Weekly Winner:  Stealthy, Healthy, Comfort in a Bowl

I truly believe that the right bowl of soup can save your soul. There is something wonderfully comforting and nourishing about hunkering down over a big bowl of steaming goodness.  Usually, my favorite, go-to comfort-food soups include cheese or cream, or at the very least pasta — heck, some include all three!  But this soup, while it does contain a bit of cheese, is satisfying, cozy and surprisingly healthy.  Most importantly, however… it is amazingly tasty!

The recipe for White Bean and Barley Soup with Tomatoes and Greens comes from Real Simple Magazine and there is no false advertising there.  Besides all the attributes I’ve listed above, this soup is a breeze to pull together.

White Bean and Barley Soup with Tomatoes and Greens

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for serving

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

Kosher salt and black pepper

6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth [full disclosure:  I used chicken broth – sue me!]

1 28oz can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed

1 cup pearled barley, rinsed

1 small bunch collard greens or kale, stems discarded and leaves cut into strips (4 cups) [I chose kale]

1 15oz can cannellini beans, rinsed

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan (about 2 oz) plus more shaved for serving.

Procedure:

  • Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat.  Add the onion, garlic, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender, 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the broth and tomatoes with their juices and bring to a boil.  Add the barley, reduce heat, and simmer until the barley is tender, about 20 minutes.
  • Add the collards or kale and the beans and cook until the greens are wilted and the beans are heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan and 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
  • Serve the soup drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with shaved Parmesan.
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Weekly Winner:  “Old Clothes” never tasted so good.

Yep, that’s what we ate this weekend.  Old Clothes.  It was better than you might expect.  Actually, it was Ropa Vieja the Cuban stewed beef recipe which means “Old Clothes”.  I suspect that’s because everything is stewed and shredded like rags.  Very tasty rags, I might add.

There is a fabulous Cuban restaurant by us which obviously has Ropa Vieja on the menu.  I’ve had it there and it is incredible, but I always assumed it was a long, laborious affair to make. That, and I’ve never found a good recipe for it.  Then I come across a slow cooker version and lo and behold…. I’m hooked! This is truly a succulent dish.  A bit sweet, a bit salty, but all around wonderful.

The recipe comes from Cooking Light Magazine and you couldn’t ask for a cozier dish on a cool November night.  Just as you’d reach for your favorite old sweatshirt to get comfy, I’ll “reach” for this dish again and again.

Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja

serves 6

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1-1/2 lb flank steak

3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided

1/2 tsp ground black pepper, divided

1 cup sliced white onion

1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup golden raisins

1 cup beef stock

3 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 (14.5 oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

1/3 cup pimiento-stuffed olives, halved

hot cooked rice for serving. (The original recipe called for only 3 cups — you’ll definitely want more if you’re serving 6!)

Procedure:

  1. Coat a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray
  2. Heat 2 tsps oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Cut steak into quarters.  Sprinkle steak evenly with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper; add steak to pan.  Cook 4 minutes on each side or until browned.  Transfer steak to slow cooker.  Add remaining 1 tsp oil, onion, bell peppers and garlic to pan; cook 3 minutes or until slightly softened, stirring occasionally.  Stir in raisins; transfer onion mixture to slow cooker.
  3. Combine stock, tomato paste, cumin, oregano, tomatoes, remaining 1/2 tsp salt, and remaining 1/4 tsp black pepper in a medium bowl.  Pour tomato mixture over steak and vegetables in slow cooker.
  4. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours and 15 minutes or until steak is very tender.
  5. Remove steak from cooker; shred using 2 forks.  Stir steak and olives into sauce.  Serve steak mixture over rice.

Weekly Winner:  The Strangest (and possibly best) Pasta to Date

So, have you ever seen a recipe and thought:  “I can’t even begin to imagine what this might taste like…. I’m going to make it and see!”?  No?  Maybe that’s just me, but that is exactly what happened when I came across this recipe a month or so ago in Food and Wine Magazine.

Rigatoni with Cabbage and Creme Fraiche — I mean it just sounds strange… creamy cabbage…. and pasta….. and pumpernickel???  Of course the saving grace was that I saw bacon listed as an ingredient.  I know I’m safe if it has bacon.

I did still have my doubts.  I’m generally not a fan of overly-cooked cabbage.  I love coleslaw and stir-frys that have cabbage that is cooked quickly, but thinly shredded cabbage cooked for 8 minutes?  That’s approaching cabbage abuse!  But I have a rule.  The first time I try a recipe I follow it to the letter (unless it calls for cilantro)  after that, I’m permitted to tinker.

So, what did I think of this concoction?  In a word: Fabulous!  It really was amazingly good.  Hubby and I both immediately thought it would be a great with a soft-cooked egg on top but couldn’t imagine why we both came to that conclusion.  Then it hit us.  The cabbage became almost leek-like and the final product really reminded us of a version of carbonara we both like.  Bacon, cream, “leeks” pasta…. it all suddenly made sense.  And also made a dang fine dinner.

So, now that I’ve made it as prescribed, is there anything I’d change?  Well, the egg is a definite possibility, but I also think it would be better (or at least easier to shovel in your mouth) with a shorter, smaller pasta.  The size of the rigatoni was a bit unwieldy considering the rest of the ingredients.  Other than that I wouldn’t change a thing and anticipate making this often….. very often.

Rigatoni with Cabbage and Creme Fraiche

Serves 4

Ingredients:

8 oz. pumpernickel bread, torn into pieces (3 cups)

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and black pepper

4 oz thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 small onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

1 head of Savoy cabbage (1-1/2 lbs) shredded

2 cups chicken stock

1 lb. rigatoni

1/2 cup creme fraiche

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

Procedure:

  1. In a food processor, pulse the bread until coarse crumbs form.  In a skillet, melt the butter in 2 Tbsp of the olive oil.  Add the breadcrumbs and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8 minutes.  Season with salt
  2. In a large straight-sided skillet, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp of olive oil.  Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat until crisp; transfer to paper towels to drain.  Add the onion, garlic and crushed red pepper to the skillet and cook until the onion is softened, about 2 minutes.  Add the cabbage and stock and bring to a simmer.  Cook, stirring, until almost all of the stock has evaporated, 8 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente.  Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water.  Toss the pasta with the cabbage.  Stir in the creme fraiche, the 1/2 cup of cheese and, if necessary, the reserved pasta water; season with salt and black pepper.  Transfer the pasta to bowls and garnish with the breadcrumbs, bacon and black pepper.  Serve with additional cheese on the side.