Making Minestrone with Nonni Laura (Video)

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Lunch at Nonni Laura’s

I’m a life long Italo-phile so it’s a real bonus that my hubby happens to have an Italian Nonni who’s still cooking up a storm at 93. Nonni Laura and I have always connected around our interest in food and cooking, she often calls to share recipes and always comes to every family event with jars of sugo (or polpette, or minestone or risotto or sherry wine cake….) for all of us, as well as platters piled with cookies.

On a recent afternoon, my husband spent the afternoon making minestrone soup with her and they were nice enough to capture it all on video, so not only do you get to meet the one and only Nonni Laura, but now you too can make minestrone like a true Italian grandma.

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Soup for Supper: Weeknight Seafood Chowder

Our recipe for “Quick dinner: Fantastic seafood chowder” (San Jose Mercury News)

This seafood chowder is really pretty quick to make and definitely feels like a little bit of luxury for weeknight dinner. Love that you can use any mix of seafood that you choose (fish, shrimp, clams whatever!). In thinking about this recipe our main goal was to avoid the clump factor that you can sometimes get with some of the traditional chowder recipes that call for a flour-based roux mixture to thicken them. So, this recipe leaves out the roux altogether and results in a chowder that lands on the more brothy side of things (which I personally don’t mind). It’s brothy but it does feel substantial if you keep the pieces fish and potatoes chunky and you’re generous with the amount of seafood that you add. But if you happen to be a chowder fan (like my dad for one) who prefers a texture with a bit more body, you can try this quick trick:  just mash some of the potatoes into the soup once they’re tender.

I absolutely love this with a hunk of good, sourdough bread and a tossed salad — glass of white wine or a beer wouldn’t hurt either 😉 ! Click here for our recipe in the San Jose Mercury News’ “Fast & Furious Weeknight Cooking” column.

A Taste of Tuscany: Farro Soup from Lucca

Lucchese style Farro Soup - A Little Yumminess

I was excited to run across this Mark Bitman rendition of the famous farro and bean soup typical to the town of Lucca in Tuscany. My husband’s Italian side of the family happens to be from Lucca which is a beautiful medieval city with picturesque towers and equally picturesque narrow cobblestone streets. The Roman walls surrounding the city are still completely in tact and in fact, you can walk (or ride your bike) on top of the walls for a great view of the city and the surrounding landscape. It’s the kind of place that makes me wish even more than I already do, that I was even the teensiest bit Italian. Continue reading

Food for Happy Wanderers: Acini di Pepe in Brodo in Point Reyes

Acini di Pepe in Brodo - Stellina Osteria_A Little Yumminess

Luca and I did not spend the Lunar year school holiday feasting on dim sum and exploring the amazing collection of cultural treasures at the Asian Art museum as we had planned. In fact there was not even a chopstick in sight. We woke up and the lure of grassy slopes and ocean breezes was just too strong so our year of the snake celebration found us instead driving north across the Golden Gate Bridge to Point Reyes where we hiked, explored a Miwok village and ate a super delish lunch at Osteria Stellina.

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Family Dinner, Chinese American-Style (& Dad’s Wintermelon Soup)

Wintermelon Soup_China_A Little Yumminess

Family Dinner Chinese American Style | A Little YumminessGrandma and Gung Gung

Gung Gungs Chow Mein

I recently got one of my favorite phone calls. One in which my mom says “your dad feels like cooking Chinese food for dinner, can you come by?”. You never know when one of these calls is going to come but, trust me, we’re always prepared to snap into action when it does.

Once the plans are set, I know my dad will be out for a few hours shopping here and there, seeing what looks good — maybe some fresh noodles, a bit of roast duck, some long beans or a piece of tofu. We usually turn up when everything is beautifully prepped, items are perfectly diced, chopped, mixed and marinated in little bowls lined up in a neat little row on the counter top. As a kid I remember always being especially impressed with his little bowls of scallions — some sliced across; others cut into long, thin shreds, maybe some green parts roughly chopped — each shape for a specific dish. Even though he would never use the term, I have come to appreciate that my dad is a real master of the mise en place. So organized, so neat, the way I wish I had the discipline to cook.

Our latest family dinner started as they often do with some family potsticker making. My parents always wait to fold their dumplings until the last possible moment, and are happy to recruit any willing hands to help. My boys jumped right in and even my adorable little neice got into the action. “Folded first potsticker, age 1“, now that’s something to put in the memory books! (If you want to try making potstickers with your kids try our easy peasy dumpling recipe).

This meal begin with one of our family faves, a simple wintermelon soup. I love this soup for it’s minimalism, and the melting quality of the simmered wintermelon which becomes clear as it simmers in the broth. It’s a wonderful soup for little ones because the flavor is comforting and mild and the texture is soft and easy to eat.

