Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook

Fall

Tricolore Pear Salad

Dinner, Vegetarian, Summer, Fall, Italian, Recipe, Salad, SidesLeannda CavalierComment

Sweet, soft pears and pine nuts complement a mix of buttery, nutty and bitter lettuces dressed in a simple balsamic vinaigrette.

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions or want more info!

I need summa those sweet greens—jump to the recipe, please!

Summer isn't over yet and I'm trying to squeeze out every last drop, but... fall has undeniably started creeping into my thoughts. Maybe it's just from spending the majority of my life in school and teaching, but once August hits everything goes into overdrive, hurtling toward September like a defensive end on a pass rush. 

I truly love fall. I love the start of school and football. I love the foliage and wearing sleeves again. I love pumpkins and bold spices. But it still feels like everything summer is ending way too fast. Pools are closing and I'm seeing school buses everywhere. Didn't we just do the Fourth of July? 

Luckily, I've got the perfect dish if you're also struggling to accept all that comes with the inevitable shift from summer nights to autumn evenings.

This Tricolore Pear Salad is incredibly simple from the short ingredient list to the simple dressing, but trust me, it has an undeniable wow factor. 

It's based on the classic Italian insalata tricolore, which uses a mix of dark and light lettuces brilliantly to balance bitterness and sweetness as well as softness and crunch. It also happens to feature the three colors of the Italian flag, green, red and white. 

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Some also call caprese salads insalata tricolore, which makes sense with the color theme, but we'll leave that in its own pedestal where it belongs. 

I do a little catering as a side job, mostly for small events, but sometimes I do personal catering too. I developed this Tricolore Pear Salad for a client whose family wanted to eat a version of the paleo diet, in an effort to keep the choices from getting stale and, oh boy, I could not have predicted what happened.

He told me the first time he picked up the salad that he had never had a fresh pear before—which is actually something I hear pretty frequently about peaches and pears—so nobody here really knew what to expect. 

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They LOVED it. Like ordered it multiple times a week from there on out. It got to the point where I was visiting multiple grocery stores a multiple times a week because I was buying out all the ingredients for it. Once we got into the later fall and fresh pears got harder to find, I had to limit the amount of times they could order just because I literally could not find enough ingredients.

It was a problem, but you know, a nice one. If you guys are reading this, know I love you and your pear madness!

I recommend using green d'anjou pears for this salad, though I've also used green and red bartletts with great results. There's just something special about a d'anjou pear—it's sweet and buttery with just enough crispness. Red ones are nice later in the fall as they're a little more robust.

Whatever you do, use a good one! If all the d'anjous are rock hard? Move on to the next kind. If it's so soft it falls apart in your hand? 

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You got a million ways to get it. Choose one

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I've actually been putting pears on salad for years now, usually in an arugula salad with goat cheese and a sweeter dressing, but I think using no cheese, a more acidic dressing and bitter chicory takes this salad up several notches. 

It's pretty common to serve a tricolore salad with shaved parmesan, but I actually really like this salad without the cheese. The softness of the pears and the nuttiness of the pine nuts and arugula pretty well takes care of that desire for me in this case. 

Speaking of simplifying the dressing, HOLY COW is this EASY. Just combine three ingredients and shake. If you want, you can switch it up with other vinegars or add other things (I might add a garlic clove and let it sit for a different salad), but there's no need, and you probably have balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and salt on hand already if you cook often. 

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I can't say enough about how much I love this aspect of Italian cooking. I'm a person who tends to make things much more complicated than they need to be, which is sometimes good, and sometimes makes my life a living hell.

Maybe that's why I go back to Italian food so often. Or maybe it's that my husband is Italian, I'm coastal Croatian, and Italian food is TASTY.  

One piece of advice I do have is that when you're making something so simple, use the best quality ingredients you can find. That's one of the reasons simplicity works so well in Italy: pretty much everything they use is grown nearby and freshness is key (with exceptions, of course, because they clearly know how to preserve tomatoes and cheese like wow).

I'm not telling you to break the bank here, but I am saying you can uplevel your kitchen game approximately 100 notches just by investing in a good extra virgin olive oil for cold foods like salads. I typically buy an okay brand in bulk for cooking, but I keep a big bottle of my one of my favorites on hand for dressings and drizzle. 

What are my favorites? I love going to an olive oil specialty store and doing a tasting to figure that out. My favorite is Oil & Vinegar in Greenville, South Carolina. Their products are all high-quality, their staff is super knowledgable (but not snobby!) and they're so friendly and enthusiastic that it's tough to want to buy anywhere else.

My most recent buy, pictured in the background above, was their extra virgin olive oil from Puglia , and it is SO good—robust, peppery and a little sweet. It's got low acidity and high polyphenols (antioxidants), making the flavor more intense and the oil better for you. 

