Sunday, April 17, 2011

Go Texan

I took my last flight before I'm grounded.  JG and I went back to Texas, visited my parents, my brother out on the ranch, and lots of friends in Austin.  I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to handle the heat, but then I found myself dragging a reclining lawn chair into the grass to a nap in the 100F shade of a tree at my parents' place because it felt so good outside.
These pastures should be green right now.
West Texas is in serious drought mode right now... Dust Bowl serious.  There's nothing green out there except the mesquite trees and only because they have very deep tap roots -- which, FYI, also makes them very hard to clear from fields.  If it keeps going, they may even have to sell off the cattle, and that's pretty bad.
 I love this heifer; it looks like she got a bowl cut.
Austin was much greener, not quite as hot, and lovely to visit.  We didn't make any plans [except a single dinner reservation] because I think the key to a great Austin experience is to just hang out and see what happens.  We ended up spending a lot of time around Lady Bird Lake [JG ran, I'm not quite so spry], eating dinner at our old haunts and catching up with old friends [who frequently chided me about my recent lack of blog posting], and doing a bit of work in coffee shops.
The public arts program scattered pianos all over town. This one was on the running trail.
The first night in town, I saw a display of the urban bat colony that surpassed any I'd ever seen the entire time I live here, and it was only because we happened to be walking back from dinner at sunset and crossed the bat bridge at the just the right time. [No pics though, I don't believe in hauling my camera to restaurants and photographing my dinner... I limit that behavior to my own kitchen.]   

A stand at a year-round farmer's market -- most markets in Bean Town don't start 'til late May.
I've eaten quite well this week and I'm including a list of my destinations in case you find yourself in my favorite town.  When I step on the scales at my next checkup, the nurse will probably assume the little hybrid had a growth spurt... but we'll know better.

Where I ate in Austin:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pasta e Fagioli

I know it's been unseasonably warm back home [upper 80s instead of upper 70s] but Yankee Land just got more snow [April Fool's!], so hearty soup is still on my menu. The first time I saw a recipe for pasta fagioli I thought a soup comprised almost entirely of beans and pasta couldn't be that tasty.... but I was very very wrong. Italians cooks have a long history of making the whole far greater than the sum of its parts, and this soup is a part of that strong tradition.
Since the primary components are so simple, the seasonings and garnishes are very important in this soup, and fresh herbs really make a difference.  I quit using chicken stock in it a while back in favor of cheese rinds -- I keep a "rind baggie" in the freezer and any time I get down to the hard end of a wedge of parm or pecorino, I just throw it in there for later use.  You _could_ also buy a wedge, cut off the rind for the soup, then use the rest later.  The reason you want to use the rind is that it will impart great flavor [umami] but holds together throughout cooking and won't change the texture of the soup. I'm not the biggest fan of eating the rind, but JG loves them, so everyone wins.  You _could_ just discard them at the end, but there's probably someone at the table who would be happy to have them.

This soup is traditionally meatless, but I had some ground turkey that needed to be used so I made some super-simple mini meatballs [no binder required].  I included a recipe, but it's certainly not necessary for the soup. 
Finally, I believe this soup demands whole wheat pasta [shocking, I know].  Refined flour pasta will eventually turn to mush and make the leftovers much less appealing, but the bran in the whole wheat pasta maintains its structural integrity so each reheated bowl is even better than the one before.

Recipes: Pasta Fagioli and Mini Turkey Meatballs