March – Italian Soup

March – Italian Soup

My kitchen and garden are my refuges, solace in this time of anxiety. Are you sequestered at home? Our county put out Shelter-in-Place directives a couple of days ago. Here it is the first day of spring, and absolutely lovely out, but a dark cloud lies over everything. I worry about friends and family far away, how are they? I am not a big one for talking on the phone, much preferring face to face communication, but it has become my lifeline right now. How are you doing, what are you doing for comfort? The virtual world is one place to make connections with people.

I find making soup very comforting. And if you are going to make soup, you might as well make a big batch so you can put a quart or two in the freezer. It’s not any more work and then you have that lovely insurance for days you just don’t feel like cooking. It’s like money in the bank. This one came about because of an old friend’s message and it is a winner. It keeps several days in the fridge, and makes a large potful.

Here is the backstory:

A text requesting a specific soup recipe sent me searching through my old recipe files for a zucchini, sausage and tomato soup. One that did not have chicken or another broth. The appeal had come from my high school best friend, Abby, the recipe was a fondly remembered one from our childhood. Since our mothers had been best friends as well, she thought maybe I had inherited a copy from my mother. Regretfully I couldn’t find one, but a search of the WWW found a replica that fit her description.

Never being one to leave well enough alone, I had to take a walk down memory lane and make it myself. The basic recipe was Zucchini Soup III by Irene Yousey. Of course I did some tweaking,  I think it is an improvement on the original.

Italian tomato, sausage and zucchini soup


The cool and rainy weather of March makes this a perfect month for soup. This one is substantial enough to be a full meal, it’s almost a stew. When life gets too insane, like the present moment, make soup. It is very therapeutic.

Italian Soup – AKA Sausage, Zucchini, and Tomato Soup

8 generous servings


  • 1 pounds of bulk Italian sausage
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups of carrots (about 4 medium), cut into cubes of about 1/2 inch
  • 1 large red pepper, cut into cubes of about 1/2 inch
  • 1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes, preferably fire roasted, plus 1 can of water
  • 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning (I didn’t have any) or
    • 1 teaspoon of oregano
    • 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds, ground
    • 1 teaspoon of rosemary (I used 2 large sprigs of fresh rosemary)
    • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 4 Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes – optional
  • 4 medium zucchini, chopped into 1/2 inch slices, large ones halved
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Chopped parsley and parmesan for serving

Other optional ingredients include canned white beans, cooked penne pasta, fresh tortellini, and fresh basil if you have some. This is a very pantry friendly soup.


  1. In a large pot heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the sausage, breaking it up and saute until browned. Drain any excess fat.
  2. Add the onion to the pot, saute until softened.
  3. Add the Italian seasoning with a pinch of red pepper flakes.
  4. Add the garlic, saute for a minute, then add the chopped red pepper and carrots to the pot. Continue to saute for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the crushed tomatoes and one can full of water. Bring to a simmer.
  6. Add the optional potatoes, cover, turn down the heat, and cook for about 30 minutes until the potatoes and carrots are softened but still holding their shape.
  7. Add the zucchini and continue to simmer until softened, about another 10 minutes.
  8. Serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and/or parmesan

This soup can be frozen and it’s even better the second day.

Zucchini, sausage and tomato soup

Zucchini, sausage and tomato soup

Zucchini, sausage and tomato soup

Zucchini, sausage and tomato soup

Stay well, please also stay in touch. Your comments are always welcome. Let me know if you try this recipe.

I am taking this to a friend’s party on the www. It’s a virtual party ‘Fiesta Friday #320‘ hosted by Angie! Click on the link to read all the interesting things going on in the world of food and crafts.

If you would like to join us you can add your link at the bottom of the party page at I am cohosting this week with Angie and look forward to reading all your posts.

If you’re new to Fiesta Friday, please read the guidelines.

Also linking this to Full Plate Thursday at Miz Helen’s Country Cottage.