That being said, if you just wanna pick some up from the grocery store or order some from Amazon, that's totally cool too. In that case I encourage you to experiment, but I recommend California Olive Ranch EVOO as a good starting point. 

Here are a few things to pay attention to if you're picking one up on your own: 

How to choose a grocery store olive oil: 

  1. Is it fresh? Most good olive oil brands will have a harvest date somewhere on the bottle, as olive oil doesn't necessarily age well. 
  2. How is it bottled? Olive oil should be stored in a cold dark place, so a dark, glass bottle is the best packaging. You don't want the oil deteriorating as it sits in the truck. 
  3. Where is it from? Check the country or region of origin. First of all, it should only have one. Second, foreign isn't always best, as the further away it is, the longer it probably took to ship and the harder it is to find out about the source. This is why I recommend California Ranch Olive Oil. Now if you're buying imported oil from a specialty store, you can probably go for it safely as they will be more discerning about the source.
  4. How long is the ingredient list? Hint: it should only list one thing. Extra virgin olive oil. 
  5. Is it cold-pressed? Good olive oil is processed with olives that are crushed and pressed without help from heat or chemicals, so the bottle should say cold-pressed. According to Larousse Gastronomique, this designation doesn't necessarily tell us much anymore as processors now have machines that are temperature-controlled, even if they don't use traditional extraction methods. First-pressed means virtually nothing as modern methods don't typically require a second press. Still, if a bottle doesn't even bother saying it? I'd steer clear unless you know the person who made it.
  6. Other factors? Higher polyphenols means more antioxidants and a bolder flavor. The lower the acidity, the better (extra virgin olive oil must have less than 1 percent acidity). You might not be able to find this information on bottles of grocery store olive oil, which is okay, but it's a good sign if you can. 

If all else fails, try out Google University! Here's a great article from The Kitchn that does the work for you with recommendations from Italian cooks.

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I tend to give balsamic vinegar a bit more of a pass, for better or for worse. Don't get me wrong, really good balsamic vinegar makes a huge difference, and you should get an aged vinegar marked Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale with a D.O.P. certification if possible. The thing is... a lot of grocery store brands are pretty good in their own right, and purity is less of an issue. 

That being said, if you live near a specialty store, go in for a tasting! A top-quality balsamic isn't as necessary to me as top-quality olive oil, but it is undoubtedly one of my favorite special occasion splurges. Especially a cherry-flavored one. Mmmmmm. 

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Now let's talk about that green. And red. And white.

You can make many variations of this salad depending on what's available (my local grocery stores don't always make it easy to find good greens), but here are the leafy ingredients I like to use:

  • Arugula (rocket) - A soft, nutty green and situation where stems are okay. You don't have to use it, but I highly recommend it.
  • Baby kale and baby Swiss chard - Soft versions of the big leafy bunches you know. Earthy and lightly bitter, but much more subtle than their later stage selves. You can often find a mix of these (sometimes along with arugula, spinach and other young greens) marketed as "super greens". Bonus: baby swiss kale adds a nice aesthetic touch with its bright pink stems. 
  • Radicchio - It looks like thin red cabbage, but it's not! Radicchio is an Italian chicory with a mildly spicy, slightly bitter flavor. It's not thick and woody like cabbage (and doesn't have the same side effects), but it does still have a crunchy bite. Don't sub in red cabbage. Just don't.
  • Belgian endive - Another chicory plant with delicate, buttery leaves and a nice crunch. This one is a little bitter too, but it's subtle and it works with the dressing and pears. Embrace the bitterness. I typically peel off the outer leaves and then cut off the hard bottom as needed to pull the rest off easily, but you can also cut a cone into the bottom to get all the leaves off at once. 
  • Substitutions - Some of these can be a little hard to find, I'll admit. I don't know if I'd made this unless I can find at least two of them or else it's a different salad, but here are some recommendations. In a pinch, I've used baby romaine instead of endive. It's not the same, but it has a similar texture. If you can't find radicchio, seriously, don't use red cabbage. My grocery stores typically have a box of four "artisan lettuce" varieties that typically include chicories you could use instead. If it's curly and spindly, it's probably a chicory or something with similar flavor.  For the darker greens you could use spring mix if you have to.
  • Red Cabbage - Just don't! I'm warning you.
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The last, but definitely not least important element of my Tricolore Pear Salad is the toasted pine nuts, and yes, I do think toasting them makes a big difference when you're eating them raw. Pine nuts are earthy little tree nuts that give pesto its nutty flavor.

They're much milder than pecans and softer than almonds, which you might typically put in a sweeter salad. I would almost call them creamy based on the feeling of chewing them. 

