Our Pasta Fazoo

By Pamela Capriotti Martin

In my husband’s Italian/Irish household there were very specific dinners for every night of the week with some variations. Sunday was always a roast and his mother would make a sauce for the week ahead, which may have been used on a carne pizzaiola, or just pasta. Other nights there would be Nana potatoes and pork chops, minced beef and onions with a Bisto gravy served over mashed potatoes with a side of turnip or peas, and on Fridays, if there was money – fish and chips. If money was tighter than usual it would be chips and eggs or chips and beans. If the Sunday roast was a ham then the bone would be available for a nice pasta e fagioli later in the week. Like many households in the 1950’s in Canada and the U.S, this was a family. on a tight budget. Beans and pasta made for a great week night dinner and meat was meant to be stretched to feed a family of five.

Most of my children are fans of the soup, although M2 was never enamored as a child. M3 feels quite proprietary about her soup. She would order it in every Italian restaurant we frequented and then rate it. One chef took her to the restaurant kitchen and showed her how he made his version. She didn’t like the kidney beans. She was six. I’m pretty sure she told him he was ruining the soup. Another, Chef Frank would see the girls walking in Yorkville and would make it only for them since it wasn’t even on his upscale Italian menu. It’s Italian comfort food.

The dish has simple inexpensive ingredients and began as a peasant dish. John’s mother was from Naples and so while the word for beans is ‘fagioli’ in standard Italian, it’s ‘fasule’ in Neopolitan. So in this house, this simple family favorite, is affectionately known as “fazoo.”

I was introduced to my mother-in-law Giulia’s version of the soup when we traveled to John’s parents every Saturday for lunch. While I felt it was okay – I thought it lacked something. It became a discussion for us as to how we could give the soup more depth of flavor.

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John’s mother always used only water in hers and when she taught me to make it was specific that I was to use only four tomatoes from the can. The water in the soup was changed to chicken stock and I cut mine with water in about a 60/40 ratio, and John uses only chicken stock. If you don’t have that handy ham bone, we use pancetta. I find bacon too salty and don’t like the smoky flavor here, but would use it in a pinch and pull the salt back and use low-sodium chicken stock. Vegetarian M3 won’t use chicken stock or a meat product so substitutes vegetable stock.

This is one of those recipes that depends on who is making it and what you have in your pantry and fridge. I’m certain every Italian household has their own version and certainly John and I even have our own way of making this flavorful and filling soup. Little hands can pick basil leaves or grate cheese to make this a family event. This is my recipe. So, this is a starting point and is definitely open to change with the person who stirs the pot – of soup.

1 T extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
3 ounces pancetta (or bacon)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
4 medium cloves of garlic, minced
1 t dried basil
1 28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes (diced works well)
1 Parmesan cheese rind
2 cans (15 ounce each) Cannellini beans (drained and rinsed)
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
8 ounces small pasta (ditalini, tubetini, conchigliette)
¼ cup fresh parsley chopped
Black pepper, salt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, basil (not fresh), stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. 3. Add tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan.
4. Add cheese rind and beans; bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer to blend flavors, 10 minutes.
5. Add chicken broth, 2 cups water, and 1 teaspoon salt; increase heat to high and bring to boil.

6. Cook pasta separately and until tender, about 10 minutes. If you keep the pasta separate and put it in the bowl under the soup, then you can actually reheat the soup base the next day and just boil a new batch of pasta. If you add it to the soup, the pasta becomes flabby and honestly – ruins it.

7. Discard cheese rind. Off heat, stir in 3 tablespoons parsley; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into individual bowls over pasta portion; drizzle each serving with olive oil and sprinkle with a portion of remaining parsley. Serve immediately, passing grated Parmesan separately.

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FTW Kitchen: Good for What Ails ‘ya Ugly Carrot Soup

Market season, for me, really begins in Autumn. Autumn has been a bit finicky, of late: not showing up at all two years ago, and quite delayed last year. But this year, frost has already come to Ontario and I immediately lined myself up at the market this weekend for bags of ‘unwanted’ carrots.

