Focaccia Bread

focaccia bread sprinkled with rosemary and sea salt

 

Yesterday, I was craving fresh, hot pizza.  But we had a lot of leftovers to eat for dinner.  Since I never like to let anything go to waste, the pizza would have to wait.  But I still did not want to let that thought go.  So, I compromised. We needed a little bread to go with dinner, anyway.  At least that is how I justified making this easy focaccia to jazz up our plates.  And, today, there is barely any left.  So, I guess I didn’t need to make any justifications, anyway.

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Lasagna Soup with Fresh Ricotta

creamy tomato soup with lasagana noodles and italian chicken sausage and dollops of ricotta cheese

Who doesn’t love a big hunk of lasagna with melty cheese oozing from its soft pasta layers?  Little chunks of sausage and meatballs hidden among the ricotta and mozzerella waiting to be discovered and dug out like tiny treasures in a red sauce filled landscape flavored by oregano and garlic?

Sadly, devouring all that lasagna goodness requires unbuttoning one’s pants and taking a long winter nap followed by a guilt filled morning and a long, joyless trip to the gym.  Is it really worth it?

My longing for all that is craveworthy about lasagna and my desire not to feel guilty or gluttonous about consuming such a rich meal has led me to search out viable alternatives.  I  will be honest.  I was skeptical at first about this soup recipe that I was finally able to find on the food network website.  How could one recreate the flavors, decadent feeling and tastes in a soup that is far less caloric than its inspiration?  I decided it was worth a try.

As you have probably already suspected, this soup recipe delivers on all counts: melty cheese from the fresh ricotta dollops, creamy and tomatoey sauce, chunky noodles and bits of Italian spiced meat.  If you are feeling extra hungry, make some garlic bread to dip in your bowl.  This soup makes a comforting and somewhat guilt free meal.

I changed up some parts of the recipe but included the link to the original if you want to check it out.  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/lasagna-soup-2268968. The recipe for the Ricotta cheese is a combination of a few from my research mixed up with my memory of a recipe that I once had from a friend of mine.  Unfortunately, I cannot find my original copy but I think I came pretty close in recreating it.  Make the Ricotta a day or a few hours in advance.

 

Lasagana Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium sized onion, chopped

2 sweet Italian sausages, casings removed

2 hot Italian sausages, casings removed

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 cups chicken broth

1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped basil

1 Parmesan rind or /13 cup grated parmesan cheese

8 oz. lasagna noodles, broken into pieces (about 10 noodles)

1/4 cup whole milk

Ricotta cheese (see following recipe)

optional: red pepper flakes and extra basil for garnish

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring until onions soften, about 4 minutes.  Add the sausage, garlic and oregano.  Cook, stirring and breaking up the sausage with a spoon until the sausage is browned and cooked through.  Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring until darkened, about 2 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, tomatoes, Parmesan rind ( wait to add the cheese, if using grated) and 1 cup water, cover and bring to a simmer.  Uncover and cook until slightly reduced , about 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, boil water in a large pot and add the lasagna noodles.  Cook according to package directions.  Drain and add to soup.  Add milk, parmesan (if using grated) and basil.  Simmer for about 1 minute.  Divide the soup among bowls and top with small dollops of Ricotta cheese.

ricotta cheese curds

 

Ricotta Cheese

8 cups whole milk ( I use Garelick brand)

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

 

Line a large strainer with 4 layers of cheese cloth being sure that it hangs over the sides about an inch or two.  Place the strainer over a large bowl.

In a large, heavy pot slowly bring milk, cream and salt to a rolling boil.  Stir it occasionally to prevent scorching.  Add the lemon juice, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring continuously, until the mixture curdles.  This takes about 2 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the curds and place them in the strainer lined with cheese cloth.  Let the cheese drain for at least and hour.  Use the cheese immediately or place it in a covered container in the refrigerator.  It will keep for about 2 days.  

*You can use the liquid from the cheese, called whey in all types of ways.  It’s protein rich.  Use it in smoothies and bread recipes instead of milk or water.

**This cheese tastes delicious when served with salty crackers and topped with honey.

Chicken and White Bean Chili with Green Onion and Parmesan Crostini

White bean chili with chicken sausage and parmesan crostini

If you are looking for a hearty soup that is not too heavy, this one is the perfect solution to your problem.  Browned ground chicken and onions with all the spices you love in a good, stick to your ribs chili.  Cannellini beans and Swiss chard give this soup and Italian twist.  Top it off with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.  An untraditional crostini with green onions, chive, cream cheese and more Parmesan bring it all together into a satisfying meal.