Toasting them may feel like one more step, but it's super easy and fast. The one skill you need to have is vigilance. 

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How to toast pine nuts: 

  1. Heat a pan over medium heat.
  2. Pour in the pine nuts and stir frequently for 2-3 minutes, or until you start to smell them and they leave grease trails on the bottom of the pan, and remove them to a plate to cool. Watch them closely and if they start to brown or smoke, remove them to a plate immediately so they don't burn.
  3. That's it!
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This Tricolore Pear Salad is far from rabbit food, and I have family/friends/happy customers to back me up on that if you don't believe me. BUT I hope you'll make it to find out for yourself! You could even make it into an entire meal instead of a side dish by adding a little chicken or even sliced steak, which I sometimes do when I pack up the leftovers for lunch the next day. 

If you do make it, let me know by sharing a photo with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen and tagging me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. You can also use the "tried it" feature on Pinterest to help out others looking for a salad they don't have to force themselves to eat!

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Let's get this pear party started!

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Pumpkin Spice Steel-Cut Oatmeal

Breakfast, Fall, Make-ahead, Recipe, Slow Food, Winter, Vegetarian, Comfort FoodLeannda CavalierComment

Hearty steel-cut oats toasted in browned butter get the full pumpkin spice treatment with real pumpkin puree, serious spice and less sugar than your average PS treat. A batch can feed a brunch bunch, or be stored in the refrigerator for a week of healthy breakfasts.

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions!

Too early to read the whole post: gimme that breakfast recipe already.

Two vital seasonal truths in my world right now: 1. Though we have left fall behind, I'm not yet finished with the pumpkin. 2. Though it's a new year and blah blah blah, it's TOO COLD for smoothie bowls. I need my breakfast to warm me up right now, thanks. 

One of my absolute favorite things to make for breakfast is steel-cut oats, and there are so many options out there. In fact, here's another recipe for apple-cinnamon steel-cut oats in case this one doesn't tickle your fancy.

Never made them? Nervous? Let me break it down for you:

How to cook steel-cut oats:

  1. Toast the oats in some butter or coconut oil over medium heat for a few minutes.
  2. Add about 3 cups boiling water for every 1 cup oats. 
  3. Cook on low for about half an hour.
  4. Add any flavorings and toppings you want.
  5. That's IT. 

The rest is playing with flavors, which is my spe-ci-al-i-ty.

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Steel-cut oats have a lot of advantages over your typical rolled oats, some of them health-related. They retain more of their nutrients through being less processed. They take longer for you to digest, keeping you full longer. You know what else? They're chewier, roastier and nuttier--all things I'll take over "faster" 99 percent of the time.

Besides, you can just make these ahead and reheat them. I'd much rather make one big batch of hearty, flavorful steel-cut oatmeal at the beginning of the week than spend 5 minutes making decent quick oats every morning anyway.

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P.S. I actually do like rolled oats... meal planning my breakfasts with blueberry rolled oats I could microwave every morning kept me sane at my last full-time job, plus they're great for pancakes and cookies. But steel-cut oats? Pumpkin ones? Those are the approachable but aspirational mornings I'm generally going for.

They also keep me full for more than 15 minutes without seconds, which is honestly pretty impressive.

As for the pumpkin, surprise! Pumpkins are still in season for the winter! 

We tend to attach pumpkins to fall, which is when they come into season, but the favorite among squashes really shouldn’t disappear the moment you take your jack-o-lantern off your doorstep. (You did remember to do that, right? It’s okay, this is a safe space.)

I wavered a little on whether to call this recipe “pumpkin steel-cut oats” or “pumpkin spice steel-cut oats”. Isn’t that stupid? Well in terms of search engine optimization it’s not, but I’m not even talking about that. I’m talking about all the crap women (and men brave enough to admit it) get for loving pumpkin spice.

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My thoughts? Pumpkin spice is delicious and a little over-hyped. Yes, both can be true. 

I shamelessly love a good pumpkin spice latte, especially homemade or one from Starbucks (gasp!). Pumpkin pie? Definitely. Pumpkin spice bread? Yeah! Pumpkin spice bagel? Double yeah. Pumpkin spice muffin? Why not? 

I don’t tend to like PSLs from many other places because the syrup often tastes nothing like pumpkin, but ultra-sugary fireballs (the candy, not the drink). Specifically fireballs that have already had most of the coating worn off.

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Other DOA pumpkin spice items for me include: gum, store-bought coffee creamers (actually those get a big no from me in general) and yogurt. No thank you, please. 

Anyway, maybe it's the seasonality, but pumpkin just feels like a special treat for me. There are plenty of reasons to use real pumpkin in your breakfast well past November. First, it’s delicious with said pumpkin spices. Second, you can easily store cans of it in your freezer. Third, lots of recipes call for a cup of pumpkin, and most cans come with 2.5 cups.

