Tuscan Farro and Bean Soup Italy

It's not really soup season here but I'm so freakin' tired of summer I had to do it! I'm hoping for cooler weather soon.

Also I sort of had all the ingredients on hand and by sort of I mean I used canned tomatoes. I also wanted to start digging into my stash of RG beans. I used borlotti beans.

I love the soup! It's pretty hearty so a green salad and some bread are all that's needed to round out the meal. If you use vegetable broth instead of water you could serve it whole instead of pureed and it would be excellent. I used an immersion blender for that step.

It's an all day soup. 8 hours to soak the beans and up to 3 1/2 hours cooking time. I'm not sure why the recipe on Epicurious said 50 minutes. It also makes the house smell really really good.


Tuscan Farro and Bean Soup

Gourmet August 2006
Adapted from Beth Elon, author of A Culinary Traveler in Tuscany

Servings: Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1 cup dried borlotti or cranberry beans
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 celery rib, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
10 cups water
1 large tomato (1/2 lb), coarsely chopped
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
10 fresh sage leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup whole-grain farro
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Pick over and rinse beans. Soak in cold water to cover by 2 inches at least 8 hours and up to 12 hours. Alternatively, quick-soak beans. Drain well.

Heat oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion, carrots, celery, and garlic, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in water, drained beans, tomato, parsley, sage, and thyme and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook at a bare simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary to keep beans covered, until beans are tender, 2 to 3 hours.

Discard thyme sprigs, then blend mixture in batches in a blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids), transferring to a large bowl. Return soup to pot and bring to a boil. Add farro and salt, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until farro is tender (it will be chewy like barley), about 30 minutes. Stir in pepper and serve drizzled with additional oil.

Cooks' Notes:
• To quick-soak, put beans in a 4- to 5-quart pot and cover with cold water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, uncovered, then boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 1 hour before draining.
• Soup can be made 5 days ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Thin with water when reheating.

Numbing and Hot Chicken-China Hunan

Yep another Hunanese dish from the Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook!

Don't let the name fool you. This is a hot and numbing dish for wimps. Even Dunlop admits the amount of spice is not alarming.

I really liked the flavors but I was expecting more of a party in my mouth. If I make it again I will increase the amount of pepper.

The changes I made to the recipe are minor. I used boneless skinless chicken breasts. I did not deep fry the chicken, I stir fried.

If you can't find potato flour you can use 1 1/2 tsp of cornstarch for every teaspoon of potato flour.


Numbing-and-Hot Chicken

12 oz boneless chicken thighs

1 small red bell pepper

1 fresh red chili or 1 tsp dried chili flakes

3 scallions

1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 1/4 cups peanut oil(I only used about 3 tbs total)

For the marinade

1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine

1 tablespoon regular soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon potato flour mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water

For the sauce

1 tablespoon regular soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon potato flour

3 tablespoons water

Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and combine with the marinade ingredients. Let sit while you combine the other ingredients. Cut bell pepper and scallions into bite sized pieces.
Crush peppercorns in a mortar and pestle(or you can use the back of a spoon in a bowl. Add to chopped or dried chile flakes, bell pepper and scallions.
Combine sauce ingredients.

Heat oil in a wok over med-high heat.

Deep fry chicken until golden brown. Remove from wok and drain all but 2 tbs oil(I stir fried and used less).

Add pepper mixture and stir fry briefly until fragrant. Add chicken and stir to combine. Add sauce and increase heat to reduce a bit. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame oil.

Chairman Mao's Red Braised Pork-China Hunan

I watch a lot of cooking shows and read all the cooking magazines and have noticed chefs and foodies drooling over pork belly.

I've had bacon, which comes from pork belly, but never the cut of meat itself. So I bought a pound ($2.00!) and found this recipe in The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook.

This was Mao Zedongs favorite pork dish and in Hunan it is believed to increase the intellect and make ladies more beautiful. Ummm OK.

I had most of the ingredients on hand. I didn't have star anise so I skipped it since I'm not an anise fan. I also used jarred chopped ginger. I had bought Shaoxing wine on my last trip to the Asian grocery store. I found it in the wine section and it was only $4.00. The book describes it as a cooking and drinking wine but I took a sip and blechhh. I'll stick to cooking with shaoxing wine that's for sure!

The bottle I got looks like this:


The result: As much as I dislike anise I think the recipe really needs it. It was not spicy at all with the dried chiles. I also like pork belly. As fatty as it is it's something I wouldn't eat often though. There are some interesting variations on this recipe in the book that I'll definitely try.


Chairman Mao's Red Braised Pork
Mao shi hong shao rou

1 lb pork belly
2 tbs peanut oil
2 tbs white sugar
1 tbs Shaoxing wine
3/4 inch piece ginger smashed with skin on
1 star anise
2 dried red chiles
small piece of cassia bark or cinnamon stick
Light soy sauce, salt and sugar
scallion greens

Plunge pork belly in boiling water for 3-4 minutes to partially cook.

