Italian Wedding Soup



1 onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
8 ounces ground pork
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
2 cups water


1 slice hearty sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
5 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese
4 teaspoons finely grated onion
1/2 teaspoon finely grated garlic
salt and pepper
12 ounces ground pork
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons oregano

1 cup ditalini pasta
12 ounces kale, stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (6 cups)


1. For the Broth: 

Heat onion, fennel garlic, porcini, pork, and bay leaf in Dutch oven over medium-high heat; cook, stirring frequently, until meats are no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

Add wine and Worcestershire; cook for 1 minute.

Add chicken and beef broths and water; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

2. For the Meatballs

While broth simmers, combine bread, cream, Parmesan, onion, garlic, and pepper to taste in bowl; using fork, mash mixture to uniform paste.

Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat pork, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt on high speed until smooth and pale, 1-2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed.

Add bread mixture and oregano; mix on medium speed until just incorporated, 1-2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Using moistened hands, form heaping teaspoons of meat mixture into small round meatballs; approx. 20-30 depending on how big you want them. Cover and refrigerate up to 1 day.

If you want a "cleaner" broth, strain it through fine-mesh strainer set over large bowl and discarding solids. I personally like a "dirtier" soup so I left them in and continued on my merry way.

Return broth to simmer over medium-high heat. Add pasta and kale; cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Add meatballs; return to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until meatballs are cooked through and pasta is tender, 3-5 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Spinach and Asparagus Pasta with Chorizo

Do you ever have one of those moments where something comes out nothing at all like you planned?
Yeah. Me too.

This dish, in fact, is the result of one of those moments.

Now, nominally, this was supposed to be "Lasagna with Asparagus and Chives", based on the latest Martha Schulman entry on the New York Times.

But, as you'll probably notice in the picture above, there's a stunning lack of lasagna noodles. And also chives. Trust me on this one. Chives feature nowhere in the above picture.

You see, I'm not usually a lasagna person. It's usually way too dense and rich and overwhelming (and usually with way too much tomato sauce, but let's not open that particular can of worms at the moment). But when I saw this version, I thought "This is a lasagna I can get behind". It looked light and summery with not too much sauce (no tomatoes in sight! Just a nice light ricotta) and perfect for a Sunday dinner. This plan was made all the better as I even had (or at least thought I had) lasagna noodles already in my cupboard.

So off I trundled to Tesco, picking up the few things the recipe called for. Asparagus? Check. Basil? Why not? Ricotta? Sure! Why not throw in some spinach, just to be fun and daring? Chives? Well, alas, Tesco was out of chives, but as I had already collected my basil, I thought its absence surely wouldn't hurt anything. And that was all. I proudly walked right past the pasta section, confident in my well-stocked cupboard.

Well, I'm sure you can see where this is heading. To my surprise (and dismay), as I rooted around in my seemingly-lasagnaless pantry, I remembered I had thrown out my noodles some months back when an ant colony had decided to take up residence in our kitchen. While thankfully the ants were now gone, unfortunately so too were my lasagna noodles. Which, it seemed, were basic prerequisites for a lasagna.

No matter. I had other types of pasta. It would serve. And it did! Actually, the whole dish worked out quite well. The ricotta sauce as advocated by Martha Schulman served just as well on non-lasagna noodles (as one would expect) and combined with shredded basil, raw spinach, and some chorizo thrown in for good measure, it was a dish that was surprisingly more-ish.

So thus, while I can claim inspiration by the inimitable Recipes for Health, I have to call this recipe an original.


1 pound asparagus, trimmed

1/2 cup ricotta

2 garlic clovse, finely minced or (preferably) pureed

3 tablespoons chopped basil

1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 pound lumache pasta

1/4 cup (1 ounce) freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino romano (or a combination)

1 bag, washed spinach

1/2 tsp each of red pepper flakes, oregano, thyme, and rosemary

6 ounces Spanish chorizo, diced


Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, salt generously and add the asparagus. Meanwhile, fill a bowl with cold water. Boil thin stalks for three minutes, thicker stalks for four to six minutes until tender. Using tongs, remove the asparagus from the pot and transfer to the bowl of cold water. Drain and cut on the diagonal into 3/4-inch lengths.

Add the pasta to the boiling water, and boil until cooked al dente -- firm to the bite. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the ricotta with the oil, garlic, and spices. When the noodles are done, remove 1/2 cup of the pasta water, and add to the bowl with the ricotta. Mix together well. In a large bowl, add the spinach and the asparagus, basil and Parmesan or pecorino to the bowl. Mix the ricotta mixture into the spinach and asparagus. Drain the lasagna, and toss with everything. Serve at once.

Yield: Serves four.

Tortellini Gratinata with Mushrooms and Parsnip "Bechamel"

Baked pasta. Pasta casserole. Hot dish. All things I associate inherently with America. I swear, within each American there's some pale distant memory of a potluck at which either your mother or your neighbor's mother insisted on bringing her "world famous" tuna noodle casserole. Or baked pasta. Or...well, you get the idea. I'm fairly sure this memory never took place in reality; however, the fact that I spent my formative years in the MidWest makes the likelihood of the above even more plausible. Nothing says comfort food like some baked pasta.

Which is why, when my mother smuggled me an American copy of this month's "Bon Appetit" magazine and I saw they were doing an entire feature on the glorious American dish, I had to dust off my Midwestern genes (and jeans) and get to cooking. The promise of a faux parsnip "bechamel" sauce got me on this one. I had no idea what they were talking about but it turned out that the parsnips replaced the flour in the bechamel, keeping the thick consistency of the sauce but giving it an earthier if still starchy flavor. It was a win all around.