The first time I made this was in 2012 when I saw an episode of Giada De Laurentiiis’ cooking show on the Food Network at that time.  She also served it with a crostini but I cannot seem to find that recipe, so I had to riff on it, instead.  Everytime I make this easy to put together soup and bread combination, I get rave reviews.  I should take this one out more often!

Chicken and White Bean Chili

(serves about 6)

(adapted from White Bean and Chicken Chili by Giada De Laurentiis, 2012)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 pounds ground chicken or turkey or a combination

1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

3 teaspoons chili powder

3 tablepsoons flour

2 (15 oz. cans) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 bunch (about 1 pound) swiss chard, stems removed, chopped to 1 inch pieces

1 1/2 cups frozen corn

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

black pepper

Parmesan cheese

chopped parsley

In a large pot, heat oil over medium high heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds.  Add the ground meat, 1 teaspoon salt, cumin, oregano, and chili powder.  Cook, stirring frequently until the meat is browned and cooked through about 8-10 minutes.  Stir the flour into the meat mixture.  Add the beans, Swiss chard, corn and chicken stock.  Bring mixture to a simmer, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  Simmer for about 50-60 minutes until liquid reduces and the chili is thickened.  Add the red pepper flakes, taste for seasoning and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Serve with Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Green Onion and Parmesan Crostini

1 (8 oz block) cream cheese, softened

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

4 green onions, diced

2 tablespoons chopped chives

12 slices baguette, on the diagonal for more surface area

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat boiler in oven.  In a small bowl, mix cream cheese, salt, pepper, green onions and chives.  Spread mixture on one side of each slice of bread.  Place bread on a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle each slice with Parmesan cheese, making sure it adheres to cream cheese mixture.  Broil bread slices for 2-4 minutes until cheese melts and turns brown on edges.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

 

Chicken Italian Sausage and Zucchini Soup

soup with chicken Italian sausage and zucchini

Last week, a high fever ran rampant through our house.  It threatened to derail all holiday tasks and planning.  Thankfully, I had already made this soup.  The tender chunks of zucchini, zesty tomato base and filling chicken sausage made it the perfect antidote to my sickeness.  My eleven year old preferred gingerale and nutella on crackers to combat his cold.  That’s o.k.  I was so sick, I didn’t even get mad at him for refusing to even try it.  I ‘m glad to have had plenty of this soup to heat up and eat in my bathrobe while I wished my cold away.

All I could think about was how much I still had left to do: the holiday baking, shopping, wrapping and don’t forget all the driving.  It seems my kids are doing just about everything possible at this point in their lives.  It’s good that they are busy and happy to participate in all manner of activities from tap dancing to travel basketball.  But all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and watch Iron Chef.  Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

I am on the mend now and able to document the recipe that brought me back to the living.  The original source is from and incredible cookbook called, Soup Swap by Kathy Gunst.  I changed up a few things.  Mainly the sausage: I used chicken and could not find hot Italian chicken sausage at my local market.  Instead, I used some Italian chicken and cheese sausage and chicken and kale sausage.  It worked.  I also added a parmesan rind to the soup as it simmered to add some richness to the broth.  Fresh basil at this time of year is pretty rough, if you can find it at all in a New England supermarket, so I opted to leave it out.  Here is my version of “Hope’s Italian Sausage-Zucchini Soup”.  I hope you make it in good health.

Chicken Italian Sausage and Zucchini Soup

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

total 16 oz. chicken sausage: Italian, Cheese, or any type you like, casings removed

1 small onion, diced

2 large garlic cloves minced

sea salt

black pepper2 28 oz. cans diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon sugar

2 lbs. zucchini, diced

3 large celery stalks, diced

1 large yellow or orange pepper, diced

2-4 cups chicken stock

pinch of red chili flakes

parmesan rind

garnish: parmesan cheese, chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium high.  remove the casings from sausage and add to warm oil.  Cook sausage, breaking up pieces as it browns.  Once the sausage is cooked through, add the onion and garlic.  Turn heat to medium low and cook until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, if necessary.  Add the tomatoes, parsley and sugar.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the zucchini, celery, yellow/orange pepper, chicken stock, chili flakes and parmesan rind.  Raise the heat to bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.  Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

To serve: ladle into bowls and top with grated parmesan and chopped parsley.