Tuscan Ribollita. Yes, make this.

 

You have to make this soup. Just hearing about it isn’t enough. It’s deceptively simple, but the flavor is so much bigger than it sounds.

Its Tuscan origin shows up in the vegetable choices, the beans, and the bread that’s part of the soup. Tuscan lacinato kale is much more tender than traditional kale with a light deeply green taste. Cannellini beans are the “meat” of the mixture. And the toasted bread within is a satisfying bite of soupy yum.

This soup takes the chill right out of the air. Make a batch…it gets better the next day. And the next. And the next.

Ribollita – Tuscan Hearty Soup

2-3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, trimmed and diced
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed & minced
2-5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed, stems discarded
1 15-oz can plum tomatoes, roughly cut up
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drain and rinsed
3-4 cups stock or broth
4-5 cups Tuscan kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
salt & pepper to taste
6-8 slices Italian bread or baguette
1/2 cup grated parmigiano

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. When hot, add the onion, carrots, and celery. Cook until softened, but not browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic & herbs, cook a minute or two more. Add the tomatoes and beans, sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the stock. Season with salt & pepper. Bring to a simmer, then add the kale. Simmer for about 30 minutes until all the flavors combine.

Meanwhile, place bread slices on a baking sheet in one layer. Brush or drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt & pepper. Dust with grated parmigiano. Toast bread in a medium oven until golden, about 5-7 minutes.

To serve: Place a slice of bread in an individual soup bowl. Ladle soup on top, Top with another toast. Drizzle a little olive oil and dust with grated cheese. Serve hot.

 

Fav Nashville Eats: Caffe Nonna

Caffe Nonna

Caffe Nonna

So where do you go out to eat Italian food?

Sometimes someone will ask me that.

I’m usually stumped. I don’t often eat out “Italian.” I’ve got a kitchen-full of Italian food and students coming over to cook it with me! So when I go out you’ll find me at a Japanese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Greek, or Chinese restaurant. A pub/sports bar or a meat n’ 3.  A place with a Southern/or Southern re-invention menu. A bakery. A casual American joint.

BUT. I do occasionally get the urge to eat out “Italian.” Usually when I’m hanging with my mom and sister. We each have geiger-counter-style Italian palates that act like false-o meters. The food has got to have the right taste (even if it’s not the sauce you would make at home) — it’s gotta be in the proper “realm” — it has to hit the true Italian “note.”

One place we can rely on is Caffe Nonna in Sylvan Park.

We were there recently and hadn’t been for more than year. One of the waiters recognized us as soon as we walked in and welcomed us as if we were regulars. “Good to see you again! It’s been a while!”

The place is tiny. And full of people. The lighting glows intimately. The room hugs you with warm colors and old world decor. You immediately feel at home.

Caffe Nonna

Caffe Nonna

Their menu has lots of entrees but we get caught up with the pasta choices. Choose from a list of pasta shapes and a list of pasta sauces. Mix and match. That’s immediately such a fun game. Italians are very particular about which pasta shapes go with which pasta sauces. Certain dishes never change: Penne all’Arrabiata, Fettuccine alla Bolognese, Linguine alle Vongole,  Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Bucatini con le Sarde, Fettuccine Alfredo, etc.

I think every other time I’ve eaten here I picked fettuccine with bolognese sauce. This time I went for fettuccine with white clam sauce. I loved NOT choosing the proper linguine or spaghetti. It’s an exotic treat to match fettuccine (the “wrong” pasta shape) with clam sauce! My sister got the same. My mom went for fettuccine, too, but with the bolognese sauce.

While we waited for our dishes we nibbled on bread dipped in seasoned olive oil (they don’t do this in Italy but it’s tasty.)

dip some bread in flavored olive oil

dip some bread in flavored olive oil

When our dishes arrived they looked wonderful. They smelled wonderful. And they were very healthy portions. Each bowl had a tablespoon in it. We each pulled out the spoon and set it aside. You really don’t need a spoon to eat long-stranded pasta. (I’ll tell you how if you think you do.)

