Easy Way to Prepare Fava Beans

Get ready to remove pods!

Get ready to remove fava beans from the pods!

Starting in mid-April, I eagerly await the arrival of my beloved fava bean.  They have a silky texture and an incomparable flavor, reminiscent of fresh peas, but more complex and intriguing.

Young, tender beans.

Young, tender beans.

In the Mediterranean, people have eaten fava beans for millennia.  Until the mid-1900s, contadini in Umbria ate favas with pecorino cheese for their mid-morning meal.  Fava beans aren’t common here, but they are well worth searching for.  Look for them at farmers’ markets or gourmet stores.

Can't find fava beans? Grow your own.

Can’t find fava beans? Grow your own.

Older, giant fava beans.

Older, giant fava beans.

Fava beans grow nestled in bulky, velvety-lined pods, so it takes a lot of beans—and a bit of time—to get enough for a dish.  Five pounds of pods, for example, yield two to three cups of shelled beans, about enough for one recipe. Fava beans are best when young—plump and tender with soft, green pods.  Older pods tend to be faded, spotted, and rigid, but they are still edible.

Take one fava bean...

Take one fava bean…

Open the pot and scoop out the beans.

Open the pod and scoop out the beans.

How to Prepare Fava Beans

Early in the season, when fava beans are tender, you can remove the beans from their pods and cook them without shelling them.  Still, I prefer to shell them even when young because they are more delicate, not at all bitter, and a nice bright green color. To shell fava beans, invite a couple of friends over, open a bottle of wine, sit on the porch with a couple of big bowls. Now, get to work!

Boil the beans. Drain into a colander.

Boil the beans. Drain into a colander.

Tear the pods open; scoop out the beans. Discard the pods.  Drop the beans into boiling water; reduce the heat.  Simmer until tender, 3 to 6 minutes.  Drain the beans. Plunge them into ice water; drain.  To remove the green shell, hold a bean between a thumb and finger.  Squeeze it to force out the inner bean.  Discard the skins.  The beans are now ready to use in any recipe. Refrigerate up to 1 or 2 days.

Plunge the beans into ice water. Drain again.

Plunge the beans into ice water. Drain again.



Squeeze bean to remove inner bean.

Squeeze bean to remove inner bean.







Discard the skin.

Discard the skin.

An empty bottle of wine--and a bowl full of beans!

An empty bottle of wine–and a bowl full of beans!

Fava Bean Purée

In Umbria, dry fava beans are used to make a puréed soup or a spread for crostini.  During their fleeting season—late April through June—I use fresh beans instead. To make an exquisite spread, shell the beans and mash them with an immersion blender or food processor until they are creamy, but still lumpy (add a few drops of water, if needed).  Season to taste with extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper.  To serve, toast 1/4-inch thick slices of sweet baguette. Rub the hot toast lightly with a raw garlic clove. Serve with a glass of chilled Umbrian grechetto or pinot grigio.  Cin cin!

Source: The Dog Who Ate The Truffle: A Memoir of Stories and Recipes.

©Suzanne Carreiro







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Best Ever Sushi–Da Cone Kine

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Note: I did a cooking demo of this recipe at the Portuguese Festival in San Jose last Saturday.  To see photos of the day, click here.  To visit the festival’s website, click here.

I am half Portuguese–my father is one hundred percent Portuguese.  I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but my paternal grandmother was born in Madiera, Portugal.  My father and grandfather were born in Honolulu.  If you had known me when I was young, you would have thought I was Hawaiian.  My first words were Hawaiian…Pau (finished, to mean I was done eating).  Opu nui (big stomach, to say I’d eaten a lot).  At family gatherings and celebrations, we wore leis and muumuus, danced the hula, and sang Hawaiian songs. My grandmother entertained us by speaking pidgin English. Everyone was proud of being attached to Hawaii.

I had no idea that I was Portuguese until I was in the fifth grade, when a teacher recognized the origin of my name. Unlike my father, and his parents, I am very proud of my Portuguese heritage as well as my Hawaiian roots.  The other half?  Heinz 57.  All of the heritage lost except for the habit of drinking black tea in the afternoon.

