During the coldest time of the year, everyone craves comfort food when the temperatures drop and there in no end in sight. Soups, stews and pasta dishes become the choices to achieve the warmth and satisfaction to weather the cold, which is why they are comfort foods. In Italian cuisine, that normally means a red sauce base and plenty of vegetables with the protein of your choice!
Savory Tortellini Soup
1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 small onion, chopped
6 cups beef broth
1 can (14 ½ oz) stewed tomatoes, chopped
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
12 -15 basil leaves
1 tbsp fresh oregano
9 ounces cheese tortellini (refrigerated, not frozen)
1 small zucchini, sliced
½ cup sweet Italian pepper
2 tbsp fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
grated Parmigiano cheese
In a large saucepan, cook the sausage with the chopped onion onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink and the onion is tender. Drain and add the garlic. Stir and cook for 2 minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes, tomato sauce, carrot, basil and oregano. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Gently stir in the tortellini, zucchini, sweet Italian pepper and parsley. Cover and simmer for an additional 20-25 minutes or until the tortellini are tender. Serve with Parmigiano cheese.
Spezzatino di Vitello over Creamy Polenta
This veal stew makes a wonderful gravy, but unlike many stews, it is not made with a host of vegetables and potatoes. If you would like to add them, make sure to increase the amount of beef stock and white wine to cover all of the ingredients. For each additional half cup of wine, add one cup of beef broth.
2 lbs veal shoulder cut into 1 to 1 ½” pieces
1 celery stalk
1 laurel or bay leaf
2 large onions
2 clove garlic
4 cups dry white wine
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
The veal will marinate over night in this recipe, so begin by adding the veal to a bowl with a celery stalk, half a carrot, half of a diced onion, a laurel or bay leaf, 2 cloves of garlic and 2 glasses of white wine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Remove the veal from the bowl and reserve half cup of the white wine to deglaze the pan later.
Brown the veal pieces on all sides in a heavy saucepan with the remainder of the chopped onions and some olive oil. Remove the veal and deglaze the pan using the reserved white wine. Add the veal back into the saucepan with 2 cups of dry white wine (not from the marinade) and enough beef broth to cover the veal (3-4 cups), plus salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 2 hours. Remove the veal to a serving platter and then thoroughly blend the gravy for two minutes under a medium flame. Pour the gravy over the stew and serve with creamy polenta.
7 ½ cups water
1 ½ tsp table salt
a pinch of baking soda
1 ½ cups coarse-ground cornmeal
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups grated Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for serving
freshly ground black pepper
In a large saucepan, heat the water over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Stir in the salt and baking soda. Add the cornmeal to the pot in a steady stream and stir constantly until all the cornmeal is added. Bring the water back to a boil, still stirring constantly for one minute. Lower the flame to its lowest setting. You don’t want the polenta to “bubble or sputter.”
Cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and whisk to break up any lumps that have formed. Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the pan. Cover the pot and cook on a low flame for another 20 to 25 minutes until the polenta is cooked. It should be tender but not mushy. Add the butter and Parmigiano, stir and add black pepper to taste. Stir again, cover and let it sit for 5 minutes. Serve with the veal stew.
This recipe originated in Genoa and became a classic fisherman’s stew with the Italian American community in San Francisco.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced (about ¼ cup)
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch of dried red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
8 to 10 plum tomatoes, peeled, cored and quartered
1 cup red wine
1 pound mussels, scrubbed
¾ lb flaky white fish, such as cod or flounder
½ lb scallops, tough muscle removed
½ lb squid, cut into ½” pieces
½ lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 lemon, cut into wedges
semolina bread, toasted and rubbed with extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the shallots with a pinch of salt and stir until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and oregano. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and stir until softened and they begin to break down. Crush with a wooden spoon. Add the red wine and adjust the heat to bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce begins to thicken, about 10 – 12 minutes. Add the seafood, cover and cook until the mussels have opened (discard any that don’t open within a reasonable time after the rest have opened), stirring so that the fish breaks up. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide between serving bowls, top with the parsley, drizzle with olive oil and serve with a lemon wedge and a slice of bread.