31 March, 2010

Cocoa Orange Granola Bars

Portable snacks are very important in my life. I often find myself in situations where I get hungry very suddenly, but I am far away from home to fix something filling, tasty and healthy. Quite some time ago I have stopped buying foods to go. The stuff on offer just doesn't look appealing to me anymore. The only way out is some snack to take from home, something that can stay in my car and doesn't go rotten in a day or two.
I find granola bars do the trick perfectly. The whole grains and nuts are filling, the sugar of the dried fruit makes me happy and get the blood sugar levels up, and the cocoa and orange peel gives some exquisite flavor.  As it happened today, these little squares got me through yet another automobile showroom incl. test drive, as my much beloved Jeep Cherokee passed away last week. 


1 1/2 cups regular rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
3/4 cup dried fruit (e.g. apricots, raisins, dates)

1 1/4 cup orange juice 
2 tablespoons honey

Makes ca. 12 squares
Preheat oven to 180C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients apart from orange juice and honey until well combined.
In another bowl, combine orange juice and honey. Stir into the dry ingredients until well mixed and let stand for 10-15 minutes.
Spread the batter evenly onto the baking sheet, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch high. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Alternatively, use a large cookie cutter and press spoonfuls of the batter into it. Bake for 15 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
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29 March, 2010

Spaghetti with Mushrooms and Parsley Lemon Pesto

 Even though parsley  is in season all year round, I declare it to be my personal spring herb. I find its tart flavor very fresh and invigorating, just what you need after a long sleepy winter. In Mark Bittmann's 'How to Cook Everything", I found a recipe of parsley pesto (which I didn't use). However, he suggests the combination of mushrooms with parsley pesto. And that was the birth of this flavorful light dish.
I decided to freshen up the parsley pesto with some lemon. I browned mushrooms in a little olive oil, coated them with the pesto and spread another spoonful over some spaghetti. A lovely vegetarian meal, good for lunch or a quick dinner.
250g spaghetti
250g (2 cups) button mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil

Parsley Lemon Pesto
2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
juice of half a lemon
3/4 cups walnuts (chopped) or pine nuts
1/3 cup  olive oil
salt to taste

Serves 2
For the parsley lemon pesto, combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until it becomes a fine paste. Add more olive oil if it seems to dry or crumbly. Season with salt. 

Cook spaghetti according to instructions. Drain the spaghetti.

In a pan, heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Brown the sliced mushrooms for about 5-7 minutes. They should keep a bit of a bite to it. 

Toss mushrooms and pesto into the spaghetti. Transfer to plates and serve immediately. 

How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food 
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27 March, 2010

Low Fat Orange Molasses Granola

Ever since I  ate my first homemade granola, I haven't had anything else for breakfast. This granola phase must have been going on for at least 3-4 months now, with no end in sight. I just love it. My current one is orange molasses granola. Low in fat as it is made with orange juice instead of oil. The combination of agave and molasses makes it quite a sweet granola, which I love for a change. If you prefer it less sweet, try it with less agave or omit the currants.
My all time favorite nuts in granola are almonds, their crunch is just unbeatable when nicely toasted. The molasses adds dark and tangy flavor to it which goes really well with some plain yogurt and fresh fruit.
At the moment, I can't imagine anything better for breakfast. If you know of something, please let me know. As much as I love to stick with stuff that I really like, I 'd like to try new stuff.


3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup coconut flakes

1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1/4 cup agave syrup
2 tablespoons Blackstrap molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup currants
Preheat oven to 150C.

In a small pan, combine orange juice, orange zest, agave, molasses and vanilla extract. Bring to boil. Take off the heat and let cool a little.

In a big bowl, combine oats, sesame seeds and almonds. Pour the molasses orange mixture over the oat mixture and stir until oat mixture is well coated. Spread the granola evenly on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn over the granola and add the coconut flakes. Bake for another 10-15 minutes. Let cool. Add currants. Keep in airtight container.
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25 March, 2010

Plum Oatmeal Tart

It's not exactly plum season yet, but sometimes I can't resist those fruit in the market....don't know where they grow at this time of the year....don't really care for that moment......I just need to buy them.
So it happened with a bag of plums the other day.
I like to eat fruit straight as they come, but the rest of the family is slightly more picky, or fruit have to come in a package, like a tart.
I got this beautiful tart shell recipe with oatmeal that has never failed me. The tart filling is easy to throw together, and the fruit can actually be anything you like: cranberries, cherries, strawberries.....Uhhhhhhh, as I am writing this out of the hat, I start salivating again. Will definitely try this one with fresh strawberries very soon. They are in season now here in the Middle East!!!
Anyway, it's great with plums. Consider this recipe as basics with space for lots of variations regarding the filling: apart from different fruit I can also see nuts or raisins in there. Time to experiment!!

