Although the calendar says Spring, there’s still a nip in the air most days, and it will be a while before we in the Northeast U.S. can reliably leave the house without wearing a jacket or sweater. So for those days in between seasons, when it can still feel a bit chilly, this mushroom beef barley soup is like a warm hug at the dinner table. You can make this without the beef, but I found it an ideal way to use up a small bit of leftover pot roast I had made a couple of days earlier. It was only a couple of ounces, but when shredded and added to the soup, it added a real depth of flavor.
Use any kind of mushrooms you want – from supermarket white button mushrooms to shiitake. I used baby portobello mushrooms. I also added a parmesan rind to the soup as it was simmering, something I do with many kinds of soups.
It takes only about forty five minutes from start to finish to make this satisfying and delicious soup, and with a side salad and a good loaf of bread, dinner is ready.
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Spring may be just around the corner, but we’ve still got a few days left in February, and if March is anything like last year, when we were socked with three major snowstorms, then there’s still plenty of time to make warm, stick-to-the-ribs comfort food, like this recipe from Lidia Bastianich.
Who doesn’t know Lidia, who has written numerous cookbooks and children’s books; whose show on public television has captivated us for years; whose restaurants in New York, Kansas City and Pittsburgh are magnets for lovers of good Italian food; whose food emporium in New York – EATALY – is chock full of any kind of Italian product you could wish for; and Lidia – whose journey as an immigrant to the United States is explained in her heartfelt memoir, “My American Dream”?
Fans of Lidia in the Princeton, N.J. area were treated to an afternoon with her yesterday, when she agreed to speak at the Italian cultural organization where I’m a board member – Dorothea’s House.
The house was founded more than 100 years ago by the father and husband of Dorothea Van Dyke McLane, a well-to-do Princetonian who ministered to the needs of recent Italian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. Sadly, Dorothea died during childbirth at age 24, along with her baby daughter. Today Dorothea’s House is a vibrant Italian cultural center, offering Italian language classes for adults and children, monthly programs on Italian topics, an Italian movie series, and scholarships for high school students.
During the afternoon, Lidia spoke to a packed crowd about her early life in Pula, a town in the Istria peninsula that was once part of Italy but was annexed to Yugoslavia after World War II, and now is part of Croatia. The audience listened with rapt attention as she spoke of details about her journey to a new country and consequent life in the U.S., including her rise to success in the restaurant business.
Lidia, whose family fled Communist Yugoslavia, arrived in the United States at twelve years old, after having been interned for two years in a refugee camp in Trieste, Italy. Thanks to Catholic Charities, her family settled in the U.S., where she was able to eventually realize her American dream. She is involved in many philanthropic causes, and agreed to return to Dorothea’s House (she last spoke here in 2003) as a benefit for our scholarship fund.
Lidia exudes warmth and a genuine interest in people, which in turn endears her to anyone who meets her. She was gracious enough to sign books for everyone there, including my granddaughter Aurelia.
Lidia will be doing a book tour to promote her memoir, and if she comes to a city near you, don’t miss the chance to meet her in person. Click here to read about her upcoming appearances.
If you can’t make it to see her in person, there are always her cookbooks to inspire you. This recipe comes from one of her earliest cookbooks, “La Cucina Di Lidia.” For this dish, which is reminiscent of the food of her childhood, Lidia says that paprika and/or sour cream were also added sometimes, a nod to the Eastern European influence of her birthplace. I used bone marrow here, as called for in the recipe, but the dish is delicious even without it. Serve it over polenta as I did, or noodles, or rice.
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