You’re wondering about the title, Best Ever Sushi?  Hawaii is a mix of cultures and cuisines. With a Japanese cook at home, my father grew up eating white rice every day—so that’s what my mom cooked for us.  Growing up, I heard my father talk longingly about “the cone kind”—his favorite childhood snack. Vendors would sell what the Hawaiians call da cone kine outside of the Hawaiian schools. Not until I visited Hawaii for the first time when I was nineteen did I get to taste it.  In the 1970s, a Japanese friend taught me how to make it.  The real name is inarizushi.  It’s made from seasoned sushi rice stuffed into fried tofu that’s been simmered in sake, soy sauce, and sugar.  You can find inarizushi at supermarket sushi bars–at my store it is called S-sushi.  It really doesn’t compare to homemade.

Here’s the inarizushi recipe I made at Dia de Portugal in San Jose. The theme of the festival this year was the Portuguese who came from Hawaii.  So the recipe made sense to me–it was my Portuguese father’s favorite dish from Hawaii.  I omitted the traditional dried shitake mushrooms and added finely diced linguiça, my favorite Portuguese sausage.  What a great combo.

Print Inarizushi Recipe

Inarizushi with Linquiça–Da Cone Kine

Yield: 40 inarizushi (quantity may vary based on the size of the tofu “cone”)

Sushi Rice:

3 cups Japanese sushi rice

1-1/4 cups Japanese rice vinegar

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1.    Wash the rice several times.  Cover the rice with fresh water; soak about 1/2 hour.  Drain and rinse the rice a couple times. Add cold water until it reaches 1 inch above the level of the rice—the authentic way is to measure up to the first joint on your index finger.  (At this point, use a rice cooker or follow the rice cooking instructions in step #2.)

2.    Bring the water to a boil.  Cover and cook the rice over medium-high heat until the water is boiled away, 8 to 12 minutes—but CHECK THE WATER LEVEL A COUPLE TIMES to prevent burning the rice, removing the lid and replacing it quickly. Reduce the heat to low; steam 15 minutes without removing the lid.  Remove from the heat; let stand 10 minutes.  Fluff with a fork (if using a rice cooker, when the rice is ready, fluff it with a fork).

3.    Meanwhile, prepare the awase-zu (seasoned vinegar).  Combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small bowl; stir until dissolved.  Turn the hot rice out into a large bowl (preferably wooden).  Pour about half of the seasoned vinegar over the warm rice; let stand a few minutes.  To mix, cut into the rice with a wooden spoon (instead of stirring, which mashes the rice).  Add more of the seasoned vinegar to taste (you might not need all of it); stir gently.  If you have a helper, have them use a fan to help cool the rice and make it glisten.  Taste the rice—it should be well seasoned and not too wet.  Cover the rice with a cloth.

Tofu (Age), Carrot, and Linguiça Preparation:

20 whole Japanese age (see Note, below)

Boiling water (a teakettle full)

1-1/2 cups cold water

3/4 cup sake

2/3 cup sugar

6 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce

1 link fully cooked linguiça (about 7 ounces)

3 medium carrots, peeled

4.    Cut the age into halves crosswise to form pouches.  (Note, if using canned age, they are already cut).  Put the age into a large, heatproof bowl; cover with the boiling water.  Drain; rinse under cold water.  Drain again.  When cool enough to handle, squeeze one piece of age at a time to remove excess water.

5.    Put the 1-1/2 cups cold water into a large saucepan; add the sake, sugar, and soy sauce. Stir to dissolve sugar; bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the age.  Simmer 20 minutes—do not let the age fall apart. (If using canned age, simmer 15 minutes).  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the age to a colander to cool. RESERVE THE COOKING LIQUID in the saucepan.

6.    Meanwhile, cut the linguiça in half crosswise and then slice in half lengthwise.  Brown the linguiça on both sides in a small skillet.  Add the linguiça and carrots to the saucepan with the reserved cooking liquid (add water, if needed to cover halfway).  Simmer until the carrots are just barely tender, 4 to 6 minutes (do not cook too long or grating will be impossible).  Drain; transfer the carrots and linguiça to a cutting board.  When cool enough to handle, grate the carrots and finely dice the linguiça.  Add to the rice; again, cut into the rice with the edge of a wooden spoon, without mashing the rice, until the carrots and linguiça are well distributed.

