Baked Minestrone Soup: Celebrating Summer’s Garden

minestrone soup n

A hearty bowl of minestrone soup is the perfect way to enjoy seasonally abundant vegetables from your own garden, your CSA, the local farmers’ market or the grocer.

Before there was Rome, there was minestrone soup, and although some may insist that true minestrone must have this or that, the spirit of this dish lies in taking advantage of whatever vegetables are on hand. Add pasta or not, rice or not, and although contemporary versions of minestrone usually feature a bean broth, some versions use vegetable or even meat broth. Chunk up some halibut, striped bass or loup de mer (European seabass), toss it in and you’ve got a hearty fish stew. Here’s how we made our minestrone – courtesy of the abundance of vegetables we have now that we are receiving weekly deliveries to our Arctic home from Full Circle Farm. A good smoked sea salt works beautifully in this soup. A dollop of sherry is nice, too.

Ingredients (feel free to change quantities and freely substitute):

  • olive oil
  • 2 1/2 pounds tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • two sunburst squash, diced (zucchini or summer squash also work well)
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, sliced
  • 1 cup (1 ear) sweet corn
  • 1 1/2 cups green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • several leaves of basil, cut into thin ribbons chiffonade style. (You can do this by rolling the leaves cigar style, then slicing them.)
  • 1 bunch spinach, chopped coarse
  • 2 cups pinto beans (or other beans), cooked till they’re tender. Separate from broth and save the broth.
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • Italian herbs

Directions:

  1. Start by cooking the beans in a pot till they are soft. Save the broth, as it will be the base of the soup. Set aside beans and broth.
  2. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  3. Place olive oil and tomatoes in a large pot over medium heat stirring occasionally till the tomatoes are falling apart. Add onions and green beans and cook till they just begin to soften. Add garlic and squash, followed by parsley and basil. (You will add the beans, spinach and corn later.)
  4. Stir the broth and pour into the pot so that the vegetables are just covered. Add herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil.
  5. As soon as the broth begins to boil, place the pot into the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes.
  6. Remove pot from oven. Add beans, spinach and corn. Give the soup a taste and add seasonings as necessary. Return to oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven, stir in a good olive oil for added flavor and give it a final taste. Let soup rest with lid on for about 10 minutes.
  8. Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese and a baguette of French bread or a crunchy bolillo.

Eat Wild! Sautéed Fireweed Shoots and Fiddleheads with Freshly Caught Fish

fireweed and fiddleheads w rockfish_n

Lightly sautéed in olive oil with a pinch of salt, these tender fireweed shoots and fiddlehead ferns compliment fresh rockfish on a bed of pasta. 

With the beautiful warm weather we’ve been enjoying this summer in Seward, spring flew by before we knew it. So we had to do some climbing to harvest the purple-colored fireweed shoots and young fiddleheads we wanted for the rockfish dinner we had planned.

fireweed shoots_nEleven hundred feet up Mount Marathon, near the last patches of snow at the edge of the timberline where the cold had extended spring we found what we were looking for. We filled our stainless steel water bottle with a couple handful’s worth of these delicacies, added clear, icy water from a rivulet to keep the shoots cool and hiked back down the mountain.                                                             The perfect time to pick fireweed is when the young shoots are still purple. 

Mount Marathon mid June _n

                                                                              Right: The town of Seward is a nearly vertical drop below the timberline of Mount Marathon. The day was sunny and shorts-and-t-shirt warm and even with a bit of haze in the air the view of mountain-rimmed Resurrection Bay was spectacular.

Below: This well concealed nest added to the sense that we had turned back the clock a few weeks to earlier in spring.

fox sparrow nest mt marathon_nBack aboard Bandon that evening, we poured out a little bourbon into a couple of tumblers, seasoned a fillet from a rockfish we’d caught the day before, and panfried it along with the fiddleheads and fireweed.

There is something incredibly satisfying about harvesting one’s own dining fare – whether from sea or river, garden or mountainside. If you are lucky enough to live where you can gather wild plants, we hope you will. Keep your best spots secret, leave plenty to sustain regeneration and a healthy population, and maybe pick up a little bit of the litter less considerate people have left behind on your way out. Bon appétit!

yelloweye rockfish_n

Homemade “Ricotta” – A Successful Experiment with Powdered Milk and Powdered Cream

Simple, delicious cheese you can make at home without any additives or preservatives. What a revelation! Perfect for cannelloni, lasagna, cannoli, ravioli, calzone or the Indian dessert Ras Malai.

A culinary goal for my Arctic kitchen this year was to experiment with cheese-making. I’m all for anything we can make at home in order to reduce our consumption of chemicals, stabilizers, and other weird junk. In addition to the drawbacks of processed foods, our Native Store here in Point Hope isn’t much larger than a typical quick-shop convenience store, and often doesn’t have items we need. Last year, a friend brought up ricotta cheese for us. This year, I decided to make my own.