I also recommend getting bold with your tortellini in this recipe. The magazine called for either plain or cheese tortellini. Bah! I went with some sort of wild mushroom and stuffed sausage tortellini and in my opinion (humble as it may be), it made what can be a very bland dish (hey, we are talking about baked pasta here) into something with a little more subtlety. 

2 large parsnips, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
2 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
large pinch of grated nutmeg
4 1/2 tbsp butter, divided
1 1/2 lbs baby portobello mushrooms, or chestnut mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
2 packages tortellini (of whatever kind, should be around 18-24 oz.)
6 oz. creamy Gorgonzola cheese, cut into small pieces
1 cup chorizo sausage, cut into small pieces

Cook parsnips in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. Place parsnips in same saucepan along with 1 1/2 cups of milk. With an immersion blender, blend until smooth. Add 1 cup of milk, 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, and nutmeg to saucepan. Blend again.

Place saucepan over heat again and simmer until reduced to about 3 cups, whisking often, about every 5 minutes. Season bechamel sauce to taste with salt and black pepper.

Melt 2 1/2 tbsp. butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, garlic, and rosemary. Saute until mushrooms are brown and tender, 6-7 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 400F. Butter a 12-cup capacity baking dish. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain pasta, return to pot. Add remaining 2 tbsp of butter and toss to coat.

Stir in mushroom mixture and cut chorizo. Transfer pasta to prepared baking dish. Spread bechamel sauce over; sprinkle with Gorgonzola, then remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.

Bake pasta until heated through and sauce is bubbling, 18-20 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes and serve.

Ricotta Cheese Gnocchi with Bacon and Sage

I have had a love/hate relationship with gnocchi since I first learned about it. I mean, first there's the name issue. How to pronounce it? I've heard enough variations from people who "swear" they're right, that if I can help it at all, I don't even say it anymore (and luckily, in blog format, I only have to write it.) Then there's the preparation. There also seems to be a bit of diverging opinions here about how gnocchi should be served: what kind of consistency and with what ingredients. It was all a bit too much to take in personally. But let's just say that the idea of how wonderful gnocchi can be has stayed with me througout this troubled time.

When I saw Bittman had developed not only a "no potato" version but also one that involved only ricotta cheese, I was intrigued. Perhaps here was finally a way for me to make it, avoiding all those long bitter debates. Who cares if you think the potatoes should be mashed for appropriate gnocchi preparation? This recipe doesn't even HAVE them!!

And so, I attempted this recipe, only realizing halfway through that, if gnocchi in and of itself was bad for you, this was a heart-stopping disaster. The "pasta" dough is made from an entire tub of ricotta cheese. Oh yes. Feel those arteries clogging. And if that wasn't enough, I felt the need to "spruce" the recipe up a bit by adding bacon on top. And it was delicious. Perhaps a once in a lifetime dish (hey, the arteries can only handle so much).


One 15-ounce container ricotta cheese, preferably whole milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 to 1 cup flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 or more sage leaves
Bacon (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Combine the ricotta, eggs and Parmesan in a large bowl, along with some salt and pepper. Add about 1/2 cup flour and stir; add more flour until the mixture forms a very sticky dough. Scoop up a spoonful of dough and boil it to make sure it will hold its shape; if it does not, stir in a bit more flour.

If you're using the bacon, fry it in a large skillet until crispy. Remove it with a slotted spoon to some paper towels until later. Put the butter in the skillet over medium heat. When it melts and turns a nutty brown color, add the sage. While it fries, drop the ricotta mixture by the rounded tablespoon into the boiling water, working in batches of six or so at a time so as not to overload the pot.

When the gnocchi rise to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to the skillet. When all the gnocchi are done, toss, taste and adjust the seasoning, return the bacon to the skillet, and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings.

Pasta with Chicken and Mushrooms, Risotto Style

from Bittman's Blog, NY Times

I'm not sure why I had never thought of this before. I mean, why
couldn't you cook any pasta like risotto? But thanks to Bittman, my mental lapses have been remedied. Any pasta comes out tasting absolutely delicious, creamy and decadent. And it's only chicken broth to blame!
Sign me up.


2 tablespoons olive oil, more as needed

1 shallot or small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups crimini, shiitake or button mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
1/2 pound cut pasta like gemelli or penne, or long pasta broken into bits
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine or water
3 to 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 boneless chicken thighs, diced
Chopped fresh parsley, optional
Freshly grated Parmesan, optional.


1. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. When hot, add shallot, garlic and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms soften and begin to brown on edges, about 10 minutes. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy and coated with oil, 2 to 3 minutes. Add a little salt and pepper, then wine. Stir and let liquid bubble away.
2. Ladle stock into skillet 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring after each addition and every minute or so. When liquid is just about evaporated, add more. Mixture should be neither soupy nor dry. Keep heat at medium and stir frequently.
3. Begin tasting pasta 10 minutes after you add it; you want it to be tender but with a tiny bit of crunch. When pasta is about 3 to 4 minutes away from being done, add chicken and stir to combine. Continue to cook until chicken is done — it will be white on inside when cut — and pasta is how you like it. Taste, adjust seasoning, garnish with parsley and Parmesan if using, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings.