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 pints of white mushrooms and two pints of exotics: Chanterelle, Royal Trumpet, Baby Bella, Crimini, enoki etc
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
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
At the young age of 18 my grandmother left home. She was unable to cook despite living in an Italian household. She realized that she didn’t have her mother to make her delicious Italian meals so she decided to teach herself how to cook. Now 60 years later she is one of the best cooks I know. She learned all of the basics of Northern Italian cooking form by Marcella Hazan and Giuliano Bugiali as well as her mother. One of her signature dishes is risotto and whenever I eat this classic Italian rice dish it reminds me of her and what real Italian cuisine is. This authentic risotto recipe comes from Marcella Hazan. Risotto is an Italian rice dish where liquid is slowly added to the rice allowing it to release starch to create a creamy consistency. Risotto is the epitome of Italian comfort food; it has that decadent stick to your ribs flavor and consistency. It’s also one of those “kitchen sink” recipes , because you can put anything in it. I’ve made mushroom, sausage, and seafood risotto, but my favorite is this beef risotto. This risotto gets its flavor from pancetta (italian bacon), rosemary, sage, and good italian red wine.
People often think of risotto as something that is very difficult and only available at high end restaurants. It’s interesting how in it’s transition from Italy to America, risotto went from a homey comfort food to a glamorous dish served for $30 a plate. The truth is that risotto is very easy to make, it just requires good ingredients and a lot of babysitting of the dish. The risotto basics you need to know to make a good risotto are that it starts with caramelized onions and garlic then the rice is coated in oil and small amounts of liquid are added at a time while constantly stirring the rice. The constant stirring and slowly adding in liquid are where most people take mistakes, because they aren’t being patient. Risotto is a dish where lots of love needs to be added. Making risotto is definitely an arm workout, but the reward of a good risotto is well worth the 30 minutes of constantly watching over the risotto.
A risotto dinner is always something to look forward too, but I’ve found the next day is even more exciting. I always save about ⅓ to ¼ of the risotto and stick it in the fridge overnight. The next day for dinner, I like to make arancini. Arancini are fried balls of risotto with a gooey cheese center. Arancini have a crispy outside with a creamy risotto filling and gooey cheese at the center, what could be better?
7 cups water mixed with 2 tbsp “Better than Beef Bouillon”