The hardest part of making it might be tracking down the wintermelon itself. Look for it in Asian markets where you can find it whole or in wrapped pieces. It looks like a watermelon, but with white flesh, and duller green rind with a chalky residue.

Here's what a wintermelon looks like.

Here’s what a wintermelon looks like.

My Dad’s Wintermelon Soup

Sometimes my dad keeps it simple with just broth and wintermelon and other times he adds a little diced ham or a few shreds of roast chicken. He always garnishes it with a sprinkle of thinly slices scallion.

  • Prepare your wintermelon by removing the rind and scooping out seeds (like you would with a cantaloupe) and then dice what’s left into 1/2″ pieces.
  • Simmer the diced wintermelon gently in chicken or vegetable stock for at least 30-45 minutes (longer is OK) so that it gets very soft. It’s important for this recipe that the stock is flavorful and delicious on it’s own so in this case, homemade stock is definitely preferred.
  • A few minutes before serving, stir in  extras (diced ham, shredded chicken, peas, whatever) to warm them through. Taste and correct the seasoning as necessary. Garnish the hot soup with thinly sliced scallions.

Beef Barley Soup and Other Food for Firefighters

Did you ever wonder what a firefighter eats for dinner? These are the kind of pithy questions that come up when you hang out with a preschooler. Luckily I can tell you the answer!

Firehouse Food” is a collection of recipes from our very own San Francisco Fire Department and it happens to be one of our favorite cookbooks for easy, down home cookin’-type recipes: we’re talking chicken adobo, duck won ton soup, tamales, chile verde pork and Thai green curry. My dear friend and cook extraordinaire The Hungry Dog swears by this cookbook as does my brother (who, even with his PhD in chemistry, always did want to be a fireman). Between us we’ve probably tried every single recipe in this book and have only successes to report.

This hearty, beef barley soup is a favorite among favorites — the perfect dinner for a chilly evening, a warming lunch after brisk morning of mud puddle jumping, or fuel to fill the tank after fighting that four alarm fire. All three of my guys (hubby, preschooler, bambino) generally go along good naturedly with my cooking experiments, but you’ll find this is on the shortlist of recipes they request most often and butter me up to make. I imagine as my sons turn into ravenous teenagers with equally hungry friends who show up at my doorstep around dinner time that this one will come in quite handy. But for now I’ll just take the extra bonus points I get for making “real firefighter food”.

Instead of giving you the recipe here, I’m gonna point you in the direction of The Hungry Dog’s wonderful blog. You’ll find the recipe along with some beef-barley flavored reminiscences (which happen to include the movie Ice Castles!!). The only change to the original recipe I tend to make is stirring in roughly chopped greens (we like spinach or chard) a few minutes before serving. Grab a hunk of sourdough bread and toss a quick salad and I guarantee you’ll want to give yourself a hug for making this.

Warm Yourself Up on a Chilly December Day: Chickpea and Rosemary Soup

Growing up, my family fell into an informal tradition of soup night once a week. There would be a big pot of my dad’s soup going on the stove and a spread of bread, cheese and cold cuts and usually a crisp green salad of some sort. I looked forward to these meals in my parent’s cozy kitchen almost more than any other. My dad is quite a good soup maker, he never uses a recipe and is able to coax out an impossible amount of flavor from the ingredients at hand. Watching him at the soup pot brings Mr. Miyagi to mind, so I guess that makes me the karate kid?

This soup is just about the perfect thing you can eat with a nice piece of crusty bread on a chilly December day (hey it actually dipped below 50 degrees here this week!). It’s savory with tomatoes and garlic, herb-y from the rosemary and has just a touch of chickpea sweetness. My little ones don’t favor terribly chunky soups, so these days I puree about third of the soup then return it to the pot, and might even mash some of the remaining whole chickpeas in their bowls. Give it a try, it’s one of our all time favorites.

Chickpea and Rosemary Soup

(adapted from the recipe in Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”)

  • 4 large garlic cloves, chopped finely
  • leaves from two sprigs of rosemary, chopped finely
  • 1 – 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 – 15 ounce cans chickpeas
  • 1 quart chicken broth (you can use vegetable broth if you want to keep it vegetarian)
  • Salt to taste
  • small piece of Parmegiano Reggiano rind (optional)
  1. Saute garlic and rosemary, and a big pinch of salt. Cook until the garlic is softened and golden.
  2. Add the tomatoes (breaking them up a bit more with the back of a spoon). Stir well and simmer on low for 15-20 minutes
  3. Add the chickpeas, stir well and simmer 10 minutes
  4. Add broth and simmer for at least 15 minutes. For extra flavor, throw in a small piece of parmegiano reggiano rind.
  5. Remove the cheese rind and discard. Ladle about a third of the soup into a blender or food processor. (Beware of pureeing hot food because it can spray out, so let it cool before proceeding). Puree and return it to the pot, stirring well.
  6. Adjust the seasoning and enjoy with a piece of crusty french bread.

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