Monday, September 14, 2009

Uh oh, it's getting cooler!

The past couple of weeks has been absolutely beatiful weather-wise! It's got us sneaking up on Fall as I noticed leaves beginning to be tossed around on my back yard this week. Another couple of weeks will mean putting away the lawn mower and gassing up the leaf blower instead. I love this weather more than any other time of year but it just doesn't ever last long enough. Now is the time to start mourning the weekend trips not taken over the summer or the picnics we just didn't get around to arranging. With everyone so busy doing their own things, there are never enough days spent simply lounging around with friends. We're always droning on and on about having so much to do - yard work, house cleaning, running errands. At my ripe age I believe that we should all be settling back into those blissful summers as kids when one day rolled into the next with nothing to do but hang around with our friends and ride bikes in the park. Man - those were the days!


When the weather turns cooler is generally when I prefer getting around the kitchen and putting on simmering pots of soups and bubbling bowls of fermenting yeast breads. Two very dear friends are getting married this weekend (to each other which makes it doubly sweet!) and they've requested my Focaccia recipe to be included as a wedding gift. So I've spent a couple of hours putting together a little cookbook for them (including the focaccia of course) and it's now got me wanting to go home and rattle those pots and pans.


In honor of Ron and Pam's marriage, I'll reprint two of my favorite fall recipes that go so well together - Focaccia and Pasta e Fagioli. The Focaccia recipe was taught to me when I took my extended cooking classes at Western Reserve School of Cooking in Hudson several years ago. The instructors there were really very good and I learned many wonderful things at their kitchen. This Focaccia is meant to be easily made in a stand mixer with a dough hook. If you are lucky enough to have one of these in your kitchen, this bread is a snap to make. I'm frankly too lazy to kneed bread by hand so these sorts of bread recipes are a necessity for me.


The Pasta e Fagioli recipe was created by my Mother and myself several years ago after a soup and salad meal at the Olive Garden. Mom loved the soup but they don't go out to eat very often, so we set about making our own version she could make at home. We ended up using a lot of canned goods which, of course if you're so inclined, could be converted to using fresh. But realistically, using the cans gives me the option of stocking up on things when I see them on sale and then pulling them from the pantry at a moments notice when I feel like making soup. Especially fine if it happens to be snowing outside and the driveway is two feet deep!



FOCACCIA

¼ cup whole wheat flour
3 ½ cups unbleached white flour
1/4 oz. fresh compressed yeast
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. white sugar
2 tsp. olive oil
1 2/3 cup lukewarm water

Combine the flours, yeast, salt and sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. While the mixer is running, gradually add the oil and water. Knead on low speed until the dough is firm and smooth, about 10 minutes.

Place dough in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it rest 1 to 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Using well greased hands, place the dough onto a baking sheet and spread to a depth of about ½ inch. Spread the dough to a deeper 1” if you want to use this bread split for sandwiches. Brush on olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Let rise for another 30-60 minutes. Using your fingers (well greased) punch “dimples” in dough every couple of inches.

Add toppings of your choice. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

TOPPING OPTIONS:

caramelized, sliced red onions
sliced mushrooms
shredded provolone cheese
sliced roasted peppers
sliced tomatoes (seeded)
fresh red grapes, halved
fresh grated parmesan cheese
sliced olives & feta cheese
fresh rosemary leaves
fresh thyme leaves
fresh basil leaves, julienne



PASTA E FAGIOLI

1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can red kidney beans (drained & rinsed)
1 15-ounce can great northern beans (drained & rinsed)
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 15-ounce can chicken broth
1 15-ounce can beef broth
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
¼ teaspoon ceyanne pepper
1/2 pound (1/2 pkg.) ditalini pasta

Brown the ground beef in a large saucepan or pot over medium heat. Drain off most of the fat. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic and sauté for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, except pasta, and simmer for 1 hour.

About 50 minutes into simmer time, cook the pasta in 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of boiling water over high heat. Cook for 10 minutes or just until pasta is al dente, or slightly tough. Drain. Add the pasta to the large pot of soup. Simmer for 5-10 minutes and serve. Serves 8.

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