campbell Soup Company. Ever since, it is one of the most popular canned soups in America.

My favourite creamy mushroom soup is easy to make and it only uses butter, not flour. The below recipe from Channel 4 is so delicious that I even made it for a Christmas dinner once. I made some slight alterations to the original recipe based on the fact that some ingredients were just not available in my area. I think it is perfect and I would recommend making the soup based on this slightly modified recipe. It is perfect for occasions, too as it easily lends itself for professional presentation!

Ingredients:

  • 25 gram butter
  • 1 large onion (finely chopped)
  • 400 gram large, flat, brown-skinned mushrooms (thinly sliced)
  • 600 ml vegetable stock (preferably home-made or if packaged, use “organic”)
  • 500 ml milk
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Few dollops of single cream (to garnish)
  • Handful of pine nuts (toasted and to garnish)
  • Fresh chives (snipped to garnish)

Preparation method:

  • Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion. Sweat it on a low heat until softened. Avoid browning.
  • Add the mushrooms to the saucepan and cook it for a few minutes so that the mushrooms wilt.
  • Stir in the stock and the milk and bring the soup to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Allow the soup to cool. Once it is cool, transfer it into a blender and liquidise it. Season well, add the lemon juice and blend it briefly once again.
  • Transfer to soup bowls and garnish with fresh cream, toasted pine nuts and fresh chives.

Bon appetite!

Spinach & Tofu Cannelloni from Italy

Cannelloni is a typical Italian dish, which can be made with minced beef, cheese and/or vegetables. Cannelloni is typically made with a cylindrical type of pasta or with fresh lasagne sheets that are rolled over around the filling. Cannelloni is typically sitting on tomato sauce and sometimes either tomato or béchamel sauce is used on the top of the dish. Most of the time, cheese is sprinkled on its top and then the dish is baked so that the flavours mingle and the topping turns brown and slightly crispy.

There is little to know about the origins of cannelloni. Probably it originates from the 19th or early 20th Century and it is associated with the name of Nicola Federico, an Italian chef. It is thought that he created the cannelloni in a small restaurant in Naples. From the little restaurant, the cannelloni spread all over the world. It became very popular; so much that probably most Italian restaurants offer it on their menu.

I often make cannelloni based on the below vegetarian recipe that I found on BBC Good Food. It is very healthy and nutritious as it uses spinach and tofu for filling. The dish is sitting on a bed of tomato sauce and tomato sauce is used on its top, too. Instead of cheese, nuts and breadcrumbs are used to achieve the crispy finish.

The dish contains ample amount of vitamins and nutrients. Thanks to the spinach, vitamin K, A, B2, B6, E, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper and calcium are included in the dish, amongst other nutrients. The tofu mostly contributes calcium, manganese, copper, selenium and protein and also includes other minerals and vitamins to a lesser extent. Nuts and the ample amount of tomato sauce used in this dish provide additional valuable nutritional content.

This spinach & tofu cannelloni serves 4 people. Serve it with steamed or stir-fried French beans, broccoli or okra or mix them all up for a lovely side dish. Try it today and enjoy both the health benefits and the lovely taste of this dish!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 onion (finely chopped)
  • 3 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 2 cans of chopped tomatoes (400 grams each)
  • 50 grams of pine nuts or walnuts (roughly chopped)
  • 400 gram bag of frozen spinach (defrosted)
  • 350 gram pack of silken tofu
  • 300 gram pack of fresh lasagne sheets
  • 4 tablespoons of fresh breadcrumbs
  • Salt (according to taste)
  • Pepper (according to taste)
  • Basil or oregano or Italian mixed herbs (according to taste)
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg

Preparation method:

  • Sweat the onion in half of the oil in a saucepan. Add one-third of the garlic and fry until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes, season with salt, pepper and basil / oregano / Italian mixed herbs. Bring the sauce to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180 Celsius.
  • Heat half the oil in a saucepan and fry one-third of the garlic for 1 minute. Add half the pine nuts / walnuts and the spinach. Wilt the spinach and tip out the excess liquid.
  • Whizz tofu in a food processor until smooth. Add it to the spinach & nut mixture. Add the nutmeg and some pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • Pour half of the tomato sauce into a 20 cm x 30 cm ovenproof dish. Divide the spinach, nut & tofu mixture between the lasagne sheets. Roll the lasagne sheets up and lay them on top of the tomato sauce in the ovenproof dish.
  • Pour half of the tomato sauce over the lasagne sheets, cover with aluminium foil and bake the dish for 30 minutes.
  • Mix breadcrumbs with one-third of the garlic and half of the pine nuts / walnuts. Sprinkle this mixture over the dish, drizzle with a little oil and bake for 10 minutes uncovered until the crumbs and nuts are golden.