When pork belly is cool enough to touch cut it into bite sized pieces

Heat the oil and sugar over med heat until sugar melts. Raise heat and stir until sugar turns a caramel brown color.

Add pork and wine and stir.

Add ginger, anise, cinnamon, chiles and enough water to cover pork and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 40-50 minutes.

Towards the end of the cooking time, increase the heat to reduce the sauce. Add the soy sauce, sugar and salt to taste. Serve sprinkled with scallion greens over rice.

General Tso's Chicken-Zuo Zong Tang Ji-Taiwanese Version

I just picked up the Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuschia Dunlop. I've been reading a lot of books about China, bith fiction and non fiction and I'm watching the Beijing Olympics where I can. So it seemed fitting I learn to make some authentic Chinese food, although, Beijing is not in Hunan.

Dunlop says, "as Tuscany is to Italy, so Hunan is to China, with it's tradition of hearty peasant cooking, it's warmth and hospitality,and the vibrancy of it's people and landscapes. With an endorsement like that who can resist?

The book itself is very interesting. One of the first things I did was cruise the recipes to see if I really need to make a trip to the Asian market. Seems I will. I also needed to make salted chiles, which is basically salted chopped chiles that sit on a sealed jar for a couple of weeks. So I got those started.

Meanwhile, I wanted to make something that I already had all the ingredients for.
I've ordered General Tso's Chicken in Chinese restaurants but this version doesn't have the sweetness of the American version. I actually like it better. Dunlop actually listed this as a Taiwanese version. Yeah Taiwan isn't in Hunan but according to the book it's considered a Hunanese dish but was created by a Hunan chef who had fled to Taiwan after the Chinese civil war.

Anyway the dish is very simple and very easy. I bought bone in skin on chicken thighs but ended up discarding the skin because it was just easier to cut up the chicken pieces without it. Boning chicken thighs is kind of a pain in the butt too. I also didn't really deep fry. I put a half inch of oil in he bottom of my wok and stir fried in batches. It worked out well.

I did find potato flour at the regular grocery store in the health food section. Bobs Red Mill makes it. But it is much much cheaper at the Asian market. I found dark soy sauce at Safeway. Pearl River Bridge brand.


General Tso's Chicken

4 boned chicken thighs with skin
6-10 dried red chiles
2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
2 tsp sesame oil
Peanut oil for deep frying

For the marinade
2 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 egg yolk
2 tbs potato flour
2 tsp peanut oil

For the sauce

1 tbs double concentrate tomato paste mixed with 1 tbs water
1/2 tsp potato flour
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tbs rice vinegar
3 tbs chicken stock or water(I used water)
scallions for garnish

Slice chicken thighs in half skin side down. Make a few shallow slices in meat to help flavors penetrate, then cut each thigh into bite sized pieces.

Mix soy sauces with the egg yolk and combine with the chicken, mixing well. add the potato flour and the oil and mix. Set aside.

Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

With scissors, snip the peppers to 1/4 inch pieces, discarding seeds.

Heat enough oil for deep frying to 350 to 400 degrees. Fry chicken till crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Heat about 3 tbs oil in wok and add chiles, frying briefly until they change color and are fragrant. Add ginger and garlic and stir fry a moment more. Add sauce and stir as it thickens. add the chicken and stir to coat pieces in sauce. Remove from heat, stir in some sesame oil I(I didn't do this) and sprinkle with scallion greens

Asian Pork and Mushroom Burgers

I'm starting to get my cooking mojo back now that summer has almost come to an end.

It's still pretty hot out so I'd rather grill than heat up my oven. And my house. but I'll be getting back to the international recipes soon.

I loved these burgers but instead of serving them wrap style I served them on a bed of romaine lettuce and veggies and ate it with a fork. It made convenient leftovers too.


Asian Pork and Mushroom Burger Wraps

Bon Appetit July 2008

2 tablespoons canola oil or peanut oil
2 tablespoons minced lemongrass (from bottom 3 inches of about 4 stalks)
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps chopped
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, divided
1 3/4 pounds ground pork shoulder (Boston butt)
2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
3 teaspoons Asian sesame oil, divided
3/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 cup hoisin sauce*
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)*
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 heads of Bibb lettuce, cored, leaves separated
1 cup matchstick-size strips red bell pepper
1 cup matchstick-size strips peeled carrot
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add lemongrass and garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add mushrooms. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt; sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat; cool in skillet.

Place pork in large bowl. Mix in 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, cracked pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, then fold in mushroom mixture. Using 2 generous tablespoonfuls for each, shape into 18 patties, each about 2 1/4 inches in diameter; arrange on plastic-lined baking sheet.

Whisk hoisin sauce, ginger, vinegar, chili sauce, and remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 2 teaspoons sesame oil in small bowl for sauce. DO AHEAD: Burgers and sauce can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover separately; chill.

Spray grill rack with nonstick spray. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat ). Grill burgers until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Arrange burgers on platter; set out sauce. Place lettuce, bell pepper, carrot, and cilantro in separate bowls. Serve, allowing guests to wrap burgers in lettuce and add sauce and vegetables as desired