Friday, October 26, 2007

Zuppa dei Fagiolini

Green Bean Soup

I have childhood memories of my nana making a soup of fresh green beans. Some tomato, basil and lots of sweet beans, that much I knew, but I couldn't find the recipe. My mom had never written it down and couldn't remember exactly how to make it. Never mind; I figured it out and I think it tastes pretty darn close to what I remember; at least, the aroma seemed very reminiscent. I found some beautiful long flat beans in the store so I used those, cut into smaller pieces, but any fresh green beans will work nicely.

1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Saute in olive oil in a large pot. Add clean, snapped beans and saute a couple of minutes.
Toss in:
2 tomatoes, chopped - with juices
salt and pepper
pinch of oregano
pinch of thyme
Stir, then add broth to cover. I use a mixture of vegetable and beef broth to taste like veal broth but you can use chicken, beef or vegetable broth, as you desire or have on hand.
Mince five or six basil leaves and add to the pot. Simmer until the beans are cooked. I also sometimes add a couple of handfuls of arborio rice or ditalini (little pasta tubes).

Perfect now that the weather is turning colder and rainy!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Peperoni Cruschi

On recent forays into the Motherland of Lucania (the region of Basilicata, which locals still refer to by its ancient name) I became quite enamored by the local delicacy of peperoni cruschi. The dialect name is paparul crushk, a word that sounds more German than Italian to my ears, but spells delicious whatever way they prefer to pronounce it. The strings of peppers that one sees hanging in the sun to dry are not as fiery as you might think. While they do like the piccanti variety, those are distinctly smaller and not revered as highly as these babies. The longer red peppers are, in fact, a variety of sweet peppers that are strung up much like the chile ristras so common around New Mexico, left to harden in the southern sun.

Once dry they are carefully removed from their stems and fried in extra virgin olive oil, tended to carefully so as not to scorch them. They are then served as an antipasto, and delicious they are, too! Sweet and smoky at the same time, the crunchy treats compliment the local cheese and prosciutto nicely.

Once they are fried, the peperoni cruschi are also crumbled and added to sautéed breadcrumbs then sprinkled over pasta, such as the locally-loved orecchiette.

Back to the hot chile, the slender pods are also dried, but are then preserved in a unique way. They, too, are fried in extra virgin olive oil and then crumbled. They are put in a jar and then the oil used to fry them is poured over the top. Simple, but it infuses the oil with spice as well as the unusual smoky-hot flavor. It is drizzled on cavatelli, on roasted potatoes, and on the local semolina bread.

We just returned from a trip to Basilicata; my cousin there went knocking on doors to rustle up some strings of peperoni for me to bring home. They are drying, but when they're ready I'll fry some up and add some photos.
c 2007 Valerie Schneider