Our store does not sell cream or whole milk, so my experiment with homemade cheese had one unusual ingredient – dried milk and cream. The only powdered milk I could find during our annual summer shopping in Anchorage was non-fat. Yuck. Thank goodness for the Internet! And especially thank goodness for Amazon’s free shipping. I bought two large cans of powdered whole milk (apparently abundant in Mexico!) and a can of powdered 72% butterfat cream. These would be the main ingredients for my “ricotta.” And by the way, the end product – made with powdered ingredients – was delicious.

The cheese that resulted is not a true ricotta, but is more like an unpressed paneer – with a slightly tangy, lighter taste than ricotta. In any case, it’s going into Jack’s moose cannelloni later today, rolled into homemade cannelloni tubes. Yum!

Homemade “Ricotta” – Perfect for Sweet or Savory Dishes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole milk powder
  • 1 cup powdered cream
  • 8 cups of water
  • 4 tbsp distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Directions

  1. Place powdered milk and cream into a large pot. Add water. Whisk until incorporated.
  2. Heat mixture until it steams but doesn’t boil (between 165 and 180 degrees F using an instant read or candy thermometer).
  3. Remove from heat.
  4. Slowly stir in vinegar. Milk should curdle.
  5. Stir in salt.
  6. Cover pot with clean cloth and let sit for 2 hours.
  7. Line colander with cheesecloth. I read paper towels or a kitchen towel will also work.
  8. Scoop curds out of pot and into lined colander.
  9. Let whey (watery substance) drain out of curds. I let it drain overnight in the refrigerator because I wanted a less watery product for the lasagna.

North of the Arctic Meets the Middle East

Crispy fried falafel – fragrant with cumin-, freshly baked pita pocket bread, garlicky tzatziki sauce, homemade hummus, honey-orange spritzers and Basbousa cake for dessert made for an eclectic gustatory tour of the Middle East. 

Last night’s meal was a self-imposed culinary challenge: Everything was created from scratch (right down to soaking dried garbanzo beans) in our little kitchen 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Jack is usually the chef, but on this night I wanted him to relax, sit back and let me take over. A date.

The menu included homemade pita bread stuffed with slices of cucumber, tomato and falafel drizzled with tzatziki sauce. A bowl of garlicky hummus was available to spread on extra pieces of pita. Orange honey spritzers, made with our SodaStream, provided a sweet balance to the spices and garlic. The candlelit meal was capped off with Basbousa cake and mugs of steamy-hot rooibos almond tea.

In preparation for this meal, I soaked two cups of dried garbanzo beans the previous night. The falafel mixture and the tzatziki sauce were made Saturday morning in order to let the flavors meld together.

Following are the recipes made in the order I used.

Falafel

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 1/3 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 pinch ground fennel powder
  • vegetable oil for frying

Directions

  1. Place dried chickpeas in a bowl. Fill with water to cover. Soak at least 8 hours or overnight in refrigerator. Drain.
  2. Place soaked and drained chickpeas in a blender or food processor; blend to a paste.
  3. Pour water into chickpea paste and blend until smooth. Scrape down sides of blender with spatula if needed.
  4. Place sesame seeds, cumin, salt, baking powder, coriander, black pepper, red chili powder, sugar, turmeric, and fennel powder in blender with chickpea paste; blend until well mixed. Transfer chickpea mixture to a bowl.
  5. Chill chickpea mixture in refrigerator to allow flavors to blend, at least 1 hour and up to two days.
  6. Cover bottom of skillet with vegetable oil and and heat to 370 degrees F over medium heat (188 degrees C).
  7. Scoop up chickpea mixture by heaping tablespoons and form into balls the size of ping pong balls and flatten slightly.
  8. Fry balls in hot oil until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes on each side.

Recipe adapted from allrecipes.com

Tzatziki Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cucumber, seeded, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Mix ingredients together.
  2. Blend or food process until well combined.
  3. Chill in refrigerator until you are ready to use.

Pita Bread

Ingredients

  • 1  1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1  1/2 tsp white sugar
  • 1  1/2 tsp active dry yeast

Directions

  1. Place all ingredients in bread pan of your bread machine, select Dough setting and start.
  2. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently roll and stretch dough into a 12 inch rope. With a sharp knife, divide dough into 8 pieces. Roll each into a smooth ball. With a rolling pin, roll each ball into a 6 to 7 inch circle. Set aside on a lightly floured countertop. cover with a towel. Let pitas rise about 30 minutes until slightly puffy.
  3. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F (260 degrees C). Place 2 or 3 pitas on a wire cake rack. Place cake rack directly on oven rack. Bake pitas 4 to 5 minutes until puffed and tops begin to brown. Remove from oven and immediately place pitas in a sealed brown paper bag or cover them with a damp kitchen towel until soft. Once pitas are softened, either cut in half or split top edge for half or whole pitas. They can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for 1 or 2 months.

Recipe adapted from allrecipes.com.

Click here for our post about basbousa cake.

So, Jack, what did you think about your Middle Eastern feast?