7.    Have handy a shallow bowl of water and a clean damp kitchen towel.  Open one age pouch at a time; hold it in one hand and dip the other hand into the bowl of water.  (Alternatively, use disposable gloves—the rice doesn’t stick to them.) With the wet hand (not dripping), carefully stuff the age with rice. The age should appear wrinkled when filled—if not, it is too full.  Wipe hands as needed on the damp towel.  Arrange the inarizushi with the rice side on a platter.  Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving time.

Make-ahead Notes: The sushi is best eaten soon after making it, but it can be made a day ahead.  To store, cover the platter of sushi tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate (cooked rice is perishable).  Bring out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before serving.

Serving suggestions: Inarizushi is great picnic food or a snack.  It is also a good starter before a Japanese meal or as part of a sushi course with a variety of sushi.

Note: Age are fried tofu that are hollow in the middle. (They may not look hollow until after cooking them in step #5—if they have excess spongy matter in the middle, gently remove it.)  Look for them in the refrigerator section of Japanese markets, either bulk or in packages.  They are also sold in cans but fresh are preferable.  Fresh age freeze well.

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Easy Tuscan Tomato and Bread Soup

Ciao a tutti,

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I am finally back in the kitchen, walking pretty well, after a fall that broke both ankles in early September.  Now that I’m better I hope to stay in touch weekly.

I thought you might enjoy the soup I made for lunch today—Pappa al pomodoro.  This Tuscan tomato and bread soup is very tasty and easy-to-make.  And it’s practically a pantry dish.  In the winter, I use canned tomatoes, but when tomatoes are in season, I replace them with fresh, peeled and seeded San Marzano or Roma tomatoes. When I have more time, I sometimes add a small carrot (peeled and diced), a stalk of celery (diced), and a handful of diced onion.  I sauté the vegetables with the garlic, adding a few tablespoons of water and cooking until the vegetables are very tender, about half an hour.

By the way, in a couple of months, my ankles/feet will be back to normal, so I hope to add cooking classes to my schedule.  Please check my Classes and Book Signings page every now and then.

Cin cin, Suzanne

Pappa al pomodoro–Tuscan Tomato and Bread Soup


Yield:  3 or 4 servings (about 5 cups)

4 to 5 ounces (about 1/3 loaf) stale Italian bread (see Note, below)

1 can (14 ounces) whole tomatoes with juice

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish

3 or 4 large garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup packed parsley, chopped or 12 fresh basil leaves, torn

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

5 to 6 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade

Freshly grated black pepper

Finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Cut the bread into 3/4 inch thick slices.  Tear into 3/4-inch cubes; set aside (or toast if not stale, see Note, below).  Remove the tomatoes from the juice; reserve the juice and chop the tomatoes.  Heat the oil over medium in a large pot; add the garlic.  Cook until tender but not brown, about 1 minute.  Add the parsley, salt, and red pepper; cook 30 seconds.  Stir in the tomatoes and tomato juice.  Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Use an immersion blender to puree some of the tomatoes, leaving some chunks.  (Alternatively, smash the tomatoes with a fork.)  Stir in 5 cups of the broth; bring to a boil over high heat.  Simmer gently over low heat for about 10 minutes.  Stir in the bread; simmer until the bread is soft, about 3 minutes.  Add the remaining broth (and/or water, as needed) if too thick; heat.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  At the table, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with the cheese.

Note: Ciabatta, Pugliese, or Italian batard are ideal breads for this recipe.  If you cannot find Italian bread, non-sourdough French bread will work. If using fresh bread, you’ll need to dry it out. Preheat the oven to 300oF.  Arrange the torn bread cubes on a large baking sheet; bake until slightly dry, tossing a couple of times, 12 to 15 minutes.  Let cool.

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Best-ever Turkey Tetrazzini Recipe

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When I was a kid, my Mom made Turkey Tetrazzini to use up the Thanksgiving turkey.  The San Francisco classic casserole, named after the Italian born opera star Luisa Tetrazzini, was one of my favorite dishes.  As a child, I loved anything made with pasta and easy-to-chew meat.  Instead, I grew up on a diet of roast beef, roast lamb, and flank steak.  By the time I had chewed and swallowed my small serving of meat, both of my parents and my two brothers would have already left the table.  When Mom served the rare casserole, I managed to finish dinner with everyone else.

