Sunday, December 5, 2010

Dinner for a Cold Winter's Night

When I was a child, my aunt Millie made the most delicious Pasta Fagiole. Pasta Fagiole is really nothing but a pasta and bean peasant soup but without just the right seasoning, the end result could be blandly flavored water. Not so with aunt Millie's version. Hers was full of flavor, thick with tiny Ditalini pasta and rich white cannellini beans. A care package of this soup was the perfect antidote to the bone chilling weather outside.

I never got the recipe for her soup and until today never tried to make it. But in the December issue of La Cucina Italiana, in a story titled "In From the Cold," they featured this dish, among other warming selections.  It was blustery today in New Jersey. Just the perfect day for Pasta Fagiole. The La Cucina Italiana recipe is very different in that it contains pancetta and crumbled sausage (not typical).  I wasn't sure how this would affect the soup (and my fond memories), but I really liked these new variations. It made the soup much heartier and I used hot chicken sausage so the addition of a little spice really bolstered the overall flavor. It's a delicious, simple, one pot meal that comes together in about an hour if you use canned beans (which I did). Although the recipe calls for dried beans, none of my local stores carried them; I don't think it diminished the dish at all using canned beans.

I served it with grated Parmigiana Reggiano, a drizzle of olive oil, fresh parsley, and homemade fennel tarralles (old-fashioned Italian savory cookies). This is not my aunt Millie's Pasta Fagiole, but on a cold night it warms me up just like hers used to.

Our dessert tonight also came from La Cucina Italiana, by way of the wonderful pastry chef, Karen DeMasco. I'm sure many of you are fans of Nutella, the chocolate hazelnut spread from Italy. Strangely enough, I had never sampled it but when I read DeMasco's recipe for Nutella Sandwich Cookies, I was more than intrigued. She combines an oatmeal cookie batter with Nutella for a crisp, buttery, nutty cookie that would be fabulous on its own.  But then she sandwiches a tablespoon of Nutella inbetween to make an incredible cookie (move over Oreos!). A sprinkling of Demerara sugar on top before baking adds just a hint of sweet and crunch.

The cookies are a cinch to make, but the batter is very dry so it doesn't roll easily. I also think I would make them much thinner next time as this is alot of cookie in one sitting!  But oh so delicious!  

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