(Print Recipe)

Tart Shell
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons agave syrup or honey
1/2 cup rolled oats
4 tablespoons cold water

Tart Filling
2 cups plums, depitted and cut into thin wedges
3 eggs
1/2 cup agave syrup
5 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Makes one 9 inch tart
Tart Shell
In a food processor, combine flour and salt. Mix until well combined. Cut the butter into small pieces and add together with the agave/honey to the flour mixture. Mix until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the cold water little by little, and blend. The dough should just hold together and not get too wet. Take the dough out the processor. On a floured surface, knead the oats into the dough. Form a 1-inch high disc, wrap in foil and keep refrigerated for at least 30 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 220C.

With a floured rolling pin on a floured surface, roll out the tart shell dough evenly until it fits a 9 inch tart form. Transfer the dough to pan, pressing the dough gently into the pan and the edges. Fold any overhanging dough back inside the pan to have a stronger shell at the side. Prick bottom and sides of the dough with a fork. Cover the dough with silver foil and put a handful of dried beans on top to avoid the dough coming up while baking. Bake the shell for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and bake for another 5 or until shell is evenly baked and has a golden color. Take out of the oven and set aside.

Tart Filling
Reduce oven heat to 180C.  

In a bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Combine with vanilla, agave and melted butter. Lay out the plum wedges in the tart shell. Carefully, pour the egg mixture over the plums into the tart shell. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the filling has set. Let cool completely in the pan before taking it out.
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22 March, 2010

Curried Carrot Coconut Soup

I love soups. As long as you can puree them, you can make soup out of any vegetables. I usually like my pureed soups with a lot of fancy twists.
However, we got a little bored of the regular carrot soup that we had for years. I noticed it as I hadn't made it for ages. Well, a little twist might rekindle our love to carrot soup, I thought.
Curry and coconut milk are the "secret" ingredients here. I liked the fact, that I could make this soup quite spontaneously (read: without planning it). I had all the ingredients for a regular carrot soup at home, and while cooking it decided to spice it up. That was easily done as curry powder and canned coconut milk are staples in our kitchen.
The soup is quite sweet due to the carrots and the coconut milk. If you like it a little hotter, add some chilli powder.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 thumb size piece fresh ginger, grated
8-10 medium carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon curry powder
3 cups vegetable broth
1 13oz can unsweetened coconut milk (low fat is fine), plus more for garnish
chilli powder (optional)
1 tablespoon lime juice (optional)

Creme fraiche and chives for garnish

Serves 2-3

In a deep pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onions and ginger and fry until onions become golden. Stir in curry powder and fry for another 2 minutes. Add carrots and fry for 2-3 minutes. Pour in vegetable broth, bring to boil. Put a lid on and let simmer for about 15 minutes or until carrots are cooked. They should be very soft. Take off the heat and let cool a little.
Puree the soup. Put back in the pot. When reheating, add the coconut milk. Season with lime juice. Garnish the soup with more coconut milk, creme fraiche and fresh chives. Serve immediately.
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19 March, 2010

Spaghetti with Chorizo, Chick Peas and Spinach

Inspired by a few green leafy vegetable recipes that  combine either with chick peas or with Chorizo, I decided to throw everything together and make a quick weekday pasta dish out of it. I remember seeing Nigella Lawson once using Chorizo and scallop for a quick dinner dish on TV, and thought that would be a good start (even without the scallops). After checking her cookbooks, I saw that she liked to combine chickpeas and green leaves in another dish.
The Chorizo provides a lovely meaty flavor, and, as with bacon, you don't really need much of it to get that. No additional oil or fat is need as the Chorizo extracts enough to cook the spinach in. The chick peas are precooked and basically just need to be reheated. All in all another pasta dish in which the pasta takes longer to cook than the sauce. I love that!!

250g Spaghetti

1/4 cup Chorizo, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup cooked chick peas
2 cups of spinach leaves (or chard or bok choy), chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Serves 2-3
Cook spaghetti according to instructions.

