“There are no new recipes. It’s like painting. You are copying Michelangelo, but you put in a little of yourself too.”
I came across this quote from an article in the October 2014 issue of Sunset magazine, The Blacksmith Cooks, about an engaging metal forger that makes a living creating architectural wrought iron at Renaissance Forge, his workshop in San Francisco. It’s a metal shop cum culinary salon where he plans to soon offer classes on foraging foods in nature and cooking with the seasons... talents he’s honed over the years via the matriarchs in his Italian family and, later, cooking casually for the likes of Alice Waters and Francis Ford Coppola. While the article is entertaining to say the least... I love the sentiment in the statement culled from therein... and the no nonsense, honest approach this cook (and creative) takes, appreciating both the refined and humble ingredients that result in magic.
Cooking, at its best, allows you to pull at will from your pantry and fridge... letting these ingredients dictate dinner; it’s gathering the best the season has to offer and allowing those ingredients to guide you in the kitchen; it’s falling in love with a taste, a flavor, or a preparation while dining out and tweaking those memories into your own creation. Getting to this place sometimes means following recipes for a bit of time... forever... or just intermittently. Eventually, however, you can become adept at combining ingredients and seasonings... recognizing what works for you and how to adjust flavor by what you know and what you taste.
And, great results can (and do) come from very simple efforts and ingredients.
When I started this blog several years ago, it was a vehicle to share recipes with our daughters (and a little creative playground for me)... to help them develop their own interest and confidence in the kitchen. And I believe it’s done exactly that. On her drive home one night last week, our eldest daughter mentioned that she was going to “punt” dinner that night as she simply didn’t have the time or energy for recipe following. She makes a lot of what’s on this blog (and others) but that statement was music to my ears as it’s exactly what she heard in our own kitchen growing up. With busy days and little time, dinner was often a punt (our own definition of not having a particular strategy). Punts were good, flavorful, healthy dinners... often ones without a clear plan formulated until we were well into the mix. The fact that both she and her sister can now assume this stance with ease and comfort, when necessity calls or desire dictates... with delicious results... makes me proud.
I’ve made a few variations of this little minestrone a few times in the last month, a perfect soup for the season that uses much of what most kitchens have at the ready... onion, carrot, celery, kale, broth, canned beans and tomatoes, a little orzo... and turkey bacon for great flavor without all the fat. In 45 minutes you have a rich, hearty minestrone that’s super flavorful and satisfying. It’s a pot that allows you to simmer and taste along the way... perfect for punting or planning.
While I’d never compare what happens in my kitchen to Michaelangelo, I love the sentiment that good cooking comes from far more than the ingredients you are able to gather together as one... however refined or humble they may be. It’s the little bit of yourself that you add along the way and, of course, the love you feel for the people you share it with... famous or not.
Quick and Easy Turkey Bacon, Kale & Orzo Minestrone
Whether you follow this “recipe” step by step or "punt" with this simply as a guide, the only input I’d offer is sauté the turkey bacon, onion, celery, and carrot first... until the onion is translucent and the turkey bacon cooked through and browned. Then add the garlic powder and Italian seasoning and allow them to heat a bit to generate some flavor. Toss in your kale, cooking it down until just slightly wilted... adding salt and pepper to ensure what you have it well seasoned. Then drop in the beans, tomatoes, and broth. Simmer your soup until it just comes to a bit of a low roll... add the orzo and continue cooking for another 10 or 15 minutes... and then you are done. Of course, taste along the way to ensure your stock is exactly where you want it to be. As the soup sets, you may need to add more broth and seasoning. Then file this under easy, quick and satisfying.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ onion, diced (about ¾ cup)
2 stalks celery, diced (about 1 cup)
3 carrots, peeled and diced or thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
5 strips turkey bacon, diced
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 generous teaspoon Italian seasoning
4 leaves green kale, ribs removed and chopped (about 4 cups, loosely packed)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (rinsed and drained)
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth (I used 1 ½ cartons Imagine No-Chicken Broth)
½ cup orzo
Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onion, celery, carrots, and turkey bacon. Sauté until onion is translucent and turkey bacon is cooked through and browned, about 15 minutes. Add garlic powder and Italian seasoning, mix through and continue cooking for another minute. Add chopped kale and continue cooking until kale is just wilted, season with salt and pepper. Then add garbanzo beans, diced tomatoes, and broth. Bring soup to a low rolling simmer over medium heat (about 10 minutes) and then add orzo. Continue cooking on a good simmer until orzo is al dente, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir soup intermittently to keep orzo from sticking to bottom of pot. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.