And hey, pumpkin is a great source of vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. 

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This pumpkin spice steel-cut oats recipe is a great way to use leftover pumpkin puree if you’re anything like me and put it in the fridge with the best of intentions, but no solid plan. Wasted pumpkin is a sad sight (and a bad smell).

These steel-cut oats are so easy to put together, and most of the cook time only requires stirring every so often so the bottom doesn’t burn. Also know it’s okay if some oats do stick—I typically get a thin layer of them on the bottom of my dutch oven. 

I can usually get any stuck oats off pretty easily with a plastic scraper, but you can also put the empty pan back on the stove with some water and bring it to a boil to soften it up. The dutch oven pictured above is a 5.5 qt enameled cast-iron dutch oven from the Food Network. You don't have to use a dutch oven, but I like them for things that cook slowly like this. I also use mine almost daily anyway, so...

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Usually I prefer my oatmeal a little lumpy with milk poured over, of course I know lots of people like creamier oats. If that's you, no problema! Just add more water or milk. You can add another cup in the beginning, or you could stir it in at the end if you decide it's too thick for you.

Sometimes if I'm reaaaaally hungry I'll make creamier just so the water the oats absorb will make me feel full faster—and sometimes I just do it because I'm in a creamy oatmeal mood. It's a thing, just go with it.  

You can top these with whatever you want, but I really love a pat of butter, pepitas (extra protein, extra crunch), maple syrup and a splash of milk. I put some suggestions down in the recipe itself. 

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Let's get simmering!

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Maple brown sugar pavlova with raspberry compote

Fall, Baking, Dessert, Recipe, WinterLeannda Cavalier2 Comments

A light and airy dessert with fluffy maple brown sugar meringue, velvety maple whipped cream, and tangy raspberry compote. 

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend. I only recommend products I believe in. That means I've used it myself in most cases, and at the very least I've researched it thoroughly and find the company trustworthy—I would never recommend anything I wouldn't buy and use myself. Please reach out if you have any questions!

I'm just here for the dessert, man. Jump to the recipe, please.

We are waist-deep in the season of all-pumpkin-everything. Pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin bagels, pumpkin butter, pumpkin festivals and, of course, pumpkin pie. Listen. I love pumpkin. I love all the things previously mentioned. Give me a pumpkin spice latte float with pumpkin ice cream, I'll drink it happily! Do not doubt my pumpkin devotion. 

That being said, if you're ready to change up your sweets menu, I get it. Autumn brings us so many more flavors to play with, and honestly there is such a thing as taste fatigue. That's exactly why I came up with maple pavlova with raspberry compote.

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After so many heavy, ultra-sugary, dense desserts, I needed something completely different. Pavlova was in my mind, and maple syrup was in my fridge. Mad food scientist mode: engage. 

Pavlova is a light and fluffy dessert with a crisp exterior, a marshmallowy interior and contested origins. Everyone seems to agree it was created for prima ballerina Anna Pavlova sometime in the early 20th century, but the where is less clear. Some say the first one was made in New Zealand, some say Australia, some even say the United States. I won't speculate, as I'm mostly interested in it's uncontested deliciousness.

Take a minute to look at this thing. It's imperfect—ahem, rustic—but that give it a beautiful quality more composed desserts can't quite recreate. Curious that it was made for a ballerina, because it's more the dancing scene from Harriet the Spy than Swan Lake. 

A wild little cloud of deliciousness. 

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It's not exactly a meringue, but it's in the family. Meringues are typically a fairly uniform texture–crispy and crumbly throughout. Pavlova, on the other hand is soft and cushiony in the middle. It's typically dressed with whipped cream and fruit, which is what first drew me to it. I was looking for a light dessert I could make in a summer I knew would be swimming-heavy. I stumbled across a recipe for chocolate swirl pavlova with raspberries, and I've made my version of it more times that I can count. For parties, for family and at least twice, around midnight for no real reason. 

One of the things I love most about pavlova is that it simultaneously feels light and incredibly decadent. Actually, the way I make it probably has something to do with that. I almost always layer one on top of another, drizzle a ton of melted dark chocolate over and grate more chocolate on top...

Anyway, the wafers (for lack of a better word) combined with the whipped cream melt in your mouth, and the contrast between crisp and creamy keep things rich and interesting. The longer it sits in the refrigerator, the softer the wafers become, but in a good way. Almost like eating a really light mousse pie. 

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But... raspberry and maple?

You may be questioning the maple-raspberry combo, and I don’t blame you, but I swear they go together. I did it on my own to see how it would be, but later found out it’s an actual thing. They’re listed together in Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg's The Flavor Bible, which is about as legit as you can get. 