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My favorite stall is run by Fiddle Foot Farm, about twenty minutes from here. They plant heirloom varieties of all vegetables, and have the sweetest beets I’ve ever eaten. They also sell their ‘unwanted’ produce by the bags full for just five bucks.

When that happens, I make a big batch of ugly carrot soup. Made with a few peasant ingredients from all around, this soup is yummy, reduces inflammation, is soothing on the throat and pleasing to the eye. If you’re into balancing chakras, the yellows and oranges are vibrant and well suited to a balancing diet.

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Now, if you don’t have access to ugly, unwanted carrots, I am so sorry. Regular straight n’ narrows will work too, but they won’t make you laugh, or taste as sweet. You can also substitute Yukon Gold or another starchy tuber for the purple sweet potato, if you can’t find those. If using regular sweet potatoes, though, keep in mind the flavors will be different, and the texture a little runny.

Ingredients
About 1.5 lbs ‘ugly’ carrots. This was ten for me.
2 large cloves garlic, diced
1 large yellow onion diced
2 stalks celery, diced, plus leaves
1 large purple sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 TBSP grass fed, or best butter you can get
1 TBSP coconut oil
1 – 2 tsp ground turmeric (or more, if you are like me and staving off the sicks)
1 tsp grated ginger
1 can coconut milk (plus 2 cans water)
Himalayan salt, or sea salt
a few grinds of pepper, or 1 tsp
10 sage leaves, or other herb, roughly chopped
Splash of runny honey, or maple syrup

Method
Warm butter and oil on medium low heat, in a large stock pot.
Add turmeric, and cook with the butter for about a minute.
Add onion, garlic and celery, and cook another two minutes.
Add carrot, and potato, along with salt, pepper and ginger, stir thoroughly, allow all veg to saute 5 minutes on medium, stirring here and there.

Add sage leaves or herbs, splash of sweetness and stir.
Add coconut milk, and water.
Bring mixture to the boil, then cover, reduce heat to low and let simmer at least 30 mins, but preferably an hour.

Blend soup in a blender, or use hand blender. Season again to taste.
Serve with some roasted root vegetables, garlicky greens, and whatever else you like. Enjoy the beauty of Autumn, and the delicious flavor of being different.

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Mindfulness: “When You’re Eating, Eat”

By Catherine Winter

You know someone is worth keeping in your life when they hold a mirror up to your hypocrisy so you can learn from it. Recently, a friend (whom I shall refer to as “Sensei” henceforth) said to me: “If you want to encourage others to consider food as sacred and be mindful of what they’re eating, you should probably start by doing so yourself.” This was in reference to me cramming a sandwich into my mouth one-handed while typing feverishly on my laptop, paying absolutely no attention to what I was eating because, well, I was working. I had more important things to do, right?

As long as I didn’t get mustard onto my keys, I really didn’t care what lunch consisted of. In that moment, I could have been eating rat sphincters doused in Tabasco sauce and it wouldn’t have registered as weird: I was eating to end hunger, not to nourish myself. How many of us do this on a regular basis? Staring at our phones while shovelling some type of food product in our faces, or mindlessly moving hand to mouth as we gawp at the latest Netflix release?

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Mindful, not Mind-Full

I asked Sensei what it is I should be doing to be more mindful while dining, and he just shook his head. “When you’re eating, eat.” That’s it. That when food is being eaten, that is literally the only thing that’s happening in my world; the only thing I’m honouring with my attention. No phone or iPad within reach, no TV or radio on in the background. Preferably not even speaking to others for a few minutes: just. eating.

He suggested that each bite be approached with reverence, with full appreciation of where the food came from, and the effort that went into preparing it. As I eat, attention should be paid to subtle flavours, textures, how each bite makes me feel, what subtle differences exist depending on which morsels came together in that particular forkful. Make each dish as appetizing for all the senses as possible, and then honour it by giving it my full, undivided attention. Chew thoroughly instead of gulping, and imagine the nutrients then flowing through my body, nourishing every cell.

That’s a beautiful way to approach nourishment, isn’t it?