Bon appetite!

Magical Minestrone from Italy

Minestrone” is a generic Italian word, which used to describe a very substantial, large bowl of soup or stew. However, this word no longer refers to a general soup. It describes a specific and particularly delicious Italian soup, which is respected and loved all over the world.

Minestrone is made with vegetables including onions, beans, celery and carrots. Normally pasta or rice is added to the soup, too. There is no exact recipe for the “right” minestrone, which makes it a very exiting dish. It offers plenty of room for creativity. Every region has its own minestrone that contains signature ingredients and probably every cook makes it in a slightly different way. Some cooks prefer thick, almost stew-like versions; others prefer lightly cooked vegetables in a broth-type soup. While the soup’s texture can vary widely, Angelo Pellegrini, a famous food writer and academic argues that the “genuine” minestrone has to be a bean-based broth and borlotti beans (aka Roman beans) must be used in it.

minestrone www.allyou.comwww.allyou.com

Minestrone is also a dish with history. At around the 2nd Century BC, thanks to commerce an abundance of food passed through Rome. As a consequence, meat, bread and soups were introduced to the diet of Romans. Thick vegetable soups and stews became staple foods. The ancient cookbook of Marcus Apicius described a soup called “polus” as a common dish at that time. Polus contained faro (a food product made of grains), chickpeas, fava beans, onions, garlic, lard and green vegetables. Later, other ingredients appeared in this soup, including meat and wine. When potatoes and tomatoes were introduced in Europe in the mid 16th century, these were added to polus as well. The additions of ingredients contributed to the evolution of the dish and ultimately changed the character of the soup. Although it changed over time, it always remained part of “cucina povera”, aka the “poor kitchen”, which was often cooked from leftovers and it was normally consumed as a side dish. Later, between the 17th and 18th centuries the soup’s recipe was more or less formalized. From that era onwards, it only contained fresh vegetables and was offered as a meal for its own sake. The name “minestrone” formally appeared in 1871.

My favourite minestrone recipe was developed by Carolyn Scott-Hamilton and appeared on the website of Forks Over Knives. I slightly fine-tuned it to my own taste and to the ingredients available in my area. It’s a vegan and super healthy and it is an absolutely awesome soup that everyone must try!

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium-sized onion (cut into pieces)
  • 2 stalks celery (sliced into narrow pieces)
  • ½ bulb fennel (cut into small pieces)
  • 2 medium gold potatoes (diced)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (finely chopped or crushed)
  • 400 gram can of tomatoes (either plum or diced tomatoes are suitable)
  • 2 litres of low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 400 gram canned or dry beans (borlotti, fava or cannellini beans; if you use dry beans, soak them overnight)
  • Salt (according to taste)
  • Pepper (according to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons of red-wine vinegar
  • 1 zucchini (quartered and sliced)
  • 1 or 2 bunches of Swiss chard or spinach leaves
  • 300 gram fusilli or penne pasta (preferably durum or rice pasta)

Preparation method:

  • Boil the water in a large pot. Add onion, celery, fennel, potatoes and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Add the can of tomatoes, stock, beans and season the mixture with salt and pepper, according to taste. Bring the soup to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat and simmer it for 10 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook on a low heat for further 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
  • Stir the vinegar and the green leaves into the soup. Season with salt and pepper, according to taste.
  • In the meantime, boil the pasta in a separate pot, according to packet instructions.
  • Once the pasta is ready, serve it in soup bowls. Ladle the soup over the pasta and serve it immediately.
Minestrone www.forthefeast.com Pinterestwww.forthefeast.com

If you prefer a vegan version, you may serve it with ground pumpkin seeds or cheese substitutes. Otherwise, you may sprinkle some Parmesan on the soup, which enhances the wonderful flavours of this minestrone.

Bon appetite!