Ruth’s Mushroom Barley Soup

Ruth is a longtime family friend and contemporary of my mother.  Ruth contends that she can’t cook.  In fact, the things I’ve eaten at her house have always been wonderful.  Her mushroom/barley soup is rich and hearty, almost like a stew.  Ruth will tell you it’s Minna’s recipe (her ancient housekeeper) and perhaps it was at some point but I had Minnas soup and she never used wild mushrooms, which I think are key to the recipe.  Ruth uses dried mushrooms but I like to use fresh ones. I make vats of the soup around Thanksgiving when the grocery stores bring in loads of fresh Chanterelle, Royal Trumpet, Enoki and other mushrooms that are hard to find during the year.  Once cooked I package it up and put it in my freezer to nourish us during the desolate winter months.

  • 3 lb piece of chuck roast, trimmed
  • 1 pound short cut carrot or carrots peeled and trimmed to 2″pieces
  • 2 cups sliced yellow onions
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons of beef base ( I like Better than Bouillon) diluted in 4 cups of water or two beef bouillon cubes or 4 cups beef stock
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • all purpose flour


  1. Wipe chuck roast dry with paper towels and cut into 2” pieces. Season meat with salt and pepper and toss with some flour until all the sides are lightly dusted.
  2. Heat oil in sauté pan or cast iron skillet. When oil is smoking put in as many pieces of meat as you can without crowding the pan. Sautée until meat is brown on all sides. (The meat should not be touching each other in the pan  I generally have to do this in two pans to sautée the meat and I do it at the same time.  If you only have one pan and need to sautée the meat I. Two batches I advise doing a patch, removing the meat from the pan, deglazing the pan with some water or stock, cleaning the pan and doing the whole routine a second time with the rest if the meat.  The reason I’m suggesting this is so that you don’t burn the fond.
  3. Place the meat and deglazed juices in a stock pot and clean the pan.
  4. Sauté the sliced onions and garlic in about a tablespoon of oil until the onions are nice and brown. Throw them in the stock pot as well along with the tomato paste, thyme and bay leaf.
  5. Add about 4 cups of homemade beef broth or more to cover the meat. If you dont have homemade, I like Better Than Boillion but, I dilute it. They call for 1tsp bouillon paste to 1cup of water. I only use 1/2 tsp of paste.
  6. Cover stock pot and simmer for about 2 hours.
  7. Check the meat and if it is tender, add the carrots and the barley and simmer until the carrots are al dente.
  8. Add the mushrooms and cook until the barley and mushrooms are cooked.

Carpaccio of Beef from Lucca


My husband and I love to travel and one of our favorite places is Italy.  One year we had the good fortune to stay with a friend of my mother in law in Volterra, famous for its alabaster.  Ido graciously lent us his home and moved in with his daughter for the week.

Ido’s home was set in the Tuscan hill side amid peach and olive trees, grape vines and an assortment of vegetables.  The house was rustic with terra-cotta colored plaster walls and tile floors.  I distinctly remember chasing spiders out of the shower. All the beds in the house were cast iron with metal springs.  The dining room table was composed of several planks of wood pegged and doweled together and it was surrounded by tippy little chairs with rush seats. However, we rarely ate in the dining room.  There was a little patio on the East side of the house where we took our breakfast and in the evening we went to the patio on the West side of the house and had dinner, watching the sun set and eating Edo’s fresh peaches, soaked in his home made Chianti with a little sugar and lemon juice.

Every day Ido would drop buy bearing a small gift: some potatoes he’d just dug up, those amazing peaches with skin so thin and crisp and flesh so sweet and juicy that it was like biting into a Creme Brûlée with the crack of the sugar and then the unctuous silky cream.  Ido made his own wine, olive oil and peach preserves.  The peach preserves were lovely and had a distinctive flavor I had not tasted before. I sat him down one day and asked him to reveal the secret of the preserves.   “Well”,  he said.  “I macerate the peaches in sugar and lemon juice overnight.  Then I put everything in a big pot and boil it until it thickens.  Unfortunately, I’m usually doing several things at the same time and it usually burns.  But, I just scrape it up and put it in jars”. So, what was the secret of Ido’s peach preserves?  He burnt it and what I was tasting was caramelized sugar.

Ido spoke a bit of French but often mixed it with Italian, creating new words and phrases.  For example, he would often say” Va bien” in response to our query, “ How are you”.  In Italian one would respond “ Va bene ” and in French one would respond “ Ca va bien”, thus Ido created the new phrase “ Va bien” which we still use with great affection when we speak of him and the enchanted week we spent in his home.

The recipe I’m going to give you is not from Ido, but it is from Lucca, not to far from Volterra and certainly in the style of Ido: excellent ingredients prepared simply. Dinner was served in the garden of a farmhouse which was up a winding rode in the hills of Tuscany.  I remember two items from the meal.  One was an appetizer of thinly sliced pieces of Lardo.  The other a lovely carpaccio of beef.  I had never seen carpaccio of beef done with anything other than raw meat so I was happy to see that this was cooked, rare but not mooing.

  • 1 lb Eye of round roasted rare and sliced paper thin
  • One 5 oz bag arugula
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • Hunk of Parmesan Reggiano
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  1. I buy my eye of round at Whole Foods in the deli department. They usually have a nice rare piece and are very happy to slice it. Ask them to slice overlapping pieces onto wax paper and when they have filled up one sheet, put another piece on top and repeat, filling that sheet with overlapping slices. This way, the slices of meat don’t all stick together.
  2. Dress the arugula with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the vinegar and a pinch of sea salt.
  3. Arrange 1/4 of the slices around the edge of the plate, leaving the inside empty.  Place a handful of arugula in the center of the plate.  With a vegetable  peeler, peel large pieces of cheese over the arugula.  Sprinkle the meat with some grindings of pepper and drizzle with the rest of the olive oil.