 Me too, Pete, me too. 

Me too, Pete, me too. 

You can always make this without the raspberry compote. I've done it both ways, and both are great. Still, the maple and raspberry are really fun together, and I mean, why not? 

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Whipping it up, in practice

Pavlova is pretty easy to make, but there are some things to pay attention to if you're a baking newbie. First measure the ingredients exactly. Second, be mindful of how things look and feel at all times. It's really important that the batter is set up correctly when you bake it. 

Stiff peaks are what you're looking for, and I do mean stiff peaks. When you bounce the whisk lightly into the surface of the batter, pull it up, and flip it upside down. The peaks that form should be short and stand straight up. If you plunge it too far, the peaks will still be long and soft, so make sure you’re doing it lightly. In this case, over-beating is better than under-beating. 

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I actually find the look of the batter itself to be a better indicator. Make sure the mixture is shiny and a little silvery—pearlescent. It should look almost like a cross between marshmallow cream and extremely thick shaving cream. The air you’ve beaten in is so well incorporated that the batter is rich and smooth, and when you move a spatula through or pile up spoonfuls, it holds its shape. 

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When cooked, the pavlova should be light and airy. The outside should be crisp and crumbly, and the inside should be soft and a little spongey, but still lighter than angel food cake. All of it should melt in your mouth. 

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In this recipe I use cake pans because pavlova does best when all parts are baked very consistently. If one of the wafers is getting more heat than the other, you might run into two very different layers. Maybe event a burnt one. The cake pans guarantee you can fit both wafers on the same rack of a standard oven. If you're willing to risk it though, you can definitely try using sheet pans on different racks. I've done it that way as well, and it can be done. 

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If you do use the cake pans, I recommend cutting down the parchment paper into rounds just a couple inches wider than the pan, and pressing it into the bottom as best you can. If you leave it in big sheets, the edges tend to pop up and the bottom of the wafers won't bake flat. 

Baking in the pans does make the sides a little less smooth-looking than a typical pavlova, but I actually like the way it looks both ways. Either way, the pavlova should peel away from the parchment paper fairly easily if baked correctly. 

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One of the best things about this recipe is that you can make the wafers and the compote ahead. The meringue part can be made the day before, and the compote can be made several days before. You could technically make the whipped cream ahead too, but I think that part is best fresh, and takes no time to whip up. 

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Hey, one more thing: I want to hear from you! Wanna make this recipe? I'd love to see your photos on social media! Just tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. You can even try out the "tried" feature on Pinterest! Have questions about it? I'm happy to answer them in the comments or through email. 

Have an unrelated question or something you're struggling with in the kitchen? I'd love to help you out if I can, but I won't know until you ask.

So let's get baking!

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Tuscan-inspired white bean tomato soup

Fall, Italian, Recipe, Soup, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

A simple, delicious, rustic soup inspired by the flavors of Tuscany. This recipe makes enough to feed a crowd, but it's incredible after the flavors mingle in the refrigerator overnight, so leftovers make this great for smaller families and individuals as well.

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Need... food.... Jump to the recipe, please.

Cannellini beans are one of my favorite foods. That's probably kind of weird, but it's true. Beyond being creamy and delicious, they're so versatile. If you stock them in your cabinet—canned or dried—with just a few other staples, you'll have vast number of meals at your fingertips any time. This is one of them.

This soup is inspired by one I had at a farm in Tuscany. Fattoria il Poggio sits atop a hill in Montecarlo, Lucca, in the outskirts of San Gimignano. Everything we had there was perfect, but the standout item to me was the soup. It wasn’t the prettiest course. It wasn’t the most complicated. It was simple, rustic, resourceful and delicious.

The funny thing is... somehow we finished the dinner without actually figuring out what the soup was! We didn't have any menus, as everything was family-style and the dishes were all pre-planned regional specialties. 

Except the steak fries. Fairly certain those were to placate potentially picky Americans. I mean... I still partook.

It's pretty unlike me not to ask, but there was SO much food going around that my intentions were lost when—OH, TAGLIATELLE! Roast pork? Wait, ribs too? Hold up, sausage now? 

Anyway, I'm still not entirely certain what the soup was... so let's put on our detective hats!

What we know about "The Tuscan Soup": 

  • It was bean and tomato based
  • The beans were pureed, creamy and demure
  • Sage might be the main seasoning 
  • It had some kind of grain
  • Olive oil for daaaayys
  • That I was too excited to eat and only got terrible photos of it
 Exhibit A: terrible photo.

Exhibit A: terrible photo.

Soup suspects:

So much of the food that comes to mind when we think of Italy is functional, and origin stories of Tuscan soups are downright utilitarian. They were designed to make the most of what was around to feed as many mouths as possible, but what they’ve evolved into is deliciouuuuus.

