Issa Cooks: Pasta e Fagioli Soup

This is one of my favorite soups, but it's not vegetarian at too many restaurants! Left to my own devices, I invented a recipe somewhat resembling what I believe this macaroni and bean soup should taste like.  And it was awesome. Ingredients:

5 cups vegetable broth 3 tablespoons tomato paste 2 cans cannellini beans 8 0z ditalini pasta (cooked in advance) 1 cup fresh or frozen chopped spinach 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Bring the broth and tomato paste to a boil.  Add beans and spinach, simmer for 20 minutes, stir in pasta and cheese, let simmer for another few minutes until pasta has absorbed some broth. Serve with parmesan sprinkled on top.


Paris I love You but You’re Bringing Me Down

I’ve survived the greatest fear of my generation: losing an iPhone. Wednesday marked my first day of disenchantment with Paris. I woke up early to walk to Starbucks to catch up on work. The petite dejuneur at a Parisian Starbucks offers fresh squeezed orange juice, an espresso beverage of choice, and a pastry of choice, so I was set to camp out for the morning. An hour into editing, negotiating, and iMessaging later, a kid comes up from behind me and rattles paper in my face and over my laptop screen, while his sister yells at me in French.

“Go away, go away.” They left. As I turned back to return to the review I was working on, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Yes, my iPhone had left its comfortable spot on my keyboard, and was gone forever. Apparently, this paper-waving distraction is a common trick, it’s all about getting you to lose your focus, but I was not aware of this until after it happened. “Oh, the paper trick, that happens all the time!” That would have been good to know…

So Paris is not perfect. I already knew this much with their overpriced salads and stupid Metro tickets that only work when they want to, but really? My phone was taken by kids? And there’s nothing I could do about it? Paris was getting less magical by the second. Yes, it’s just a phone, and it’s easily replaceable, I’m still safe and healthy, so it’s nothing to get too upset over. But being stolen from is a pretty terrible feeling. I was taken advantage of right before my eyes and there was nothing I could do to stop it. While I still feel safe in Paris, perhaps safer than in New York in many instances, there’s now this suspicion I can’t leave behind, that at any time, in any place, someone may try to take something from me, with or without my knowledge.

After the child-theft, I walked to class for a writing workshop followed a lecture by a woman who translates American books into French, including all of Mary Higgins Clark’s work. After class, we grabbed dinner at an Italian restaurant (after only a week and a half I’m easily known as the girl who eats only pasta, and I truly appreciate everyone’s effort in finding me delicious pasta-serving places) and then headed to what is becoming our regular bar, WOS, to watch the Spain vs. Italy game and mourn the loss of my iPhone.

End of blog post for Wednesday. Text me for deets, BFFS.

Shopaholic Takes Paris

Thursday morning was gorgeous! Finally nice weather in Paris! I walked to the Musée Maillol, which is not one of the more famous museums in Paris, but was highly recommended by a friend, and I completely endorse that. Artisde Maillol’s artwork and art collection is featured permanently in the upper-level galleries, and the current visiting exhibit is of Artemesia Gentileschi’s paintings, who I originally fell in love with on a trip to Italy a few years ago. In short, she’s a female Baroque painter with plenty of masterful portraits of women kicking ass. Go see it. It’s worth the 9 euros. The museum also has a beautiful tearoom and restaurant, with extremely reasonable prices for a classy afternoon meal.

A friend living here told me that sale season would soon come to Paris, and I would be overwhelmed by all the Soldes signs in windows. Overwhelmed by shopping? Moi? I’m a pretty expert shopper, but I’m going to say she was right on this one—the entire city is on sale! Where to start? Where to go? Am I getting a good deal or is this 90 euro shirt that’s half off and then 20% off still overpriced? Am I at the Forever 21 or J Crew of Paris? Why are all these colors on the same dress? I went into many, many boutiques, and left empty handed. PARIS WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME? Everyone in Paris looks truly fashionable, but I’m having a hard time figuring out where they actually purchase their clothes…

Thursday evening after class we had Salon, in which writers presented their work along with other various talents. We were treated to unbelievably delicious varieties of goat cheese and cream puffs, and a bit of Paris’ magic was re-instilled in me. After Salon, I walked to Odeon to meet a high school friend for crepes, where we caught up and reminisced, all while taking in the streets of Paris.