I still love to make Turkey Tetrazzini during the holidays.  A couple of years ago, I was scheduled to do cooking demos on the day after Thanksgiving at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena.  I updated my mother’s recipe for the demo.  Everyone loved it.  Let me know if you enjoy it.  Buon appetito!

Mom’s Two-Cheese Turkey Tetrazzini


Yield: 6 to 8 servings

1 quart whole milk

1 pound dried spaghetti

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 ounces diced pancetta or bacon

2 cups sliced mushrooms

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 large garlic clove, minced


1/2 cup shelled peas (optional)

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 tablespoons dry sherry

1 pound cooked, diced turkey

4 ounces shredded Emmenthaler or Swiss cheese

2 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


1.   Preheat the oven to 400oF.  Heat the milk (do not boil); keep warm.  Cook the spaghetti in a large pot until al dente, following package instructions.  Drain the spaghetti into a colander.  Rinse under cold water; set aside.  Note: you’ll use the pot in the next step.

2.   In the same pot, heat the oil with the pancetta over medium heat; add the mushrooms, onion, garlic, and 1/8 teaspoon salt.  Sauté until the mushrooms are lightly browned.  If desired, drain off all except about 1 tablespoon of the fat.  If using, add the peas; transfer the mixture to a bowl.

3.   In the same pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat; stir in the flour, pepper, and nutmeg.  Cook and stir until smooth and bubbly, about 1 minute (do not brown).  Remove the pot from the stove; cool several minutes.  Gradually whisk in the warm milk and sherry.  Simmer, stirring, over medium-low heat, until flavorful and thickened, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

4.   Add the cooked spaghetti, mushroom mixture, turkey, and half of the cheeses to the pot; mix well with a wooden spoon.  Adjust the salt to taste.  Spread the mixture into an 8×12-inch baking dish; top with the remaining cheeses. Bake until hot and golden on top, 20 to 30 minutes.

Note:  For a richer dish, substitute one cup of cream or half-and-half (light cream) for one of the cups of whole milk.

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Photos from Umbria–dining in DC

I have promised more photos from my book.  Here are ten shots from the slide show I use at book signings.  More to come.

I recently had an interview with Charlie Dyer on KNEWs conversations, FM94.3, in Palm Springs, California. We discussed my life in the town of Umbertide and my book, The Dog Who Ate the Truffle: A Memoir of Stories and Recipes from Umbria.  To hear the interview, click here.

On Tuesday, November 9, 2010, from 5:30 to 8:30 PM, I will be one of the 90 authors invited to sign books at the National Press Club Book Fair.  If you’re in the area, please stop by.

On Wednesday, November 10, 2010, at 7 PM, I will do a talk with slides from Umbria at the Arlington, VA library.

The weather here in Washington, DC is wonderful, sunny but cool.  Last night my son Jacob, his fiancé Emma, and I had dinner at Masa 14, a lively restaurant in the heart of downtown DC.  The menus offer an eclectic array of fusion (Asian/Latin) dishes.  Think small plates–order two dishes per person and share.  The plates are small, if you’re really hungry, add a couple extra dishes.  Everything was meticulously prepared and beautifully presented.  I especially loved the fried calamari and fried okra (which I usually don’t like).  The salmon with spinach and bacon was delicious, but so were all of the other dishes we ate–crab and cream cheese won ton, flatbread with mushrooms, five-spice riblets, and wok-fried cauliflower.  It was Sunday night, and the place was mobbed.  Loud, but you could still talk (in a loud voice).

Off to a museum.  A presto, Suzanne

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Panzanella–A Delicious Bread Salad

Umbertide (Umbria, Italy)

Giaccomo’s Panzanella

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In my last post, I talked about eating panzanella as part of an antipasto platter at L’Osteria in Aboca (Tuscany).  The photo of the antipasto plate, with a mound of this bread salad, comes from our lunch at the Osteria, but the recipe comes from an Umbrian friend named Giaccomo.  My neighbor Mario introduced me to Giaccomo, a young chemist with a passion for cooking traditional recipes.