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Mindfulness Begins During Preparation

I’m taking steps to ensure that mindfulness doesn’t just begin when I sit down to eat a meal, but when I begin to prepare it. Since I often gather bits from my garden to incorporate into dishes, I try to step barefoot out into the yard so I can connect properly with the earth beneath my feet.
When I harvest vegetables or snip herbs for seasoning, I take a moment to give thanks to the plant: I attune myself to its energy, and appreciate its growth, and how its form will help to nourish my own body.

As I prepare the ingredients—chopping, grating, slicing, sautéeing—I don’t have music on, nor any shows blaring in the background. I feel the vibration in my knife as it thunks through a carrot or onion, or the “shusshhh” sound that happens when I slice through a head of lettuce. I can tell that my onions are caramelising properly based on the deep, gold-brown scent they release, and I know when to turn the heat down beneath my soup pot when I hear the liquid dance into a rolling boil.

I wipe down the table, set it with beautiful dish ware, maybe some flowers or herbs in a vase. Whether I’m eating alone or with others, I try to set the stage as for a special event, albeit a small, gentle one. The food is plated or ladled with care, and garnished in appreciation. After all, these beautiful ingredients deserve to be showcased.

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Some people have a “no phones at the table” rule, others discuss the food with other diners so everyone has a chance to express what they’re tasting, what they appreciate about the meal, etc. Do you try to cultivate mindfulness with regard to the food you eat? What techniques do you use?

Let us know!

 

 

Cherishing Food as Sacred

By Catherine Winter

How diligent are you about not letting any food go to waste? Do you find yourself throwing out wilted greens or furry fruit on a regular basis? Or letting leftovers go bad at the back of the fridge because you didn’t want to eat the same thing two days in a row? If you have, you’re not alone. Most of us have allowed this to happen on more than one occasion, and although we might have felt a pang of guilt, we may not have felt the solid gut-kick of irresponsibility and remorse that we should have felt at the time.

Why is that? Well, it’s likely because the average person is so far removed from the process of growing food from seed to harvest that they really aren’t capable of appreciating just how much work goes into growing everything they buy. They don’t consider how soil (black gold, really) is made from organic matter breaking down, and how the nutrients in that soil are sucked up by little seeds to grow into edible plants.
They don’t think about the diligence needed to keep little seedlings alive with regular waterings, or how vital pollinators like bees and butterflies are in order for these plants to develop and go to seed.

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Growing one’s own food cultivates an appreciation that just buying pre-packaged items at the grocery store doesn’t provide. It can’t. There’s too much of a disconnect between the plastic-wrapped, pre-made items bought at the supermarket and the plant or animal from which it originated. It’s not until a person has taken part in the process of coaxing life from a seed and nurturing it to maturity, or drawn an egg out from beneath a clucking hen, that they can really comprehend how sacred food really is, and how devastating it is to let any of it go to waste, ever.

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, author and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer touches upon the “Honourable Harvest”: the idea of only taking what is given (and not more than what is needed), to use it well, to be grateful for the gift, and to reciprocate it in kind. When we pick wild berries, we only take our share, and leave the rest for our forest cousins. Similarly, when we purchase food from the grocery store, we should ensure that we’re not depleting the shelves for our own selfish whims, but leave enough for others. When we harvest items from our garden, we need to make sure that we let a portion go to seed: both so we can re-sow the following year, and to allow wild creatures to take their fair share as well, in exchange for having helped to pollinate and fertilise our gardens.

Children Gardening

There is an overwhelming sense of gratitude that occurs when one takes an active role in cultivating and raising food, and the awareness that food is a gift, and not to be taken for granted. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to get children involved in food gardening from a very young age: if reverence is nurtured from day one, they’re far less likely to be wasteful and irresponsible about food later in life. Hell, they might even become avid gardeners themselves, but we can only hope and pray that’ll happen.

It’s time that we re-learn what it is to treat our food as sacred, and revere it as such; to take a moment before eating to acknowledge all the work that was poured into growing every morsel on our plates, and have sincere appreciation for the sun, soil, rain, and toil required to feed us. It is with these small gestures that we can start to move beyond our consumerist leanings and connect more deeply with the world around us, and the life-sustaining gifts that we receive from it.