Heat a dry pan over medium heat. Add the Chorizo and cook until some fat has been extracted. Add the cumin seeds and cook for another 2-3 minutes. The Chorizo should be somewhat crispy by now. Add the chopped spinach leaves and cook until wilted. Stir in the chick peas and cook for another 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside

Drain the cooked spaghetti and transfer to serving bowl. Stir in the Chorizo chick pea mixture until spaghetti are well coated. Serve immediately.
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16 March, 2010

Orange Cocoa Oatmeal Truffles

I am aware of the fact that I regularly announce new found culinary loves and culinary matches made in heaven here on my blog. To be honest, I don't quite remember which was my last one. Hopefully no-one else keeps track. I am still a teenager when it comes to foods, I can become totally besotted with a certain food, and I swap them for another one from one day to another.
Anyway, there is a new one..... a new love.... a new match made in heaven.... I am totally lost in it...... COCOA AND ORANGE. I don't know how it hit me but I've been combining these two in truffles, cookies and a muffin recipe is already in the final stages of its making.
These Orange Cocoa oatmeal truffles fulfill all my criteria of a really cool, extraordinary, alternative, dessert: it's raw, it's vegan, it's natural and on top of all that I could bath in these little balls. They are amazingly delicious, really something very special.
Any downsides to it? Perhaps not the prettiest little dessert, that's why they need some coating. I took pictures of them without the coating and showed them to my husband cum picture editor cum biggest fan and critic. He said the balls look like dung balls that the dung beetles roll. I spare you a direct link. If you are really curious, google the "dung beetle"...... Anyway, here is a picture of the truffle without coating.
Not as sexy, but if you are going to eat these alone in front of the TV or while reading a book on the sofa or while surfing the net like I do, then they probably don't have to be as presentable. But I assure you, the coating is for cosmetic purposes only. The real taste is inside!

6 tablespoons rolled oats
2 tablespoons grated coconut
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 heaped tablespoon grated orange zest (zest of one medium orange)
5 dried dates, medium size, chopped

2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons agave syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Coating (Optional)
unsweetened cocoa powder
grated coconut

Yields ca. 20

Combine all dry ingredients in a food processor and mix. In another bowl, combine coconut oil, agave and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients in the food processor and blend for about 1 minute. Out of the batter, form balls of the size of a cherry between the palms of your hands. Roll the ball in your preferred coating and place them in mini cupcake liners. Keep in fridge until serving.
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14 March, 2010

Almond Molasses Biscotti

For some time, I have been planning to make biscottis again. And for even longer, this jar of blackstrap molasses has been sitting in my kitchen cupboard. I have seen a few interesting recipes using it. So I bought it once in order to try it out myself one day. I wasn't quite sure what exactly molasses is. As English is not my first language, I only had an idea as the color and texture reminded me of something I knew from my childhood. At teatime at my grandma's place, we often had "Zuckerruebensirup" (that is German and, in fact, the term for molasses) spread on a slice of dark buttered bread. I loved it back then.
The reason why I wanted to make biscottis again was because I read somewhere that the original Italian biscottis are made without butter. I thought that would be worth an experiment.
The Italians were right, it doesn't need any added fat. These biscottis turned out super crunchy. The pre-baked log was very easy to cut into slices. And the molasses, of course, made them utterly delicious. I love the tangy flavor of it, combined with some crunchy almonds. Absolutely delicious with a cup of coffee or just cold milk.


1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1/4 teaspoon ginger, ground
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground

1/2 cup almonds, chopped

1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup agave syrup
2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses

Yields 12-15
Preheat oven to 180C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder and spices. Mix until well blended. Add the chopped almonds.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg, vanilla extract, agave and molasses. Pour the egg mixture onto the flour almond mixture. Stir until all ingredients are incorporated.

Spread some flour on a clean kitchen surface and knead the dough for a couple of minutes. Form a flat long log, about 1 inch high and 5 inches wide. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until center feels firm to touch.

Let the log cool for about 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Use a serrated knife and cut 1/2 inch slices off the log. Reduce heat of the oven to 150C. Spread out the biscotti slices on the baking sheet and bake for another 20 minutes. Let cool completely.
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11 March, 2010

Apple Walnut Cake With Dried Fruit

This cake has been inspired by the Apple Pie with Dried Fruit from the Mansurovs. I baked their version when we had guests for a BBQ, and it was a true success. What I love about this cake is that the fruit are really the main ingredient. The flour egg mixture just holds it together.
Two days later I baked it again, trying to make it a little healthier, replacing sugar by adding more dried fruit, by using whole wheat flour only, and by substituting olive oil for butter. It turned out really well. The cake was eaten and finished as fast as the original.

(Print Recipe)

1 1/2 cup dried fruit (I used 1/2 cup golden raisins, cherries and chopped apricots each)

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 eggs
6 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium apples
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

icing sugar (optional)
Serves 8-9
Preheat oven to 175C. Line a spring form with parchment paper or coat with butter/oil.

