Before the feast (a few recipes follow), our second visit to long-time friend Merry Sue Baum in Nazareth, PA, in 5 weeks time, we began the journey with a movie at The Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas, a two-screen independent, foreign and arthouse cinema, part of the Steel Stacks renovation twenty minutes away in Bethlehem, a rust-belt city enjoying a cultural renaissance.
Russ and Merry Sue pose outside of the Town Square building which houses the movie theater.
SteelStacks is a ten-acre campus dedicated to arts, culture, family events, community celebrations, education and fun. Once the home plant of Bethlehem Steel—the second largest steel manufacturer in the nation—the site has been reborn through music and art, offering more than 1,000 concerts and eight different festivals annually. Since its opening in spring 2011, more than one million people have visited SteelStacks to enjoy 1,750-plus musical performances, films, community celebrations and festivals including Musikfest, the largest free music festival in the nation!
For nearly a century, the Bethlehem Steel plant served as the economic lifeblood of the community, employing tens of thousands of people while producing the steel that built our nation’s skyscrapers, bridges and even the U.S. Navy, helping win two World Wars in the process. In 1995, however, after a nearly 120-year history of steel production on the site, the plant closed its doors forever, leaving the region with a void that seemed impossible to fill.
Rather than demolish the historic mill or walk away and let it fall apart, the community rallied around the iconic plant, working hard to bring new life to the former industrial giant. Through a partnership involving the nonprofit ArtsQuest, plans were put in place to transform the site into an arts and entertainment district that would showcase music, art, festivals, educational programming and more throughout the year. On our previous visit we enjoyed the annual Chriskindlmarkt, which celebrated 25 years this past holiday season.
Merry Sue keeps Russ company at the kitchen bar…
While there are a slew of fabulous restaurants in the area that we could have patronized, Merry Sue planned an International dinner back at the Baum Shelter where we, along with neighbors Marty and Mary Beth, would all contribute an ethnic option to the feast. For starters, we munched on Lynn’s freshly made Holey Moley Great Guacamole with two types of chips. Marty was so impressed with the Red Hot Blues, that he not only took a picture of the front of the chip bag, but also the UPC code!
The original plan was to serve Merry Sue’s Italian Wedding Soup (recipe courtesy of Ina Garten), made with chicken meatballs, as the main entrée. But once we polished off Mary Beth’s luscious homemade traditional Polish Perogie’s with onion and sour cream, and our Pinchos Morunos (scroll down on the Savory Side of Life page for recipe), we decided to save the soup for lunch the next day when we had our appetites back.
To enlighten, “pierogi,” also known as varenyky, are filled dumplings of Central European origin made by wrapping unleavened dough around a savory (in this case, potato) or sweet filling and cooking in boiling water. A typical snack of the Spanish Basque Country, “pinchos” consist of an ingredient or mixture of ingredients, and fastened with a toothpick, which gives the food its name “pincho”, meaning “spike.” Moruno means “Moorish.”
Russ skewers the pinchos for grilling.
I always just assumed that Italian Wedding Soup was named as such because it was traditional to serve at an Italian wedding ceremony. Not so. The term “wedding soup” comes from the Italian language phrase “minestra maritata (married soup),” which is a reference to the flavor produced by the combination/”marriage” of greens and the broth. The modern wedding soup is quite a bit lighter than the old Spanish form, which contained more meats than just the meatballs of modern Italian-American versions.
The culinary trip included Mexican Guacamole, Polish Perogies, Spanish Pinchos and Italian Soup.
The cooks: Mary Beth, Lynn and Merry Sue.
Lynn’s Holy Moley Great Guacamole
- 1/4 cup chopped red onion
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4-5 ripe Hass avocados, halved, pitted
- 2 plum tomatoes, seeded, diced
- 2 jalapeños, seeded, minced
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- In large bowl combine onion, lime juice and salt; let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, chop other ingredients. After the onion mixture is ready, with spoon, scoop avocado into bowl with onion mixture. Coarsely mash with potato masher or fork.
- Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover surface directly with plastic wrap and eliminate any air pockets. Refrigerate up to 24 hours before serving. Serve with tortilla chips for scooping.
Italian Wedding Soup
While the soup was delicious, we all agreed, it would have been kicked-up-a-notch if homemade stock was used, as indicated in the ingredient list.
For the meatballs:
- 3/4 pound ground chicken
- 1/2 pound chicken sausage, casings removed
- 2/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the soup:
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- 1 cup minced yellow onion
- 1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
- 3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
- 10 cups homemade chicken stock
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup small pasta such as tubetini or stars
- 1/4 cup minced fresh dill
- 12 ounces baby spinach, washed and trimmed
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- For the meatballs, place the ground chicken, sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Pecorino, Parmesan, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork.
- With a teaspoon, drop 1 to 1 1/4-inch meatballs onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. (You should have about 40 meatballs. They don’t have to be perfectly round.) Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.
- In the meantime, for the soup, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and saute until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil.
- Add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the pasta is tender. Add the fresh dill and then the meatballs to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper.
- Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan.
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