January in the kitchen – A Tale of Three Chilies

January in the kitchen – A Tale of Three Chilies

Chili Time – A Bowl of Red

I have a confession; I don’t like New Year’s Eve. My idea of a great New Year’s Eve is snuggling in bed at 10 pm with my hubby and a good book. But, New Year’s Day is an entirely different story. It’s the beginning of a new year and I can’t think of anything better than taking a long hike in the redwoods with the dogs, and being surrounded by good friends. That’s how our annual New Year’s Day hike and chili party got started. The first year there were only two of us hiking, but it was magical. Shrouded in fog and a light drizzle, we walked through an empty forest while the moisture dripped from the trees while the dogs ran joyfully up and down the ravines. We repeat that same 6-mile hike every year with a changing cast of characters. Who would believe this beautiful park is just minutes from downtown Oakland!

But, hike or not, everyone is invited back to the house for the annual chili feast.

There will be a chili for every dietary need, gluten free, vegetarian, and paleo. My chili recipe research starts the day after Christmas; each year they are different.  I make a lot to satisfy appetites sharpened by the walk, but still have leftovers to stock in the freezer for busy winter evenings. Chili is the perfect cold night meal. In Tex-Mex cooking it originally was eaten over hot dogs or hamburgers at a BBQ, and it’s good that way. My favorite is over baked potatoes.

Did you know that the inspiration for chili came from the Canary Islands? Real Texas chili has its roots in North Africa. I had never thought about this until I read a fascinating history of chili and Tex-Mex cooking in a book called “The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos”.

How did this come about? The Canary Islands were a Spanish possession, as was Texas originally. In 1731 Islanders were encouraged to relocate to San Antonio (Texas) because settlers were in short supply and few Spaniards were interested in living in such a wilderness.

It turns out that the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands were the Guanche, believed to be related to the Berber people from Morocco. According to the American Spice Trade Association, the “lavish use of spices” characterizes Berber foods. The cuisine’s “flavor imprint” is made up of “cumin, coriander, saffron, chili, ginger, cinnamon, and paprika.” The Canary Islanders brought a taste for cumin to Texas in amounts that Spaniards would have found overwhelming.

Outdoor socializing was also part of the Canary Island tradition; the Islanders started the San Antonio chili stand, an informal outdoor restaurant. Their original location was around Military Square. The chili stands were popular tourist and late night destinations until closed in the 1930’s for sanitary reasons. But chili had already become an essential part of the Tex-Mex food scene.

Our family’s traditional New Year’s Day hike and chili feast has its roots in Texas (where my father was born and I still have family) and California, where the weather is perfect for a New Year’s Day hike through the redwood forest.

I spend the week between Christmas and New Years making at least three kinds of chili, perfect party food. It is much improved by sitting in the refrigerator for a couple of days, and freezes well.

Let’s start with authentic. Real Texas chili does not contain tomatoes or beans. This “Bowl of Red” is true to tradition. The recipe is adapted from “The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos”.

A Bowl of Red

A Bowl of Red

Texas Red Chili AKA Chili Con Carne

Serves 6-8

  • 3 ½ pounds of beef stew meat cubed into ½ inch pieces and dried (chuck preferred)
  • 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil, more if needed
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic minced
  • 3 tablespoons ground Ancho chili powder (or other mild chili powder)
  • 2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
  • 1-2 tablespoons medium to hot paprika (depending on your desire for heat)
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 4-6 cups of beef broth
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of corn flour (masa harina)


Beef Chili

Chili Con Carne

  1. Toast the whole cumin seeds in a dry skillet until golden, remove to a small plate to cool. Once cool, grind to a powder in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
  2. In the same skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat.
  3. Add the beef (you will need to do this in several batches) and brown on all sides. Once browned, remove the meat to a bowl. Add more oil if needed for the next batch.
  4. Once all the meat has been browned, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan, add the chopped onion and cook on medium for 10 minutes until soft.
  5. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute.
  6. Return the beef to the pan, include any juices in the bottom of the bowl.
  7. Add the ground cumin, chili powder, paprika, oregano, and black pepper. Mix to combine and coat the meat with the spices.
  8. Add the beef broth and bring to a gentle simmer.
  9. Cook on low heat, covered, for 2 hours until the meat is tender.
  10. Combine the masa harina with ¼ cup of cold water and stir until a thin paste forms.
  11. Add the cornmeal mixture to the simmering chili and stir until it dissolves.
  12. Cook on simmer for an additional 10 minutes to blend flavors and thicken the chili.
  13. Taste for salt.