In a bowl, combine all dried fruits. They should have about the same size. Chop bigger pieces. Pour boiling water over the dried fruit until just covered and let stand for 10 minutes or until fruit are plump. Drain and set aside.

In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Mix well.

Beat the eggs lightly. Add the oil and stir until combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients until just combined.

Quarter the apples. Cut each piece into fine, small slices. Chop the walnuts. Keep 3 tablespoons aside. Stir the apples and remaining walnuts into the batter. Keep 1/4 cup of drained dried fruit aside. Stir in the rest into the apple walnut batter mixture until well combined. Pour the batter into the spring form. Sprinkle the remaining walnuts and dried fruit on top. Bake for 45-55 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before opening the spring form.

Decorate with icing sugar.

Serve warm or cold. I highly recommend it warm with vanilla ice cream.
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09 March, 2010

Creamy Potato Soup with Bacon and Rosemary

We had some garlic bread left from a BBQ on the weekend. I didn't want to throw it away. I thought it would go down well with some soup. I didn't make it to the shops either, so a clear-out-the fridge-and-puree-it soup was about to come onto our dinner table.
It happened to be potato soup. I added flavor by throwing in a handful of bacon cubes and some rosemary. That's all it took. Sometimes, the simpler the better, and that definitely applies to this soup. The only "downside" of it is, that the soup actually tastes better the next day......blame the bacon and rosemary.

1 tablespoon butter
2oz (50g) bacon, cubed or chopped
1 onion
3 big russet potatoes 
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 tablespoon rosemary, chopped, divided
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoon sour cream

Serves 3
 In a deep saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the bacon and 2 tablespoons of rosemary and fry for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the chopped onion and fry until golden. Peel the potatoes and chop them into chunks. Add them to the bacon onion mixture in the pan, fry for another minute while stirring constantly. Add the stock, bring to a boil. Cover the saucepan and let simmer for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are cooked. Take off the heat and let cool a little.
Puree the soup in a food processor. Transfer back to the pan, heat up if necessary and stir in 2 tablespoon of sour cream. Transfer to serving bowls. Decorate each bowl with a few drops of sour cream and chopped rosemary.
Serve with fresh bread to dip into.
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06 March, 2010

Cocoa Date Oatmeal Cookies


I bake quite a few cookies on a regular basis. While doing so I try and replace ingredients and make the somewhat healthier. However, I still try not to eat too many of them. I guess it is part of a little experiment that I do with myself. An experiment that is supposed to find out how sugar cravings come about and with how much or how little to satisfy them on a short term basis, or how long I can hold it out before I collapse and have two bars of chocolate and a box of cookies in one go.

When it comes to sweets, I definitely have a few favorites: dates, chocolate, and oat cookies. They are all combined in these utterly delicious Cocoa Date Oatmeal Cookies. My family did not really get a chance to try them. Apart from one or two I had them all. 
I love the date flavor. It's  got this deep, tangy, dark flavor to it. It almost tastes a little burned, if you know what I mean. So if you can get your hands on date syrup, go for it. Otherwise honey will be fine too, as there is still plenty of chopped dates in them that makes them as tasty.   

Now to the health side of these cookies: dates provide natural sweetness and are packed with fiber. They contain considerable amounts of iron and potassium. Unsweetened cocoa is known to lower cholesterol and is packed with antioxidants. Cocoa also serves as a great anti-depressant (we knew that somehow, didn't we?). Oats are packed with fiber too. They lower cholesterol, are rich in antioxidants and stabilizes blood sugar.

After all, no reason to feel bad, but I still do, having eaten all these cookies by myself......


1/3 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup regular rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-3 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 egg
3 tablespoons butter (softened)
1/2 cup date syrup (or regular honey)
1/2 teaspoon  vanilla extract

1/2 cup dried dates, chopped

Yields ca. 20 cookies
Preheat oven to 180C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine flour, oats baking soda, salt and cocoa powder. Stir until well mixed. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat the egg lightly. Add butter, vanilla extract and honey/date syrup. Stir until well combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir in the chopped dates.

Drop heaped teaspoons of the batter onto the baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
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03 March, 2010

Bulgur with Grilled Vegetables & Halloumi, Almonds and Cilantro Pesto

Isn't it the purpose of marketing to highlight the uniqueness of the product? Any marketing person will probably shake his head in despair, when they see you try advertise your product by announcing that it can be easily replaced by many other products. Now I will do exactly that with my recipe. 

I used bulgur as a whole grain base, as it can be fixed rather quickly. I am sure the dish will  work well with cous cous, millet, or buckwheat. If you have some more time and patience, brown rice would be brilliant too, it just takes longer to cook.