Bread salad might sound strange, but I love the vinaigrette dressed bread dotted with crisp vegetables. Giaccomo uses whatever is on hand—lettuce, carrots, onions, celery, cucumbers, red or yellow bell peppers. When tomatoes are in season, I add super-sweet cherry tomatoes, cut into halves or quarters.

For the best texture, thinly slice the lettuce, and cut the vegetables into 3/16 to 1/4-inch cubes—the smaller the better.  Steer away from sourdough bread—its flavor is too strong.

One November evening, Giaccomo and a group of Mario’s friends came to my place for dinner.  Giaccomo had agreed to teach me a few of his favorite dishes—panzanella was one of them.  As usual, the young crowd arrived late so we didn’t start cooking until 8:30—dinner was ready at 10:30.  But what a great time we had—we ate and sipped wine and laughed until 2:30 in the morning!


Yield:  About 8 cups

3 tablespoons cider vinegar (or more)

1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon other brands or types of salt)

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (or more)

1/4 small red onion, finely chopped

12 ounces stale Italian bread, such as ciabatta or Pugliese (about 3 days old—but not hard)

3 cups thinly sliced Romaine lettuce

1 medium carrot, cut into 3/16 to 1/4-inch cubes

1 medium celery stalk, cut into 3/16 to 1/4-inch pieces

1/4 cup chiffonade (thinly sliced) of basil

Mix together the 3 tablespoons of vinegar with the salt and pepper in a small bowl; whisk in the 1/3 cup of oil.  Add the onion; marinate it in the dressing for about 10 minutes.  Cut the bread crosswise into 1-inch thick slices.  Put the bread into a large bowl; cover with cold water until very soft, about 4 minutes (leave hard crust in longer, as needed).  Immediately drain the bread into a colander.  Use the back of a wooden spoon to force out the excess water.  Squeeze a small handful of bread at a time to remove as much water as possible (it should be moist but not wet).  Tear each handful of bread into small pieces; put the bread bits into a large bowl.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the onion to the bowl of bread (set aside the dressing).  Add the lettuce, carrot, celery, and basil; toss.  Add dressing to taste; toss to coat all ingredients—it needs lots of dressing (without swimming in it) to make it delicious.  Adjust the oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste.

Book News: I just found out that my book, The Dog Who Ate the Truffle: A Memoir of Stories and Recipes from Umbria, was number 6 on the best seller list in Marin County the week of August 29.

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A Great Place to Eat in Tuscany

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Next Events: November 9, 2010–National Press Club Book Fair, Washington, DC. November 10, 2010 Arlington, VA Library.

Lunch at L’Osteria in Aboca

Last July, Bill and I had the most delicious lunch with my “adopted” Umbrian son Mario at L’Osteria in Aboca, just a few minutes from his office at Aboca (Italy’s leading producer of herbal supplements).

Lunch at L’ Osteria in Aboca was one of the best meals we had during our month-long stay in Umbria.  The restaurant is in the hills above Sansepolcro in Tuscany—a bit out of the way—but worth the drive.  I suggest making a day of it.  Visit Aboca Museum in Sansepolcro—and then wander around the town, either before or after your meal.

The day we went, all of Europe was experiencing a heat wave.  But since Aboca is in the hills, we were comfortable sitting outside on the terrace across the street from the restaurant.  The service was very friendly and the menu enticing.  The homemade ravioli were exquisite.

We started with fritto misto.  The dish was perfect—the lightly battered zucchini blossoms, porcini mushrooms, and thinly sliced zucchini arrived hot and crispy with just the right amount of salt.  Next we ate an abundant platter of antipasto misto dell’osteria. Panzanella (my next post will include a recipe for this bread salad). Melon and prosciutto.  Slivered, pickled zucchini.  Burrata with basil.  Dried sausage.  Salami.  Pecorino cheese with currant jam.  Four kinds of crostini—sliced bread: (1) topped with Gorgonzola dolce and thinly sliced pancetta, (2) spread with bulk sausage, topped with a slice of brie, toasted until cooked, (3) covered with traditional liver pâté, (4) topped with warm tomato sauce. The two antipasti plates would have been enough lunch for two, but heck, we were in Italy, and we wanted to eat a multi-course Italian meal.