Possibility 1 — Ribollita

Of all our contenders, this is the most well known. Ribollita means “reboiled,” which cuts right to the chase. Originally it was last night’s soup reheated, plus stale bread to add bulk and avoid waste. It started out as way to cheaply feed lots of people, but it’s evolved into an intentional staple that generally features white beans, kale and cabbage, tomatoes whatever vegetables are fresh or on hand. It’s like the ultimate kitchen-sweep meal. You can follow a recipe, or just throw in whatever you’ve got following deliciously loose guidelines. A lot of variations puree most of the soup so it's crazy-thick.

Our soup was much lighter—so appropriate for the blanket of humidity under the July sun, not to mention all the courses to come. 

Possibility 2 — Zuppa alla frantoinana, a.k.a. Tuscan bean and vegetable soup

It’s also possible that the soup of the day was zuppa all frantoiana, another resourceful Tuscan soup utilizing "this and that" based on what’s abundant from local harvests—summery beans, vegetables and olive oil, finished with crusty bread. It's fairly similar to ribollita, if not a variation. The difference as far as I can tell is a heavier focus on vegetables and olive oil vs. bread. 

This one's generally pretty hearty with big chunks of vegetables, sometimes including potatoes, squash, and fennel depending on what's growing nearby. Wah-waaaah, not our soup. 

Possibility 3 —  Zuppa di farro (alla lucchese), a.k.a. farro and bean soup

This one is the most structured of the three, following what I’ll call a soup formula. It starts out with an Italian soffritto (dice of onion, carrot and celery), and the body is built with farro cooked in a stew of pancetta, tomatoes and borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans for their pink speckles. It's finished off with a big drizzle of olive oil, because it would be a crime if it wasn't. 

Winner winner chicken dinner! Maybe? Here's a delicious-looking recipe for zuppa di farro with photos... I'll let you decide for yourself, I'll be over here making some. For comparison.

Who knows though? It may have been something else. I love Italian food, but I'm hardly the world's foremost expert. If you have other ideas, what are you waiting for, tell me about them! I have serious food FOMO. 

If you've been there and I'm completely wrong... be gentle, please ;)

My take

Ultimately, I decided to create a recipe for a soup that I thought captured the spirit of our meal, though it's not exactly a recreation. I used ingredients that were easy to find in my local grocery store, tasted as I went, and let the spirit move me. The spirit of hunger and food lust.

I think that goes with the whole Tuscan vibe though, right? Using what's around? Making something delicious out of simplicity? Know what's delicious to me?

Cannellini beans. Tomatoes. Sage. Oregano. Cheeeese. Finish it off with olive oil and bread crumbs.

You know, for authenticity.

So I started with extra virgin olive oil, a soffritto of onion, carrots and celery (yes, same as a mirepoix in French, but with a little more leeway) and some garlic. 

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This goes back to the "formula" I mentioned. There's no one formula. Soup is really more like a choose your own adventure food. A suggested order of common ingredient combinations. 

Next came the stars of the show, tomatoes and cannellini beans. Lots of them.  

 Sigh. A beauteous bean.

Sigh. A beauteous bean.

I used some vegetable broth to spread it out, and seasoned it with the actual Tuscan soup in mind. Plenty of fresh sage and some dried oregano. Next I grated the cheese directly into the soup, which pretty much eliminated the need for salt.

But listen, I need you to use the real cheese here. Not the kind in the can.

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If you grate cheese directly from the wedge, it's going to melt into your soup and make it nutty, earthy and well-seasoned. If you pour the canned kind in, it's going to clump into a ball and taste like salty pencil shavings stuck in your teeth, then you'll have to add a bunch of salt to make up for it. If you do use a pre-grated cheese, make sure it's a good one, and remember that even the best will dry out if it sits in your fridge too long. A wedge will last longer, as will its flavor and texture. 

One thing I like to do with a lot of soups is to throw in a few handfuls of spinach or whatever soft baby greens I have on hand. I just like to find ways to get more greens into my system. I mean, why not? 

I made the executive decision to purée  some of the soup with an immersion blender to make it creamier. You can get the same effect by putting a portion of the soup in a regular blender or food processor, but using an immersion blender is so much easier. You don't have to lug your blender out of the cupboard or worry about transferring hot soup. I've been using a slightly older version of the Cuisinart Smart Stick 2 Speed Hand Blender for about three years, and I highly recommend it (affiliate link, see disclaimer).

It was definitely the right call for texture. Like I said, it didn't need to replicate the actual Tuscan soup, but I wanted it to at least pay homage. I wasn't about to let celery and onion bits crash every spoonful and kill my vibe.

Bits don't kill my... Nope. Sorry. Okay, going home for the day. 