Friday began with more crepes, and a walk to les Marais to visit the Picasso Museum, which it turns out, is under renovation. Why I never think to consult the Internet before planning my day is beyond me.

I decided just to wander, because getting lost in Paris is every American’s dream! I walked around the Orthodox neighborhood; many Parisian Jewish women look indistinguishable from hipsters: vintage peasant skirt, headscarf, oversized sweater. Is Brooklyn headed in this direction? #Assimilation.

Before crossing the river back home, I stopped into Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHV), the big Parisian department store, similar to Harrod’s or Macy’s. I browsed clothing and makeup on the 0 level, and continued on up to look at everything from art supplies to window treatments to sushi and gelato. Paris is a place to be looked at and a place to be seen, but at BHV I finally felt that anonymity I love about the streets of New York. Everyone was too self-absorbed and determined in their shopping to care about what I wore or how poor my French was. Only I could feel at home in a department store. Or walking down streets where dogs think they're cats...

I headed home for a Friday night pasta dinner and met friends on the steps of the Pantheon, where local students hang out at night. At risk of sounding like an alcoholic, New York’s open container laws are making less and less sense to me. While yes, there is always potential for street-drinking to go awry, it’s so nice to share a bottle of wine with friends outdoors on a beautiful summer night, and not be forced into a sketchy bar or tiny apartment in order to socialize. In Paris, while wine is more popular than water, drinking is not about getting drunk, but much like getting coffee, about socializing while enjoying a beverage, sipping slowly and talking quickly and not worrying about where the night will end up.

Olive Garden Lady: Why All the Hate?

Big in online food news this week was a rave review of a new Olive Garden restaurant which opened recently in Grand Forks, Washington.  The reviewer, Marilyn Hagerty, is an elderly reporter who writes various recurring columns for the Grand Forks Herald, including "The Eat Beat," which featured Olive Garden this week.  While we cannot imagine the New York Times food critic endorsing this chain known for faux-talian eats, few cities can top the culinary adventure that is New York.

Though I had the privilege of deciding whether to eat tonight's dinner at a vegan Chinese, vegan Japanese, vegan Korean, or vegan Vietnamese restaurant, many people are lucky if they have even one vegan restaurant within a reasonable distance to home. Of course, I love NYC for its culinary diversity, but everyone has her own personal reasons for living where she does, and who are we, the culinary snobs of the internet, to judge what a person enjoys?

While I found the Gawker responses ( to be quite humorous, there's a huge sense of elitism that entitles people to criticism another person's taste.

Hagerty comes off as an honest and excitable woman:  she's easily impressed by the Tuscan interior of her local Olive Garden and appreciates the warm bread sticks that arrive endlessly at her table.  She orders fettucine alfredo and enjoys the presence of a waiter ready with parmesan cheese hovering expectantly over her dish. Are these things so bad? Must we diss those who are impressed by the pleasures in life?

Hagerty labels the establishment "the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks."  Sure, it may not meet up with Manhattan standards, but we have to assume the Hagerty, a longtime resident of Grand Forks knows what she's talking about. Manhattanites, Brooklynites, online New York wannabes: relax. It’s just pasta!

Issa Cooks: Homemade Orecchiette!

While I used to enjoy rolling out long sheets of linguine on my pasta maker, various moves have left my beloved pasta maker somewhere in Brooklyn and a broad variety of whisks in Upper Manhattan.  Regardless, after weeks of bemoaning my forgotten pasta machine, I took matters into my own hands and made my own homemade pasta dish. Orecchiette, which means "little ear" in Italian, is quite simple to make by hand. With a few helpers to shape the noodles, this pasta makes a savory, affordable, and filling dish for a large group.  In fact, my orecchiette was so popular that I made it twice in a week (despite the floury mess that turned my kitchen into a snowy wonderland)!


2 eggs, room temperature 2 Cups flour, plus extra for kneading 1/2 Cup warm water Pinch of Salt

Crack the eggs in a bowl and beat until fully scrambled.  Add salt.

Beat in the first cup of flour, a half cup at a time.  When dough becomes too sticky to move with a whisk, start kneading with your hands. Before touching the sticky dough, dust hands with flour.  Add another half cup.