Traditional garnishes are sour cream (to cool it down), chopped red onion, cilantro, pickled jalapenos (if you want more heat), and shredded cheese.

The other chilies on the menu are chicken with sweet potatoes, and a vegetarian chili with butternut squash. Look for more posts and pictures of the hiking group on New Year’s Day.

Beef Chili from Texas

Chili Con Carne – A Bowl of Red

I’ll be taking this to share on Full Plate Thursday at Miz Helen’s, and Fiesta Friday at the Novice Gardener.


I wish you the happiest of New Year’s, and a 2015 filled with joy and love. Thank you for visiting. Y’all come back.

November in the kitchen – Roast Bussels Sprouts with Cannellini Bean Mash

November in the kitchen – Roast Bussels Sprouts with Cannellini Bean Mash

Roast Brussels sprouts are a classic side dish for Thansksgiving. Roasting gives them a sweetness that is totally different from the way they taste cooked any other way. This recipe will convert even Brussels sprout haters. The Cannellini Mash could be a stand in for mashed potatoes, or add some pureed winter squash for a seasonal touch. I’m taking this to Full Plate Thursday (this week on a Tuesday) at Miz Helen’s Country Cottage.

The sprouts and mash are a vegan/vegetarian/gluten free meal by themselves. Add a salad on the side and the dinner menu is full.

In my omnivore family, I’m going to serve it with lemon chicken. Everything can go into the oven at the same temperature, making an easy dinner for one oven when you are busy.

There a lot of recipes out there for roast Brussels sprouts. The discussion centers around whether to preboil them before roasting. I have tried them multiple ways (this being a favorite winter vegetable for my family and friends) and have come up with a version which works best for us. My ideal sprout has a creamy center and crisp, brown outside leaves with a definite crunch. In order to have that creamy center without completely burnt leaves, I’ve found I need to precook them very briefly.

Roast Brussels Sprouts

Roast Brussels Sprouts

Roast Brussels sprouts

  • 4 cups of Brussels sprouts – trimmed and halved if large
  • Kosher Salt
  • Olive oil – about 2 tablespoons
  1. Preheat your oven to 425 F.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add about 1 tablespoon of salt
  3. Add the Brussels sprouts, bring back to the boil, lower the heat and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Strain and run cold water over them to cool slightly and stop cooking.
  5. Toss with olive oil and salt.
  6. Spread onto a parchment lined baking sheet in a single layer. Include any leaves that have fallen off.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes until the outsides are crisp.
Cannellini Bean Mash

Cannellini Bean Mash – ready to assemble

Cannellini Bean Mash

  • 2 cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • ¼ cup of roast garlic cloves or 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup of roast winter squash or pumpkin (canned ok)
  • 1 cup of coconut water or vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil (or butter)
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Salt, pepper and cayenne to taste
  1. Roast a small piece of banana squash at 425 F until soft and brown, about 40 minutes.
  2. Cool slightly, scoop out the flesh and add it to your food processor or blender.
  3. Drain and rinse 2 cans of cannellini beans.
  4. Combine with the garlic and squash in the processor.
  5. Puree until smooth, adding the coconut water or stock to thin. This should be the consistency of mashed potatoes.
  6. Pour the contents into a saucepan and heat on medium until hot, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
  7. Add the olive oil and grate some fresh lemon rind into the pan.
  8. Taste for salt, add fresh ground pepper, and cayenne pepper for punch.

Once you start on this, I can imagine all kinds of additons…goat cheese, parmesan, substitute another vegetable for the squash (cooked parsnips or celery root?) or leave it out all together. In that case it would be more hummusy.

Lemon Chicken with Roast Brussels Sprouts and Cannellini Bean Mash

Lemon Chicken with Roast Brussels Sprouts and Cannellini Bean Mash

The chicken took an hour and fifteen minutes to cook, perfect timing for the rest of the meal. Including prep time, it took me an hour and a half to get dinner on the table. Not bad since much of it there was nothing to do, just waiting while things were roasting in the oven. It left me with time for a relaxed glass of wine and a chat with my husband. It’s his birthday tomorrow, I’ll be making his favorite, Pasta Puttanesca.

Everyone have a love filled, fun, and delicious Thanksgiving!