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Early Spring Dandelions? Use Them for Salad

By Angelina Williamson

A lot of people associate salad eating with summer. There’s no denying that summer yields fantastic salads, but I’m a big fan of winter and early spring salads too. Here’s one that I made using three things from my (zone 9b) winter garden: mache, flat leaf Italian parsley, and dandelion greens.

I don’t buy many out-of-season vegetables but one exception I make is for hothouse cucumbers. I happened to have one so I included it. Before I tell you how I put this salad together I’d like to list some other great ingredients you might have on hand that make fantastic cold weather salads.

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Great Winter/Early Spring Salad Ingredients

Beans are a fantastic substantial ingredient to include in salads that will help give you the energy and protein you need to get through cold dark days that may or may not include activities such as shoveling snow. My favorite bean to use in salads are navy and cannellini beans which taste essentially the same but cannellinis are larger. Other great beans to include in salads are chick peas (garbanzos), black beans, and kidney beans. But don’t be limited by this list. If you grew your own dried beans, cook them up and try them out in a salad.

When summer vegetables and fruits are out of season there are a lot of other fantastic vegetables and fruits to add to your salads such as roasted: beets, cauliflower, carrots, winter squash (cut in cubes first), celery root, potato, brussels sprouts, and broccoli. Crisp apples, European and Asian pears, grapefruits, and oranges (mandarin or blood oranges are extra wonderful), all work well together.

Some other great ingredients are nuts and seeds (walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, and pepitas), marinated or pickled summer vegetables, dried fruits (cranberries, sour cherries, and tomatoes), and baked tofu.

In my growing zone, late fall to early spring is the best time for growing any greens, especially tender greens. If your winters are too harsh for lettuces, try growing in a cold frame or indoors. But even if the more tender greens don’t happen in your zone until summer, experiment with the heartier greens as your salad base.

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White Bean, Sun Dried Tomato, Kalamata, and Dandelion Salad

  • 3 cups navy beans, cooked
  • 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, sliced
  • 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/4 cup dandelion greens, julienned
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
  • 2 tsbp of your favorite vinaigrette

Mix all of the above ingredients together in a bowl and let it sit in the fridge (or covered on your counter) for about a half an hour. You can eat this just as it is or you can add this to a bed of greens (dress the greens with additional vinaigrette) and top it off with feta cheese as I’ve done in the picture above. I happened to have a hothouse cucumber in need of being used up so I decorated the edge of my salad with them.

Dandelion leaves are packed with potassium, vitamins A, C, and B6, as well as iron and magnesium, making them powerhouses of nutrition after winter’s scarcity. Just please remember that if you’re living in a colder zone, dandelion flowers are the first real food of the year for many bees and pollinating species, while the leaves nourish wild rabbits and other mammal friends. If you gather wild dandelions for food, please do so sparingly in order to ensure that others have food too.

Victory is Sustainable: Local, Seasonal Food is the Way to Grow

By Catherine Winter

The first thing I saw when I woke this morning was an article about food security that a dear friend of mine had sent me. Although the piece was about food shortages in Great Britain, the subject matter is something that all of us can relate to, regardless of our location. Most of the food sold in grocery stores across the UK is shipped in from mainland Europe: all those tomatoes, eggplants, zucchinis, and peppers that British people like to eat year-round have to be imported from Mediterranean countries, but inclement weather has destroyed countless crops there, leaving British supermarkets with empty shelves.

This is obviously not just a problem that people in the UK are contending with. Here in rural Quebec, I’ve often seen single heads of broccoli or cauliflower priced at $8 apiece in January or February, and I won’t even tell you how much I’ve paid for lemons or avocados. South America provides most of our produce during our winter months, and when crop failures occur there, prices quadruple here.