Veal and Ricotta Meatballs


The first time I had this dish was with my son Daniel.  We were on a week long eating and walking tour of NYC.  Daniel and I had both researched restaurants and pastry shops but one of the best meals we had, which was not on our list,  was at Vinateria in Harlem.  I ordered an amazing whole grilled Branzino and the young daughter of our friends had meatballs on a bed of Polenta.  She gave me a bite and I dreamt about them for the next two days: tender little meatballs the size of a walnut on a creamy, cheesey bed of polenta with a bright tomatoe sauce.  We went back the night before we left and when I returned home I vowed to recreate them as best I could.

So, here is my version and I think it’s pretty close, but it will never replace the meal I had at this neighborhood bistro with my son, my childhood friend, her lovely husband and charming daughter.

Many of these components can be made ahead of time.  The sauce can be made in advance and frozen.  I make a lot of this sauce in August when the tomatoes are at their peak and I can use locally grown Roma tomatoes.  You will not get the same result with supermarket tomatoes.  The meatballs can be mixed and shaped a day ahead of time and then rolled in flour and fried the day you want to serve.  The meatballs can also be mixed, shaped fried and placed in the tomato sauce a day or two ahead.  I think they actually improve with a 24 hour rest in the sauce.  I have also frozen the meatnalls cooked and in sauce.  They defrost quite well. So, here’s what you need:

Make The Tomato Sauce:  (variation from Marcella Hazan)

  • 2.5 pounds of fresh Roma tomatoes
  • 5 Tablespoons of european style or cultured butter.  I like Kerry gold but President, and Organic Valley Cultured butter are also good.  You can use Land O Lakes or a store brand butter but the result will not be as good.
  • 1/2 of a large sweet yellow onion

Wash tomatoes and cut them in half.  Remove skin from onion but leave the onion half whole and still attached to the stem.  Melt the butter in a wide shallow pan, like a sautee pan.  Add the tomatoes and onion and cook, uncovered until the butter floats to the top and the tomatoes are soft and falling apart, about 1 hour.  Remove the onions and peel,the skin off the tomatoes. Pass the tomatoes through a food mill, using the disc with the largest wholes.

Make the Meatballs

  • 2/3 pound Veal, ground 3X
  • 1/3 pound fresh whole milk hand dipped Ricotta cheese ( absolutely not the stuff that comes in a plastic tub. It’s grainy even if you force it through a sieve. If you can’t find hand dipped either make your own or make something else.)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup Freshly grated Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • flour
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • canola oil
    Remove Ricotta from it’s tin and spread it out to be about 2″ thick on a paper towel.  Place another paper towel on top and gently pat it on the ricotta.  When there paper towels become wet, change the paper towels.  This removes some moisture from the cheese. Do this a few more times until you’re not getting a lot of moisture.  You can also place the cheese in a sieve, place it over a bowl and let it sit overnight in your fridge.  Make sure you cover the cheese with Sara wrap so it doesn’t pick up odors from the refrigerator.

For a more delicate meat ball mix together ricotta, egg, veal, parmesan, minced parsley, salt and pepper and mix with your hands until completely homogenized.  For a sturdier meatball you can throw the ingredients in a kitchen aid and let it mix on low for about 5 minutes, with the flat beater.  Test the seasoning by making a tiny patty and frying it in olive oil.  Adjust seasoning as necessary.  You can add up to a teaspoon more salt, and a few more tablespoons of cheese, although be aware that there is Parmesan cheese in the polenta. Take an ice cream scoop that holds approximately 2 tablespoons, scoop out a level scoop, roll it between the palms of your hand until it’s round and put it on a tray.  Do this with the rest of the meat.  Let chill 1 hour.

Roll each meatball in flour and fry in 1.5″  of oil until all the sides are brown.  Don’t crowd the pan.  Do the browning in several batches, changing the oil if it gets too floury or dark.  I like to use 50/50 canola oil and olive oil because canola oil has a higher smoking point and keeps the olive oil from burning.  When the meatballs are done put them in the sauce and let them hang out until you are ready to use them.

Make the Polenta

  • 1 2/3 cups polenta (not instant!)
  • 7 cups water
  • 2 tsp salt

Bring water and salt to a boil.  Slowly pour polenta in with one hand while wisking with the other.  Many suggest making a fist around a handful of the polenta and letting it fall through your fingers.  I find that awkward.  I just put some in a beakered measuring cup and pour slowly.  You should be pouring so slowly you can see individual grains.  Stir for two minutes.  Now, at this point you can stand over the pot and stir for forth minutes or you can follow an alternative technique as follows. Adjust the heat so it is at a simmer and cover the pot.  Cook 10 minutes then uncover the pot and stir for one minute.  Continue this sequence of cooking covered for 10 minutes and stirring for one minute until 40 minutes have elapsed.  It should be a soft creamy mass.  If it’s not, let it cook for a few more minutes covered.  Add two tablespoons of unsalted butter butter and a bit of grated Parmesan cheese to the polenta.  Use immediately.

Some feel that you get the best texture from constant,y stirring but I use the alternative method and am very happy with it.


Place a ladlefull of polenta into a shallow rimmed soup bowl or a flat plate. Add some tomatoe sauce and a few Meatballs.  Garnish with basil.  Once you’ve plated everything pour the rest of the polenta onto clean cutting board and let cool.  The next day you can make polenta fingers by cutting the polenta, rolling them in cornmeal and frying them in 50/50 canola and olive oil.  Sprinkle them with Parmesan cheese.