Bill and I each ordered ravioli for our first course (Mario skipped il primo piatto).  The ravioli were house-made and as good as any I’ve had.  Mine were filled with potato and creamy crescenza cheese and garnished with butter and spinach.  Bill’s were filled with ricotta and spinach, served with a rich meat sauce.  Wow.

Bill and I shared grilled veal on a bed of arugula—perfectly cooked but a little chewy.  Mario ordered grilled pork with balsamic vinegar.  Both secondi piatti were tasty, but the pork was my favorite.  We shared an insalata mista.

We were too full for dolce, but I bet whatever they offered would have been delicious.

L’Osteria in Aboca

Fraz Aboca, 11

52037 . Sansepolcro (AR)

Tuscany, Italy

Telephone: (from USA, add 011 39) 0575 749 125

Closed Monday

Aboca Museum

Palazzo Bourbon del Monte V

Via Niccolò Aggiunti 75

52037 Sansepolcro (AR) Italy

Telephone:  (from USA, add 011 39) 0575 733589

Next post:  Giaccomo’s recipe for Panzanella.

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Quick Pasta with Ham and Lemon

St. Helena, CA

Book signing: Readers’ Books in Sonoma, September 23, 2010, at 7:30 PM.  Details on Classes page.

My last post was about making minestrone.  After I published it, my friend Delio, a chef from Liguria in Italy, mentioned to me that in Liguria they say that minestrone should be so thick with vegetables that you can stand a spoon in it.  I forgot to tell you to add whatever vegetables you have on hand or your favorites.  I like to add peas, potatoes, and cauliflower.

Quick and Easy—Pasta with Ham and Lemon-Cream

Pasta con prosciutto cotto e panna

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This recipe comes from Anna, one of the grandmothers I met while I lived in Umbria.  For years she cooked Umbria’s traditional dishes for her large family—fresh tagliatelle with goose sauce, rabbit in salmì, cappelletti in broth.  Now that she is a widow living alone, she enjoys cooking simple dishes like this recipe for Pasta with Ham and Lemon-Cream.  It is really wonderful with fresh tagliatelle (fettuccine), but dried pasta is also good.  Buon appetito.  Suzanne


Yield: 4 main-dish servings (6 to 8 first-course servings)

2 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

6 ounces ham, diced (about 1-1/8 cups)

1 pound dried pasta, such as gemelli, penne, fettuccine

1 cup heavy cream plus more if desired

12 large basil leaves, torn into thirds

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese plus extra to pass

Juice of 1 lemon


Freshly ground pepper

Getting started: Bring about 3 quarts of cold water to a boil in a large pot to cook the pasta; add about 1 tablespoon salt to the boiling water.

1.     Heat a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  Swirl the butter around the saucepan until it melts.  Sauté the onion in the butter, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 6 to 8 minutes.  Add the ham; cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.

2.     Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package instructions (but check for doneness early), stirring occasionally, until al dente.  Shortly before draining the pasta, reserve about 1 cup of the cooking liquid.  Drain the pasta; return it to the pot.  Set aside.

3.     Add the cream, basil, and lemon zest to the saucepan with the ham and onions.  Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Pour the sauce into the pot of pasta; toss to coat the pasta.  Sprinkle with the cheese and toss again.   Add the reserved cooking liquid by the tablespoon as needed to make it saucy.  Season to taste with the lemon juice, salt, and pepper.  Pass extra cheese at the table.

Substitution: Use chopped Italian parsley instead of basil.

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“Wheelchair” Minestrone–A Simple Late-Summer Soup

Suzanne with casts on.

St. Helena, CA

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Next book signing: Sonoma, CA. Thursday at 7:30 pm, September 23, 2010. Book signing at Readers’ Books, 130 East Napa Street.

Last weekend, right in the middle of a busy book signing schedule for The Dog Who Ate the Truffle, life dumped a bunch of “lemons” in my lap.  While I was heading to the BBQ to grill a chicken, I turned to look behind me for a split second and stepped off the deck, first twisting my right ankle (crack, was that a bone?) and then landing on and twisting my left foot.  I fell with a big bang (and a shrill scream) on the concrete patio.  I haven’t been able to stand since—and I don’t know when I’ll walk again.  My right leg (two broken bones) is in a plaster cast and my left leg (torn ligaments) is in a removable cast.  I am left in a wheelchair for now.