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For several years now, we have all been urged to eat more locally and seasonally, but that really isn’t just a serving suggestion anymore, if you’ll pardon that (horrible) pun. With climate shifts happening around the world, we really cannot rely on produce grown in distant lands to fill our plates: all it takes is a sudden freak hailstorm or heat wave to obliterate an entire crop, and we’re left hungry. The paltry bits of produce that do make it onto shelves are hideously overpriced, and are also rationed so people can’t hoard them.

Thanks to global trade, we have all become very spoiled when it comes to our eating habits. Most of us here in the northern hemisphere have the luxury of being able to enjoy the same iceberg lettuce salads in January that we eat in July, and markets are generally packed with strawberries for Valentine’s day in the dead of February. This is a far cry from what our ancestors were used to eating during the colder months: sure, many of them canned and pickled summer fruits and vegetables to enjoy as occasional indulgences over the winter, but as far as fresh vegetables went, they’d have eaten mostly root vegetables and hardy greens like cabbage and kale, in hearty, warming fare such as soups, stews, and porridges.

Some people aren’t even aware of what seasonal eating really means, or they have misconceptions that the only good, real foods are available in summer and autumn—that in wintertime, they’d be relegated to tree bark and waxy rutabagas (and they have no idea wtf to do with rutabagas). They may not realise that hardy greens like brassicas and lettuces can be grown right through the winter in most growing zones, that plenty of food can be grown indoors, and that many types of thick-skinned produce (like squash, pumpkin, apples, etc.) can stay fresh right through the winter months if stored properly, such as in sand or straw. A wonderful bowl of curried, roasted squash soup with goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds is a perfect example of seasonal winter cuisine, and it doesn’t sound all that terrible, does it?

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To many people, however, root vegetables and such might not sound like the most appetizing fare, considering how most of us are accustomed to the luxury of imported fruits and veg. We may crave cherries and watermelon in January, but eating seasonal, local fare is a much more sustainable practice in the long run. Continued erratic weather patterns can disrupt food security everywhere, and if we really want to ensure that we don’t go hungry, then we have to take matters into our own hands. This means cultivating our own food wherever and whenever possible, and buying local produce that’s in season.

The solution may sound a bit extreme and paranoid, but if we take a look at how prevalent crop failure has been worldwide over the last few years, it’s really not all that extreme at all, is it?

urbanfarmDuring the second World War, many of our grandparents, or even great-grandparents at this point, cultivated what were then known as “Victory Gardens“. Since the food that was grown on most farms went to feeding servicemen involved in the war effort, food shortages became the norm across North America and Great Britain. As such, just about every family with a patch of yard space tried to grow as much food as possible. Front and back yards were transformed into vegetable gardens, and local sports fields and golf courses were turned into allotment gardens for people who didn’t have yards in which to grow their own food.

You may be aware of the  “Food, Not Lawns” movement that’s been gaining traction over the last couple of decades, and its base concept has never been more powerful than right now. Lawns are pretty much useless leftovers from a time when people grew grass in order to show that they were wealthy enough that they didn’t need a garden in which to grow their own food, but people all over the world are discarding that ridiculous idea and realising just how wonderful it is to take an active role in their own food security. Some people are even looking back at how wartime gardens were designed in order to inform their own gardening plans.

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The chart above uses a 25 x 50 foot plot example to plan out a family’s food cultivation, but a hell of a lot can be grown in even a fraction of that space. Square foot gardening, vertical trellises, permaculture techniques such as keyhole gardens or spirals… there are countless techniques that can be used to maximise space and grow as much as possible in whatever space is available.

Food can be grown anywhere. If you have a sunny window, a balcony, an urban patio or a suburban backyard, you can grow at least some of your own food. You can revel in sweet green peas in spring and summer, tomatoes and potatoes in autumn, kale and beets in wintertime. Whatever isn’t eaten immediately can be preserved to be eaten over the winter: you can pickle your carrots and cucumbers, transform cabbage into sauerkraut, make strawberries into jam, freeze green beans.

It’s about time that we stop relying on far-away countries to provide our food for us, and take our nourishment into our own hands: it doesn’t require much space, and the future of food security pretty much depends on us doing so.

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