Sometimes while cooking for TJOTJOC I make a dish that is totally new to me or a dish that I've never attempted myself. I am able to totally judge the TJOC version without comparing it to other versions of the dish I've had.
But other times, I stumble upon dishes that are either a favorite of mine or a favorite of a close family member. Pasta and beans (pasta e fagioli) (p. 329) is one of my mother's and my grandfather's favorite dishes. The only place (and I hate saying this--my Italian half is screaming in horror as I type) that has has a equivalently good pasta e fagioli to my grandmother's version is The Olive Garden (yeah, I said it, and I'm not ashamed). These recipes are more difficult because I am always comparing back to all the versions I had in the past.
The other thing I like about pasta e fagioli? Listening to people who have never had the stew/soup try to say the name. We always pronounce it fah-zool. I know it's an unpronounced "g".
The recipe is amazingly easy. Onion, a carrot, a celery rib with the leaves, and some parsley were sauteed in a little olive oil, with a couple garlic cloves. Two cans of Great Northern beans were mixed in (cheap!). The beans were partially mashed and two cups of chicken stock were added. Finally, some elbow macaroni was mixed in and cooked, and some cheese was added.
I realized after I started this dish that my camera battery was totally dead, leading to only one picture. How was it? Pretty good--a really solid, easy recipe. Will it impress your Italian mother-in-law? Probably not. Will it impress your thinks-Chef-Boyardee-is-actually-Italian mother-in-law? Very possibly. And it is one of those extremely cheap (beans, elbow macaroni, cheap vegetables, and homemade chicken stock are all very inexpensive) meals that is really filling. This would be top of my list for anyone who is experiencing money issues.
I also made Garlic soup with eggs (sopa de ajo) (p. 124). Such a promising name! I love garlic. I love soup. What could go wrong? And the recipe started very smoothly. An entire head of garlic cooked in a little olive oil? Perfect!
It's quite a bit of garlic:
Then four slices of bread were toasted in the garlicy/olive oily remains.
Until they got deliciously golden yellow:
A tablespoon of paprika and some cumin seeds were toasted and then added to the garlic, along with chicken stock, and salt and pepper. This mixture was simmered for about twenty minutes.
TJOC says to ladle the soup into ovenproof bowls or crocks--the closest I had were my ramekins, which were way to small for this purpose. I had to use them anyway. An egg was slid into each ramekin and it was baked for three minutes (I used put a cookie sheet under it so that it didn't leak into the oven).
I had two main problems with this soup. The first one?
It was extremely difficult to eat. I didn't have big enough bowls (only ramekins--I needed small crocks), which didn't help.
The second problem? It was so bland! Boring! Very cumin-y but not complext at all.
Has anyone had the real version of this soup? What is it supposed to be like?