Sunday, January 3, 2016

Full of Beans

December was a whirlwind month for us as we decided to take a trip to London and Italy during the first two weeks of December.  This was a wonderful experience as London, Rome and Sorrento are all towns that take Christmas very seriously, so gorgeous lights and decor ruled the day and the festive feeling was palpable.

This was my husband and my first trip abroad without a large group of family and truth be told, it was incredibly relaxing to not be responsible for the entertainment and sustenance of 18 people.  It was a trip made for relaxing.  Our game plan was basically, find something beautiful sit in the nearest piazza with a view of it and drink wine.   We did this over and over for the entire length of the trip, so objective met.  We came home very relaxed and went back to work the very next day.

Naturally, we were as interested in good food as we were in good wine and beautiful sights, so there were many memorable meals consumed and fabulous local products sampled.  The food alone could provide fodder for a dozen different blog posts, but where to start?  As a means of focusing and finding a place to start, I am going to start at the end...of the trip.

The way that I can tell that I have really enjoyed a dish in a restaurant is if the taste of it makes me want to immediately run home and recreate it.  This happened on the last night of the trip.  On recommendation of Elizabeth Minchilli (whose tour of Testaccio may need at least two posts of its own to capture effectively), we went to an adorable pizza place called Emma.  Emma is tucked away in a side alley just a few steps away from Campo De Fiori and thanks to the amazing streak of 60 degree weather that we had, we were able to comfortably dine outside.

Although they are billed as a pizzeria, Emma is a full service restaurant with salads, pastas, meat dishes, vegetarian options and of course, pizza.  Feeling like something simple and a little lighter, we decided to skip the pizza and order salads and pastas.  I went with the herbed ravioli and my husband got a steaming bowl of pasta fagioli.

When my husband's soup arrived, it was thick and glistening with a flourish of extra virgin olive oil and a snowy shower of grated Pecorino Romano.  It was filled with irregular rags of torn pasta sheets, floating on a creamy river of thick bean puree.  I impulsively jabbed my spoon into his soup and was overwhelmed by the savory depth of flavor that it had. It was so rich and flavorful that I forgot about the plate of steaming hot ravioli that was rapidly cooling in front of me. This was the very first meal that I cooked when I came home.  Here's my version, but first, a beauty shot of it:

That's some food porn, right there.

Pasta Fagioli

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces of pancetta, diced
1/2 medium sized red onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
2 garlic clove, diced finely
1 sprig of  fresh rosemary (about the size of your longest finger)
1 dried bay leaf
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
2 15.5 ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
32 ounces of chicken broth (canned or homemade)
1/2 of a *1 lb box of lasagna noodles, bashed into small pieces with a rolling pin

Grated pecorino romano and extra virgin olive oil for serving (optional)

*Note: you could also use a 1/2 lb of small pasta like ditalini or elbows and bypass the smashing

Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over med heat and add the diced pancetta.  Cook until golden brown, then remove the browned pancetta to a plate lined with paper towels. Set aside.

Lower the heat in the pan to med low and add the carrot, celery and onion.  Add a little salt and pepper to the vegetables to help them sweat in the pan.  Cook until the onions are translucent.  Add the rosemary, red pepper flakes (if using) and diced garlic and saute for about 30 seconds (or until you can smell the garlic).  Turn the heat back to medium and add the white wine.  Scrape up any browned bits of pancetta from the bottom of the pan while cooking the wine down and reducing by about half.

Add the diced tomatoes, drained chickpeas and pancetta to the pan and follow with the chicken broth. Raise the heat and bring to a good boil. Using a slotted spoon, remove about 2 cups the chick peas and set aside.  Once the soup is at a rapid boil, add the pasta and cook to 1 minute under the al dente instructions (ie. if al dente is 12 minutes, cook to 11).

While the pasta is boiling, put the reserved beans in a blender or puree with a stick blender into a smooth paste.  When the pasta reaches its time,  turn off the heat and stir the pureed beans back into the soup.  Cover and set aside for 5-10 minutes before serving (this allows the soup to thicken to a nice consistency).

Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with a sprinkle of romano cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.