The waitress asked if we wanted grated cheese. My mom took some (she thought they put too much but liked it anyway).

fettuccine alla bolognese

fettuccine alla bolognese

You’re not supposed to have cheese on any pasta with fish/clams, etc. in it.

fettuccine with white clam sauce

fettuccine with white clam sauce

But I was feeling rather decadent and asked for some cheese. So did my sister.

fettuccine with white clam sauce and cheese on top

fettuccine with white clam sauce and cheese on top

The pastas are seriously yummy. And I was surprised to find a bit of cream in the “white” clam sauce (which is usually white because it’s not red, but is actually clear with olive oil & white wine). If you would have told me cream was in the sauce I wouldn’t have ordered it. But tasting it (and eating ALL of it) I loved it. In fact, I’m stealing that idea!

empty dish of fettuccine with white clam sauce

empty dish of fettuccine with white clam sauce

My sister and I toasted our wine glasses a few times (my mom sticking to water). Nina had a Pinot Grigio, I loved my Barbera D’Asti.  (The way I pair wines is like this: I pick a dish I want to eat. And I pick a wine I want to drink. They don’t necessarily have to go together but somehow they do….like fettuccine with clam sauce.)

Nina & I toasting our wine

Nina & I toasting our wine

Nina--wine finished!

Nina–wine finished!

Chef Dan even came by the table to see how we liked our dinner. Before we were done we were talking about coming back (that’s like talking about what’s for breakfast tomorrow while you’re having dinner tonight). And we will be back. Thanks, Caffe Nonna!

Caffe Nonna

Caffe Nonna

 

Spaghetti. With Shrimp. In just a few minutes.

Shrimp Pasta

Shrimp Pasta

Okay, I used linguine. But you get the idea. When I was in my twenties in my first NY apartment (studio, 4 floor walk-up) I used to soothe myself from the barrage of NY (a barrage I loved) with sautéed shrimp and angel hair pasta mixed with butter. It sealed up the insanity and made me feel whole again.

That was a long time ago (yet very crystal clear).  But these days I don’t stray too far from that brand of comfort food. Still with the shrimp. Still with the pasta. But minus the butter (olive oil instead). And a couple of added goodies.

Here goes:

First off, I cut the shrimp in half lengthwise it makes a nice shape when cooked and gives you more shrimp to the mouthful. Figure about 1 pound of shrimp to almost a pound of pasta (two-thirds?).

Shrimp

Shrimp

Then I heat some olive oil in a large sauté pan. When hot I sauté the shrimp until opaque, then take them out.

Shrimp on pan

Shrimp in pan

Now add some diced onion and minced garlic to the pan. Let them cook and soften (add some more olive oil if needed). Then add diced up fresh tomato and diced up lemon — including the peel…gives you a nice surprise bite of lemon. Let that sauté till hot.

Onions, Garlic, Tomato, Lemon

Onions, Garlic, Tomato, Lemon

Add about a half-cup of dry white wine…

Add wine

Add wine

Let wine evaporate by half and let the mixture sauté nicely while you start boiling the pasta…

pasta water

pasta water

And making the breadcrumbs. I heat a little oil in a small sauté pan, add about a cup of panko crumbs, season with salt & pepper, and sauté until breadcrumbs brown to deep golden.

browning the breadcrumbs

browning the breadcrumbs

Add the shrimp back to the pan w the onion-garlic-tomato-lemon mixture just as the pasta is almost done. Drain pasta, reserve some cooking liquid, add pasta to pan with shrimp. Toss to coat and to let pasta absorb some of the tasty juices. Add some pasta water if too dry and another drizzle of olive oil. Season to your liking with salt & pepper and a little hot pepper. Add a good dusting of breadcrumbs.

Shrimp w Lingiune

Shrimp w Linguine

I promise you the cares of your day will melt away. This is especially fun eating quietly while watching a favorite, also comforting, TV show. Not the news. A comforting TV show. That makes you giggle. Or draws you into the story and characters. An old movie is perfect. Preferable something from the 1930’s or 40′ or 50’s or early 60’s.

See that? It can be easy to feel good.