Please enjoy responsibly.

 Nutrition facts are based on 1-cup servings, not accounting for breadcrumbs or extra cheese.

Nutrition facts are based on 1-cup servings, not accounting for breadcrumbs or extra cheese.

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As always, I want to hear from you! If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen.

Question for you: What's the most memorable food you've had while traveling? I want to hear allll about it in the comments :)

Apple cinnamon porridge

Breakfast, Make-ahead, Fall, Recipe, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

I'm worthless if I don't eat breakfast. You laugh, but I mean it. Without a quality, nutritious breakfast, I'm tired, unfocused, grumpy, unmotivated and a little dazed. Not fun for me, not fun for anybody else. 

 Actual video of me around 10 a.m. sans-breakfast. 

Actual video of me around 10 a.m. sans-breakfast. 

So each morning priority #1 is breakfast.

My schedule is all over the place, so I have time to make breakfast most mornings, but that wasn't always the case. For busier times, I love make-ahead or pre-prepped breakfasts I can just it heat up and enjoy with my coffee. Apple cinnamon porridge is one of my latest favorites.

When you look at this recipe, you might think, "whoa, this recipe makes WAY too much! Why would I make this for one or two people?"

Hold up. Hear me out. If you are regularly struggling to eat breakfast, one of the biggest tips I can give you is to plan ahead. You can make this Sunday, portion it out into containers and have breakfast for days. You can even freeze it for breakfast emergencies. You don't have to eat it every day, but it's nice to have options.

Why steel-cut oats?

Steel-cut oats are minimally processed, so they fill you up and keep you full. Complex carbohydrates are best for lasting energy and fullness, and that's where steel-cut oats deliver. Your body can't digest the sugars as quickly, so you don't burn through it all at once and get that gross sugar crash. 

Rolled oats (probably the most common form of oatmeal you see) are actually steel cut oats steamed and then rolled thin and flat. They cook quickly... but they also don't take much time or energy to digest. That sounds great, but what it really means is that the sugars break down faster and you get hungry faster.

Instant oatmeal is even more processed. It's rolled oats shredded up and steamed again, then dried–broken so the carbs are so simple they're basically sugar by the time you chew them.

Beyond that, I just love the texture of steel cut oats—soft but a bit chewy. They take a little longer to cook, but it's worth it. 

Uh, porridge? Okay, fancy-pants. 

Mind blowing statement ahead: technically, oatmeal is porridge. But that's not why I call it that.

I call this particular recipe porridge because I like to use a mix of two grains. One of those is amaranth. I first had amaranth in Mexico, but it's becoming more popular around the world. You might see it marketed as an "ancient grain" or "superfood." I take those buzzwords with a grain of salt, but it is true that amaranth is a good source of protein, lysine and more. 

Amaranth is usually considered a cereal grain, but technically it's a seed. It's a little bit like a finer version of quinoa, but with a nuttier flavor. When you cook them up they give a nice little pop-crunch that I really enjoy to breakup the texture of  

Warm and cozy

I use two forms of cinnamon at different stages in this recipe because they have different purposes. Cinnamon sticks have a higher concentration of oil than ground. They slowly release their flavor during the cooking process, infusing the liquid and oats with a warm aroma. The ground form packs the classic punch we expect cinnamon to bring to the party.

Another perk of using cinnamon sticks is eating the oats stuck on them. The sticks keep a great flavor throughout the cooking process, and the little bits of oats that get trapped in the center are truly a delight. 

Recipe after the jump!

Holiday baked brie with rosemary-infused cranberry sauce

Holiday, Party, Fall, Recipe, Vegetarian, WinterLeannda CavalierComment
holiday-baked-brie-with-rosemary-infused-cranberry-sauce

Christmas may be over, but we still have some of the holiday season to go.

Now, I know everyone's getting ready to "detox" and "start the new year with a new you." I'm with you (kind of), but listen: moderation is your friend. Deprivation? Not so much. More on that later, but don't skip this one just because 2017 is going to be the year you REALLY stick to boiled chicken and greens.

This appetizer would be perfect for a new years party. Decadent and cheesy, but "together" and so much more fun than some store-bought cheeseball. If you don't care about all that, throw it out the window, because it's freaking delicious. 

I've made this for several parties and the reaction is always, "what is THAT?!" Cut a sliver out and the wide eyes are joined by dropped jaws, watering mouths and reaching hands.

Pierce through the crisp crust, and meet tangy-sweet, gooey cranberry sauce mixing with buttery, salty, melty brie. Bits of lightly browned, pastry. The smell. Smother. It. On. A. Cracker. Now. Lizard brain. I wish I had a picture of this, but the last few times I've made it, it's been torn apart before I even got the chance. 

