I feel a bit weird posting two soup recipes in a row – but hey, what else do you eat on a blizzard weekend?

Considering the weather, I wanted something warming and nutritious, so I started with an Alice Waters recipe (from The Art of Simple Food) for butternut squash and white bean soup. I went my own way with the additions of Aleppo pepper, spinach, dry sherry and sherry vinegar.  The effect is slightly different than the original, but I like to think Alice herself would approve.

This soup is one of my new all-time favorites – it’s comforting without being heavy. Sometimes I get a bit carried away and make all of my soups very thick, almost like stews. I’ve left this one on the broth-y side, and it’s lovely. Be thoughtful with your choice of broth here, because a standard tomato-tinged one would overpower this somewhat delicate soup. When I don’t have a homemade vegetable stock on hand, I like Imagine brand No-Chicken Broth (and of course, you can use real chicken broth if you’re not a vegetarian.)

I used spinach as an accent, but I could see trying it with Swiss chard or even broccoli raab. What greens do you think would be good here? Let me know and I’ll give it a whirl.

Butternut Squash and White Bean Soup
Adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food

1 cup dried cannellini beans
3 cups vegetable broth (see note above)
4 cups water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch salt
1 bay leaf
¼ to ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/4 cup dry or medium-dry sherry
4 large thinly sliced shallots (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 medium butternut squash, cut into ½ inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 5-ounce package baby spinach
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

Rinse and soak beans in a large bowl of cold water overnight, or use the quick-soak method.  Drain and place in a medium saucepan with broth and water Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender (the time will depend on how old your dried beans are).  Drain, reserving liquid.

Heat the oil over low heat in a Dutch oven. Add the shallots, bay leaf, salt and Aleppo pepper, then cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Raise heat, add sherry and cook for 30 seconds. Add squash and 6 cups of liquid (reserved bean cooking liquid plus additional broth if necessary.)

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until squash is tender, then add beans and spinach. Simmer for one minute longer, then add sherry vinegar, add additional salt to taste and serve.

Serves 6

Feb 5, 2013

Smoky pasta e fagiole

My story today is simple. I made a soup only using things I had on hand, which in this case was cranberry beans, leftover wine, a few vegetables and fresh herbs.

This was a big deal for me, because I decide what to cook without enough regard to whether I have what I need. Then I go to the store to buy the ingredients I’m missing (which inevitably ends up costing me at least $50, but that’s a different blog post, about my inability to resist things at the grocery store.)

I had pasta e fagiole in mind, and wanted a smoky flavor to replicate that of pancetta. So I reached for smoked paprika, which gave the greens and beans a satisfying earthiness. Whole wheat pasta turned the soup into a hearty meal. This smoky soup is a delicious twist on the usual “pasta fazool.”

I made this over the summer, but my friends pronounced this soup as best suited for fall or winter. So I’m sharing it with you now, so no one can accuse me of being season-inappropriate! If you do end up making this in the summer, you can substitute very ripe 2 fresh tomatoes (peeled and diced) for the canned.

Smoky Pasta e Fagiole

2 cups dried cranberry beans
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large red or yellow onion, chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper or Aleppo pepper flakes (use the greater amount of Aleppo)
½ cup dry white wine or vermouth
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
4 cups vegetable stock (recommend Imagine No-Chicken broth here)
4 cups water
1 cup Pomi chopped tomatoes (or BPA-free crushed tomatoes such as Bionaturae or Muir Glen)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 bunches Swiss chard, stemmed and chopped well
1 1/2 to 2 cups (dry) whole wheat pasta (such as ditalini or smallish shells), cooked until al dente

Soak the beans in a large bowl of cold water overnight, or use the quick-soak method.  Drain.  Place in a pot and cover with cold water by a couple inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the beans are just tender, about 1 hour.  Drain, reserving cooking liquid.

Remove 1 cup of beans and ½ cup water to a food processor. Puree until smooth.

Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large Dutch oven. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add wine, oregano and rosemary and raise heat to high and cook for until the liquid is evaporated. Add vegetable stock, water, tomatoes, paprika, salt and pepper.  Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until carrots are tender.

Add whole and pureed beans, and Swiss chard, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the pasta and heat through. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Serves 6

My husband Tim has been on a bit of a low carb/high protein kick. In addition to working out like a madman, he eats Greek yogurt for breakfast, and snacks on vegetarian jerky.  If I make cookies, he doesn’t even try one. In other words, he is making me look like a total slacker (damn you, Tim!)

Which brings me to black soybeans. Tim kept wanting me to come up with a recipe that included these super low-carb beans. I guess I was a bit resistant, because the can I bought languished in the cabinet month after month. But one day I gave in and decided to try them in a simple quinoa salad.

Um, black soybeans, where have you been all my life?

The beans were delicious (she admits, sheepishly), and it’s hard to go wrong with the Mediterranean flavors of lemon, olives, red peppers and feta cheese. And with loads of protein, fiber and vitamins, this salad is a heart health superstar.

I may never catch up with Tim in the weight loss department, but he has definitely inspired me to eat more protein and fewer carbs.  I’m not quitting cookies altogether, and I’ll never be a protein bar eater, but thanks to this salad, I will happily eat black soybeans for lunch.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Black Soybeans

1 cup quinoa (I prefer red, but any type will do)
1.5 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup of cooked black soybeans, rinsed (if using canned, recommend BPA-free Eden brand)
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fat-free feta cheese

Place the quinoa and broth in a small saucepan. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 12-14 minutes, until water is absorbed and quinoa is cooked but still a bit crunchy. Cool slightly.