Before I fell, I had planned to cook minestrone using veggies from my neighbor Kim’s garden.  Minestrone is such a simple soup that I figured I could make it from a wheelchair.  Yesterday, I learned that it is possible, but I wouldn’t recommend it to a nubbie like me. 

You can see in the photo of the soup that my chopping was not ideal—my usually perfect 1/4-inch dice was irregular.  I haphazardly cut some of the carrot into large chunks and some into tiny bits (I used a boning knife because I couldn’t reach the chef’s knife).  The soup usually comes together really quickly but yesterday I was still chopping vegetables more than an hour after I started.

I chopped at the dining table, but had to head back to the kitchen sink to wash hands and veggies.  And I could barely reach the faucet!  To see inside the pot, I had to lift it off the stove and set it on a makeshift table on my lap.  Bill added the broth because I couldn’t reach high enough to pour it in myself.  Kim measured and served the soup.  Bill cleaned up the huge mess I made.  The simple soup turned into an event, but it made a lot and it tasted even better today.

The secret to making good minestrone is using tons of fresh garden vegetables.  Potatoes are a good addition.  Cut them into 1/2-inch cubes and add them with the chard; cook until tender. For instructions on grating tomatoes, see page 34 in my book, The Dog Who Ate the Truffle; and for a delicious recipe for broth—brodo di carne—, refer to pages 118 – 120.

When I was in Umbria in June, I bought fresh borlotti (cranberry beans) in their deep reddish-pink speckled pods.  They cook more quickly than dried beans, but the flavor is very similar.  One 15-ounce can of beans—pinto or cannelloni—is a good substitute for the dried beans.  Drain the beans before adding them to the soup.

“Wheelchair” Minestrone


Yield: About 10 cups

1 cup dried cranberry or pinto beans, sorted and rinsed

3 medium stalks celery, diced

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

1/2 large onion, diced

2 slices pancetta, diced

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus more for garnish

2 large garlic cloves, sliced

3 medium zucchini, diced

2 large Roma tomatoes, seeded and grated

8 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade

12 ounces green beans, sliced into 1/2-inch lengths

1 medium-small bunch chard, chopped

1/2 cup tiny soup pasta, such as De Cecco semi di melone, or 1/4-inch long macaroni

Pesto sauce, preferably homemade, or minced fresh basil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

  1. To quick soak the dried beans, cover them with several inches of cold water; bring to a boil.  Simmer 4 minutes; cover and let stand off the heat for 1 hour.  Drain; add fresh water and simmer until tender, 45 to 60 minutes (taste-test several beans for doneness).  Drain and set aside.
  2. Sauté the celery, carrot, onion, and pancetta in the oil in a large pot over medium heat, stirring often.  Add the garlic; sauté about 1 minute.  Add the zucchini; sauté 3 minutes.  Add the tomatoes; sauté 3 minutes.  Stir in the broth; bring to a boil.  Add the green beans and reserved cranberry beans; simmer about 20 minutes.  Stir in the chard; cook until tender, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the pasta; cook until just tender (refer to package for cooking time).  If the pasta absorbs too much of the broth, add more broth or water, but not too much—this is a vegetable-dense soup.
  4. Stir in the pesto or basil, a tablespoon at a time, to taste.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over each serving.  Pass the cheese at the table.

Notes: Because pasta absorbs broth as it sits, before serving leftover soup, you may need to add more broth or water.  Or instead of cooking the pasta in the soup, boil it separately; drain and rinse it well under cold water.  Add a few tablespoons pasta to each serving of soup.

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Help Me Get Views on New Umbria Video!

If you’ve been reading my posts since late June, you know I just returned from Umbria.  On this trip, I got together with a talented cinematographer, Valerio Rosi, who I met a few years ago.  He is one of the owners of DigitalTop in Umbertide.  Together we produced this trailer for my newly released book, The Dog Who Ate the Truffle (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press).  Well, really, I’d rather have you watch it than tell you any more about it.  If you enjoy it, please pass it along to your friends.

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