The rosemary and orange along with the cranberry give it the aroma every holiday party should have. 

I will say I've made mini versions just to snack on at home. I won't say how many times.

(It's a bunch of times.)

Slate ran a series a few years ago with new rules for party guests and hosts: never bring brie to a party, ever again. Fighting words, those. The writer argues American brie is a pasteurized disgrace to what a true Brie should be.

He's not wrong. It's worth reading and considering, especially if you're interested in how safety regulations affect our food for better or worse

Here's the thing: I've never been to France. I don't know if I'll ever be in France. I've never had access to a "proper" brie. I don't know if I ever will.  

I am discerning and try to get the best quality I can out of what I buy. I learn all I can and try to be aware of what is and what is not authentic, traditional, "correct," and so on. But there's only so much thinking, learning and searching most of us can do before we need to pick a cheese already.

The brie he's talking about? The adulterated disappointment? It's pretty good. It's REALLY good when baked into a pastry with cranberry sauce. Maybe I'm compromising here, but I like to enjoy my life. Enjoying cheese I have access to and like instead of pining for something I can't get is something that doesn't bother me too much. 

Not to say that I wouldn't go on a "real" brie hunt if the opportunity presented itself. 

Also, as curious as I am to try a cheese that tastes undeniably like broccoli, I'm pretty sure it would suck with cranberry sauce. Guess I'd have to create another recipe for that. 

Enjoy—the cheese and life in general. 

holiday_baked_brie_rosemary_cranberry-sauce

Roasted acorn squash soup with pancetta

Fall, RecipeLeannda CavalierComment

A creamy, comforting soup with sweet and spicy fall flavors, and a savory Italian twist. Simple and delicious, this recipe will leave you feeling cozy and satisfied.

roasted-acorn-squash-soup-with-pancetta-pin

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy any of the products I recommend. I only recommend products I believe in. That means I've used it myself in most cases, and at the very least have researched it thoroughly and find the company trustworthy. I would never recommend anything I wouldn't buy myself. I would love to answer any questions you have!

I came here for the soup recipe. I'm hungry. Give me the soup recipe. 

Autumn. Isn't it funny that just a little dip in the temperature can make us so ready for the warm hug of a sweater? The toasty glow of a fire? The warming bite of a hearty soup?

When I think of fall, I think of squash. But the thing about starchy squash is you have to get it just right to keep it out of the "meh" zone. I don't know if it's just my palate, but sometimes when I eat fall/winter squash or even sweet potatoes, after a few bites I feel inundated and have to stop. I think it's partly a dull sweetness and partly a heavy, homogenous texture. 

Not the case here! Filled with fall flavors, this soup is hearty and filling—but it's also balanced. 

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The squash, pancetta (Italian bacon), sage, red pepper, and maple syrup all work together to achieve balance, but this recipe also has a secret star: browned butter. There isn't much, but I swear it makes all the difference in the world. 

 

Pancetta plays a stand-out role too. Not only does it give the soup a nice ribbon of soft umami flavor, it also provides pops of flavor and texture throughout. The tiny pieces of uncured bacon burst between your teeth, sending extra reserves of savory goodness into the mix.

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One of my favorite things about this particular soup is that it's an excuse to use one of my favorite kitchen tools—my immersion blender. There's something so satisfying about putting the stick into the soup and pulverizing everything. It reminds me of when I worked at Dairy Queen as a college freshman. Making that swirl on the top of the cone was an art, but sliding the blizzard cup over the blending stick and managing to mix the toppings into the delicate ice cream evenly was a show of power. 

Like, a nice, sweet show of power. For good and ice cream. Now I want a pumpkin blizzard. 

I personally use the Cuisinart CSB-79 Smart Stick 2 Speed Hand Blender. I've had it since 2014, and it is perfect for making sauces, soups, smoothies—I've even used it to mix honey into natural peanut butter, which is no easy feat with out power tools. It's super easy to use and super easy to clean. The only slight, slight issue I've had with it is that the measuring cup cracked from over use (I used to use it almost every morning to blend greens finely for smoothies), but we were able to get a new one really easily. 

Back to the soup. I hope you try it out, and if you do, please let me know how it goes! I love to hear from you on social media and in the comments. I you want to hear from me more often, make sure you sign up for my email list. You'll get a sweet treat for doing so. Not a pumpkin blizzard, but it's pretty good. 

So what's your favorite autumn soup? Let me know in the comments!

Without further ado.... Let's get roasting!

acorn_squash_soup

All right, so let's review. Now that you've created this recipe, you know how to:

  • Roast squash
  • Brown butter
  • Toast pepitas

And it was pretty simple, right?

Listen, the number of recipes you can make with if you can do that is astounding. This is cause for celebration! Be proud of yourself, because you can cook. 

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