Once all the flour is added, take the lump of dough in your hands and knead in the last half cup of flour.  If the dough is too dry, add the warm water gradually.

If the dough still sticks to your hands after two cups of flour have been added (as shown above), slowly knead in more flour until dough is firm and does not leave much sticky residue on hands.

Roll the dough into a ball and wrap in flour dusted plastic wrap. Chill in refrigerator for 60 minutes.  (Switch your laundry, watch Glee, and the dough will be set!) And now the fun part... 

Roll ball of dough the size of tennis balls out onto a floured cutting board or table.  Use both hands to make a coil shape about an inch in diameter.  (My elementary school ceramics teacher would be proud at how quickly I learned to do this!)  Sprinkle flour on a sharp bread knife and slice rounds about 1/8 inch in diameter.  This will smush the coil, but don't despair, a few seconds of re-rolling will perfect the shape.

Separate the rounds and lie on a floured surface. Press a flour-coated thumb into the center of the pasta to indent it. When all of the pasta has been shaped, let it sit out for 30 minutes to air dry.  Yes, this process is long, but I promise it's worth it.

Meanwhile, you can prepare a simple and elegant sauce to feature your orechiette!

16 oz Cherry Tomatoes 3/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1/2 Cup Basil leaves, sliced lengthwise Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a sauce pot over medium heat.  Add the (cleaned) tomatoes and coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Stir every few minutes but be aware of splattering oil.  When tomato skins start to break open, lower heat and continue stirring every few minutes.

When your pot of water is boiling, add a sprinkle of salt and toss in the orecchiette.  Boil for approximately 7 minutes, or until the pasta is floating. Cooking time depends on how thinly the noodles were sliced. Drain the floating pasta, do not rinse, and add directly to the  cooked tomatoes.  Stir in the shreds of basil and you're done!

Easy to serve in a large bowl, family style, with parmesan cheese as a garnish.

Bon apetite!

Issa Cooks: Stuffed Shells!

As much as I love cooking, during the school year, it's often hard to find the time to make something new and delicious every night. Hence, Kraft Mac and Cheese becomes my almost nightly staple. I do admit to loving psychedelic pseudo-cheese covered noodles perhaps a bit too much. However, these shells almost rank as high on my scale of cheesy delicious pasta. This dish takes slightly longer to make, but also has protein, veggies, and almost tastes better left over!
1 Box Jumbo Shells (16oz)
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Chopped Garlic
1 Can of (Organic) Whole Peeled Tomatoes
12oz Ricotta Cheese
1 Package Frozen Spinach
1 Package Baby Bella Mushrooms
Italian Seasonings
Salt & Pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.  Heat six quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot. Add salt to taste.
To make sauce:
Heat olive oil in a frying pan on medium flame and add a few teaspoons of garlic (to taste).  Stir until garlic is golden brown. Lower the flame and add in the entire can of tomatoes- beware of splattering! Stir until garlic has mixed in with tomatoes and add Italian Seasonings to taste.  Feel free to throw in fresh basil, if available.  Simmer for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
Once the tomato mixture has come to a slow boil, transfer the contents of the pan to a food processor, or a blender, which works equally as well.  Pulse on high until the sauce is completely smooth.
Transfer the sauce back to the pan and simmer on low heat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add jumbo shells to the boiling water.  Add a few shakes of salt to bring out the flavor of the pasta. Cook according to the al dente directions on the box.  The noodles need to be firm!
Defrost the spinach in the microwave.  Chop the mushrooms to desired size.  Mix vegetables with ricotta cheese in a large bowl and add a few shakes of italian seasoning for flavor.
Drain and rinse the noodles in cold water until they're cool enough to touch.  Return to the pot.  Pour the pan of sauce into the bottom of a large glass baking pan.  You're ready to stuff! (Which is not an activity conducive to taking pictures or texting...)  Layer two noodles together and stuff with a heaping teaspoon of cheese mixture.  Set into the baking pan.  Fill baking pan with rows of noodles.
When the pan is full, sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top of shells and bake for 15 minutes.  Broil for 5 more minutes for a crispy topping, and dinner/lunch for the next week is ready!