In a serving bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice. Add olives, red pepper, parsley, salt and pepper, then gently stir in quinoa and beans. Top with feta cheese and serve. (Note: keeps well for three days, but I think it’s best served immediately, as flavors can fade slightly with refrigeration.)

Serves 4

Here’s what happened. I had little bits of lots of things. Two nearly-black bananas. A bit of canned pumpkin puree. Some chocolate chips. A handful of fresh cranberries. At first I thought of baking a few different things all in one weekend.

Pumpkin cranberry bread?
Chocolate chip cookies?
Banana pecan muffins?

But then, it came to me. Why not attempt a crazy kitchen-sink quick bread recipe?! The worst that could happen is that it would go into the trash. But if it succeeded, just think…it could become an internet sensation. I’d be famous!

Well, people, believe it or not this bread is awesome. I mean, I will make it again, even if it means buying lots of ingredients next time. OK, it may not make me famous, but it sure makes me happy. It’s super moist, and the cranberries and chocolate play nicely with each other. Not sure you can taste both the banana and pumpkin individually, but the combination works.

So I urge you to give this recipe a try yourself. Or make up a version of your own. It’s easy, you just have to go for it.

[Note: I waited too long to post this recipe – fresh cranberry season is over. But it will work well with frozen cranberries, so I hope you'll still consider making this wacky bread!]

Pumpkin-Banana-Cranberry-Chocolate-Pecan Bread

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
4 tablespoons water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin
puree
½ cup mashed super-ripe banana
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup cranberries, roughly chopped (if frozen, do not thaw)
½ cup dark chocolate chips (60% to 72%)
½ cup chopped pecans

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix pumpkin, banana and sugars in a medium bowl. Vigorously whisk together the flax and water, and add to pumpkin mixture. Stir in the vanilla and oil.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and baking powder, then mix into the wet ingredients. Fold in the chocolate chips cranberries and pecans.

Pour into oiled 9 x 5″ loaf ban and bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and remove to a rack. Let cool before serving.

When I went to visit my father, who had just been released from the hospital, comfort food was definitely in order. Risotto came to mind, but it’s generally laden with butter and cheese – a big no-no for my family of heart disease sufferers.

Luckily, it’s easy to turn risotto from a “heart attack on a plate” to a nutritious meal. This farro risotto is the perfect example. It’s super comforting, but completely guilt-free! It’s got whole grains, vitamin-packed squash and mushrooms, and no dairy in sight.

I love the texture, too. The farro has the chewiness of barley, while the squash melts into the dish a bit, giving it a wonderful creaminess.  Every bite is sure to make you feel cheerier on a short winter’s day.

Farro Risotto with Delicata Squash and Mushrooms

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 delicata squash (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and cubed
1 small fennel bulb
2 cloves garlic
1 medium yellow onion, diced
10 ounces mushrooms (shiitake, crimini or a combination)
1 1/2 cups pearled farro (can substitute barley)
1/2 cup vermouth
4 cups vegetable broth (plus more if needed)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt, or less if your broth is salty
Black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the base off the fennel bulb, cut a V-shape in the bottom to remove the core, and cube. Toss the squash and fennel with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

In a 4 quart saucepan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté 5 minutes. Add the farro and sliced mushrooms and sauté for 3 minutes.

Raise the heat, add the vermouth and cook until it has evaporated. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add ½ cup broth. Simmer, stirring frequently, until it is absorbed. Repeat this with the remainder of the broth, in ½-cup increments. It should take about 25 minutes; the farro should be cooked through but al dente.

Add the roasted squash and fennel, and simmer for three minutes longer, stirring occasionally and adding more broth if the risotto seems too dry.

Add parsley and black pepper, and serve.

I started out with a good basic recipe for a vegan molasses cookie. Then I went and fiddled with it…again and again. I was out to make it a more “adult” cookie, and boy did I succeed. Some extra spices including a pinch of cayenne pepper, a little cocoa powder, espresso and pecans did the trick. I used heart-healthy whole wheat pastry flour and extra virgin olive oil (I very rarely use Earth Balance or vegan shortening – don’t want the palm oil, etc.)

These are some intense cookies, and I mean that in the best possible way. Next time I might up the ante and add some fresh ginger, too. Watch out, kids!

I hope you’ll make these for your next holiday party. You’ll definitely blow the minds of any butter-lovers who taste them, because you’d really never know these are vegan cookies.

Two words of advice. First, make sure your spices are fresh. If you’ve had your ginger and cloves in the spice cabinet for over six months, buy some more. It really makes a difference, I swear.  Second, the brand of molasses seems to matter – a LOT. The first time I made these I used Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Molasses, which is a blackstrap type, and the cookies were appropriately intense.  The second time I used Grandma’s brand and they had a milder taste that wasn’t nearly as appealing. So it’s worth seeking out a flavorful molasses.

Molasses-Ginger Cookies

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
3 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly ground
Pinch cayenne pepper
Scant 3/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup well-chopped pecans
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons non-dairy milk of choice (can substitute regular milk)
½ cup blackstrap molasses (see note above)
¼ cup demerara sugar

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients (through pecans) in a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the oil, vanilla, milk and molasses.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon just until combined.

Form into 1-inch balls and roll in the demerara sugar. Place a few inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 9 minutes. They may still look a bit wet inside, but don’t worry.

Let cool on the baking sheet for 3 or 4 minutes, then remove to a rack and cool fully before eating.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies