Monday, March 14, 2016

Italian Vegetable Stew for #TheBookClubCookbookCC

This month's assignment for the BCCBCC is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and was chosen by Emily of Life on Food.  You still have time to join in the fun, just go to Emily's invitation post and learn how. You can read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn if you want but it is not mandatory.  I read this book many years ago as part of a book club that I belonged to that we called the Book n Cook Club.  It was a great group of people and we were together for many years.  Then, life happened.  People retired and moved away, got married and had babies, moved out of the area, etc. and we slowly disintegrated. This is one of the reasons I love blogging.  Now I belong to this club and also Cook the Books which is a lot of fun as well.

In this club we choose a book that has been incorporated into this cookbook written by Judy Gelman and Vicki Krupp.  They have done all of the legwork for us.  They give a synopsis of the book and a recipe that was inspired by it.  They give little blurbs from different bookclubs telling their feelings on the book and what it inspired them to create.  You can read the book and be inspired to create your own recipe.  You can read the blurbs in the cookbook and see if that inspires you or you can make the recipe in the cookbook, either as written or adapted to make it your own.

I did not reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for this month.  I enjoyed the book when I read it but I am currently in the middle of other novels and didn't think I would finish in time to read this one and create a dish.  The story is of a young girl and her family during the great depression.  They were very poor and to make matters worse their father had a drinking problem.  It is a story of struggles and success, failures and resilience.  It is a story of a family barely getting by but knowing that above all they were a family.

Image result for a tree grows in brooklyn

Food was scarce for the family and the young girl would pass by a bakery and admire the Charlotte Russe in the window and this is what inspired the authors of the cookbook to choose Chocolate Russe as the dish they showcased.  I didn't make a Russe although I have a lovely recipe for a Raspberry Russe that I love.  I guess I chose not to make it because that was not the food that stuck with me from the book.  If you were to ask me what food I remember from this story that I read some 10 years ago I would respond stale bread and limp vegetables.  You see, the young girl would go to that bakery, not for pastries but for the day old bread which was all they could afford.  Then she would go to the grocer and look for vegetables that were past their prime and so could be gotten for much less and perhaps even free.  If she were very lucky, the butcher might give her a soup bone.  These are the memories that have stuck with me.  I don't know how accurate they are but that's what I remember so that is what I'm going with.

I decided to make an Italian Vegetable Stew that uses stale bread as a thickening agent.  I did not use limp vegetables (well the celery was limp) but I did use vegetables that are plentiful and inexpensive.

Roughly tear your bread into pieces and let it set out for a couple hours to further stale. I had some onion rye that had seen better days but you can use any day old bread that you happen to have on hand. This is a very rustic stew so you need not worry too much about knife cuts on your veggies. Just roughly chop them.  The original recipe called for leeks, I didn't have any so I used onion.  You can use any greens that you would like.  The recipe called for mustard greens and kale.  I used kale and chard.

Once the vegetables are sweated and tender, add the greens, the beans and your seasonings.  I used dried thyme, a bay leaf and oregano paste.  You can use canned or boxed broth.  I happened to have some homemade vegetable broth so I used that.  You could also use chicken or beef broth but then it would not be vegetarian or vegan.

To serve, scatter some bread into a shallow bowl and ladle the stew over the top.  Drizzle a bit of good olive oil over all and enjoy. I made the stew for dinner tonight because it is Meatless Monday.  I can see this dish as one that would have been made and served during this time period when families learned to stretch what little food they had into comforting and filling meals.

Italian Vegetable Stew
adapted from Bon Appetit

1/2 loaf of day old bread, torn into pieces
1 bunch swiss chard, center ribs and stems removed
1 bunch kale, center ribs and stems removed
2 T. olive oil
2 carrots, scraped and cut into small chunks
1 small onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of slightly dried red pepper flakes, crumbles or 1/4 t. crushed red pepper
1 qt. whole tomatoes with their juices
8 c. vegetable broth
3 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, rinsed
1 t. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 t. oregano paste
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil for drizzling

Scatter bread on baking sheet and allow to sit at room temperature for a couple of hours.  Blanch chard and kale leaves for a few minutes, until tender, rinsing immediately with cold water to cool. Place in salad spinner and spin dry (or squeeze in paper towels).  Roughly chop the leaves and set aside.  

Heat olive oil in large pot over med heat.  Add the carrots, celery and onion, cook stirring occasionally until vegetables are tender, 8-10 minutes.  Add the garlic and chili pepper, cook and stir until fragrant, 1 minute or so. Add tomatoes and their juices, crushing the tomatoes with your hands as you do.  Cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is evaporated, 10-15 minutes.  Add the reserved greens, rinsed beans, thyme, bay leaf, oregano, salt and pepper.  Cook and stir for a few moments then stir in the broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for an hour until flavors meld.  

Serve over torn bread with a drizzle of good olive oil.  Print Recipe


  1. Your stew sounds and look delicious. I think I have this book on my reading list. If not, it will be soon. Sounds like one I would enjoy!

  2. Like you the chocolate russe was not what stuck with me as I read all of the food descriptions. Italian veggie soup was a perfect inspired recipe.

  3. This looks fabulous, Wendy!!! Thanks for posting.


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