Instead of cilantro pesto you can use basil pesto or sun-dried tomato pesto, if you want to go with one of the classics. But these days, pesto seems to be made out of almost anything. Your imagination is the limit.....

I used grilled tomatoes and bell peppers. Any other vegetable will be as good: I can imagine grilled zucchini slices, pumpkin, onion. The key is to slice or cube them into a size, so that they are all ready in about the same time as the grains, something about 15-20 minutes.

I used toasted almonds. Any other nut will do here. I'd give it a try with pistachios or some roasted seed mix with pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Only the Halloumi cheese can't really be replaced and I wouldn't recommend it. Halloumi is the only cheese that doesn't melt when heated. It's got a lovely salty and tangy flavor. I love to eat it warm. It makes a perfect complement to grilled vegetables.

You can even extend it by adding some shredded grilled chicken breast if you want a meatier dish. Place the chicken along with the veggies and the Halloumi on the baking sheet for grilling. It won't take much longer to cook than the rest.

This is a delicious lunch or a quick dinner, yet it is filling enough so you won't get a craving for sweets soon after. Bon appetit!

(Print Recipe)

1 cup of coarse bulgur wheat
100g Halloumi cheese
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
2 bell peppers
2 tablespoons cilantro pesto
4 tablespoons almonds
salt and pepper
splash of olive oil

Serves 2

Put the bulgur wheat in a bowl. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over it. Cover with 2 cups of boiling water and let stand for about 20 minutes, or until bulgur is al dente or soft. When bulgur seems done, drain and squeeze remaining water. Set aside.

In the meantime, cut cherry tomatoes in halves and bell pepper into strips. Put them in a bowl, drizzle a splash of olive oil over them and season with salt and pepper. Mix until vegetables are evenly coated with the oil and the seasoning. Cut Halloumi cheese into 1/4 inch slices.
Place vegetables and Halloumi cheese next to each other on a baking sheet and place in the middle rack of the oven. Grill for about 20 minutes, or until Halloumi cheese turns golden brown at the edges. Take out the oven. Set aside.

Roughly chop the almonds. Toast in a dry pan for 5-10 minutes, shaking the pan from time to time to ensure even toasting. Set aside. 

Place cooked bulgur on a serving dish. Stir in the cilantro pesto. Then combine with grilled vegetables and Halloumi. Sprinkle the almonds on top. Serve immediately.
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01 March, 2010

Ribollita-Inspired Bean Stew

Ribollita is a Tuscan peasant soup. It means "reboiled". The original version is vegan. Tuscan peasants used to make a stew-like soup by reboiling minestrone leftovers from the day before.
My soup is not vegan, in fact, I added bacon and cheese. But it is pretty much reboiled.
I had this idea for the soup when my fridge needed some veggie-clean-out. Apart from that, I kept frozen homemade chicken stock in the freezer, normally to be used if someone in our family gets a cold or flu. Chicken soup is often the only thing that goes down well, and it actually helps with the recovery. Blame me on feeding my family the right stuff and making sure that everyone gets enough fresh air and exercise, no-one has had a proper cold or flu this winter. So the chicken stock was just taking up too much space.
Another statement: I don't believe in canned food. Even beans and lentils I rather soak and cook it myself. The canned ones always fall apart as soon as one touches them, let alone use them for cooking. Tomato sauces I make every other day anyway, as my son is going through a pasta-and-tomato-sauce-for-dinner phase....
So here I am, stirring this bean stew together from scratch, using homemade ingredients only. I almost felt like a Tuscan peasant.... And my husband looked like a very happy Tuscan peasant too, when I served it for dinner!


The Beans
1 cup dried white beans

Tomato Base
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

Bean Stew
4 oz (100g) chopped or cubed bacon
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, chopped
300g fresh spinach leaves
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Serves 4
Soak white beans in water overnight, or for at least 4 hours. After soaking, boil them in slightly salted water for about 30 minutes. Make sure not to overcook them. They should remain a bit of a bite.  Set aside.

In a deep pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic  and fry until onion is golden. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Bring to boil. Let simmer for about 20 minutes. Set aside.

In a big soup pan, fry the bacon cubes over medium heat. Once they start releasing the fat, stir in onions, garlic, and carrots. Fry for about 5 minutes or until onion is golden and bacon becomes crisp. Add the tomato mixture and stir while bringing to a boil. Now add chicken stock, beans, spinach and cheese. Season with salt, pepper and herbs. Bring to boil again, then let simmer for about 30 minutes.

Serve with Ciabatta bread.
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