Ciao'd after a March Madness weekend. And I do mean mad.

Continuing the asparagus theme from last week (spring is to asparagus what summer is to zucchini), here's a recipe that pairs the subtle flavor of white Swiss chard stems with the more pronounced one of asparagus. It's a brilliant marriage and, of course, Marcella Hazan offered the recipe to us. The vegetables are topped with Parmesan cheese and butter. As Marcella says, "It's a rare vegetable that cannot profit from this classic technique." She is so, so right. 

Serves 4

2 pounds Swiss chard
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 pound asparagus
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Trim the Swiss chard stalks of all leaves. Reserve the leaves for another use. Cut off any discolored portion of the bottom of the stalks but shorten them no further. Wash the stalks in cold water.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil with one tablespoon of the salt. Add the stalks and cook until tender when pierced with a fork, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a colander and rinse with cold water. Transfer to a plate and pat dry. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

Trim the ends of the asparagus, leaving only the moist tender parts of the stalk, about 1 inch or so. Peel the tough green skin from the base of the spear to the end of the stalk. Bring the chard water to a boil once again, add the remaining tablespoon of salt and asparagus spears. Cook until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a colander and rinse with cold water. Transfer to a plate and pat dry. 

Grease a shallow, medium-sized baking dish with 1/2 tablespoon of the butter. Line the bottom with a layer of chard stalks, and then top with a layer of asparagus. Repeat until you have used up all the vegetables. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top, distributing it evenly. Dot with the remaining butter. Place the dish on the top rack of the oven and bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving. Recipe by Marcella Hazan, Marcella's Italian Kitchen, Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.


Ciao'd over ticking another Oscar-nominated movie off my list. 

It’s raining or snowing somewhere. Roasted Tomato Soup with Rice, accompanied by Parmesan Parsley Toast, is just the ticket for keeping you warm and your stomach happy. Canned fire-roasted tomatoes make the soup quick and easy.

You’ll spend most of your time (and not a lot) making the soffritto. Soffritto is the Italian version of the French mirepoix. Both are a combination of aromatics such as celery, carrot, and onion that form the flavor foundation for the soup. The vegetables in the soffritto should be finely chopped so they cook, or should I say, almost melt into the oil.  Begin with a cold pan and an ample amount of olive oil. Add the vegetables, turn the heat to medium, and cook slowly. It’s perfectly fine to add complementary flavors to the soffritto such as garlic and herbs.  A splash of white wine never hurt either.

One of my favorite and most accomplished Italian cooks, Emiko Davies, has a great piece about soffritto on her blog. It’s informative and fascinating. Check it out here.

One more thing about making deeply flavored, satisfying soup: the pot you cook it in counts. I am partial to enameled cast iron for its ability to hold the gentle heat that facilitates a meltingly rich soffritto and a soft simmer. Plus, it looks great, goes from stovetop to table, and YES! enameled cast iron is super easy to clean. I am partial to the Staub 5-quart Cocotte. The lid fits snugly and the wide handles make it easy to grip with dishtowels (what I use) or oven mitts. This is not a plug for Staub. Well I guess it is, but it’s on me. No $$ changed hands. If you want to learn more, visit Staub.



This is a chunky tomato soup with pleasing textures gleaned from the diced tomatoes and rice. The fire-roasted tomatoes add a pleasant depth of flavor. 

Serves 4

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, about 3 inches each
3 large leaves fresh sage
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
one 14-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes
Dash or two of red pepper (optional)
4 cups chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup rice
Handful chopped fresh parsley or chopped fresh basil

Parmesan Parsley Toast
4 slices Italian bread, about 1/2-inch each
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the olive oil, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, rosemary, and sage in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. 

Increase the heat to high. Add the tomato paste and red wine. Once the red wine has just about evaporated, add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to boil, lower the heat, add the rice and simmer until the rice is just tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, use a fork to mash the butter, Parmesan cheese, parsley, and black pepper. Spread evenly on each slice of bread. Place on a baking sheet and bake on the middle rack of the oven until the edges are crispy and the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes. 

Remove the rosemary sprigs and sage leaves from the soup. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the parsley or basil (and a splash of wine, if you like) and serve along with the Parmesan Parsley Toast. If not serving with the toast, pass Parmesan at the table.


While I can eat this dish on its own - milk softens the polenta, Parmesan cheese enriches it, and black pepper spikes it - it is also a lovely complement to a host of flavors. Serve it alongside stews, roast chicken, or sausage. For a vegetarian option,  pair the polenta with braised greens, sauteed mushrooms, or tomato sauce. In the spirit of saving time, I opted for quick-cooking polenta. Recipe here...

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