Tag Archives: soup

A Perfect Day for Gazpacho

I am on vacation. If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I usually take the summers off. This is never intentional. Summer should be the best time of year for writing about food and as I spend a good part of the summer in California, I have tons to write about. So, today I am up at 6:00, the sun just burning through the early morning fog. Everyone is still asleep so I can sort through photos, tap away on the keyboard, sip a large bowl of cafe au lait and write in peace! Through the open window, I think I hear an owl. When I look up, the valley is barely visible through the twisted branches of the live oaks outside. It is cool up here in the front bedroom with the breeze blowing through the open windows. Nothing like how hot it will be by noon. In a couple of hours, I’ll drive down the road to the farm in San Martin so we can have gazpacho for lunch. There, the tomatoes almost burst in the heat, the cucumbers staked under their their wide green leaves are crisp and cool, and the air is spicy with garlic.

There are two ways to make gazpacho. You can hand chop the vegetables or you can puree them in a blender. Hand chopping vegetables into precise smithereens seems like a waste of time on a blisteringly hot day, when the tomatoes are perfect for gazpacho. On hot days, you shouldn’t have to work too hard just to make a little lunch. This is why you have a blender.

Gazpacho - serves 10

  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1 (2-inch) piece baguette or if you don’t have any on hand (I didn’t) 1 slice of any kind of sandwich bread, crusts removed
  • 15 very ripe medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 medium English cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika (smoked paprika has gone so mainstream they even sell it at Trader Joe’s!)
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  1. In a blender, soak bread in tomato juice for 15 minutes.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Add tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, salt, and smoked paprika. Blend again until smooth.
  4. With motor running, slowly add the vinegar, then the olive oil.
  5. If you have the patience, chill for 4 hours, then serve. I had a bowl right away with an ice cube in it, and then another bowl 4 hours later.
The Garnish
  • 1/2 cucumber, finely diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp kosher sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. In medium bowl, toss together all ingredients.
  2. Ladle gazpacho into bowls.
  3. Spoon chopped vegetable mixture into middle of each bowl, dividing evenly among bowls. Serve immediately.

Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for 2 days.

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Is THIS delicious enough?

I’ve cleaned up my act. Asparagus, arugula, beets, lima beans, salmon, plain yogurt, walnuts, blueberries, raspberries and cantaloupe and a dearth of processed grains have shaped my daily menu. Instead of veering wildly from starving myself to voracious bingeing on pear and custard pastries or salt and pepper potato chips I’ve made sure to consume responsibly in a measured and thoughtful fashion. (Although I have to confess, I was occasionally saved from some very poor choices by a square of dark chocolate.)

Then over the weekend I read this article by Mark Bittman. And I watched his little video and became obsessed. As you know, I am a slave to a rustic soup and this one was full of pork fat, cheese and olive oil. I know it’s not possible to detox on all that animal protein and fat, but is it possible to eat this kind of food in the midst of a detox and still be committed to detoxing?! For me, the metric has to be based on how delicious and flavorful the food is – which is a very personal way to measure! It seemed crazy to even try this soup, but…I just had to! Even the most thoughtfully prepared detox food can quickly become very boring!

In Mr. de Carlo’s “Bone Soup” there is a side of baby back pork ribs (it could have been any piece of meat with a large bone but the pork neck the butcher had was frozen in a solid lump and I wasn’t willing to wait for it to thaw). There is a lot of olive oil, not only in the soup, but on the soup and also gilding the deftly salted croutons which garnish the soup with bright raggedly torn leaves of basil. And how about the two big handfuls of parmesan cheese, in the soup – adding body and complex, savory, tang – and then even more thrown over the soup for good measure? This is what Mr. Bittman has to say about it:

But it’s worth pointing out, I think, that the soup is neither a fat-bomb (I wouldn’t be surprised if it has fewer calories than Olga’s) nor one that lacks complexity.

I am still trying to figure out how this soup is not a “fat-bomb”…

Olga’s method, as described by Mr. Bittman, is strikingly similar to this recipe I love from Alice Waters, which if you can refrain from adding cheese, is actually vegan. It’s very very healthy. And Mark Bittman says that this might have fewer calories than a vegetable soup made with water and olive oil…Hmmm.

I can’t wrap my head around it. Oh well. I will just trust Mark Bittman!

I felt compelled to make this soup as soon as I read the recipe and I would hate not to try something so clearly marvelous because of some silly detox “rules”. This is how to think about it: Bone Soup is a little vacation from the Detox. And like a really good vacation it will be revivifying, meditative, transporting and totally necessary. It is an entirely different sort of health transgression from pastry and potato chips.  The thing is, you can eat pretty much whatever you want on a diet if you set seriously high standards – this means only eat food that is truly delicious. Since Bone Soup takes five hours from start to finish there is no danger of eating that way everyday. I wouldn’t want to. Who would?! It’s too rich. It’s a maybe once a week vacation from the berries, melons, lettuces, yogurt and fish that I usually eat.

Save this complex and warming soup for a cold day. Like yesterday.

Bone and Black Chickpea Soup

slightly adapted from Frank de Carlo’s Black Chickpea Soup

  • 1 cup black dried chickpeas, soaked over night and then drained (next time I’m going with the yellow chickpeas, black chickpeas are good but much more firm than the yellow)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil + more for the croutons
  • 1 pound baby back pork ribs
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 carrot diced
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 14 ounce can peeled plum tomatoes, drained if very liquid and chopped
  • a bay leaf
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 pound rustic bread cut or torn in 1 1/2″ chunks
  • 1 cup chard leaves, washed and roughly shredded
  • 2 eggs
  • coarsely grated parmesan – about 3 cups
  • fresh basil leaves, washed, dried and torn into large pieces
  1. Over a medium flame, heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a 7 quart heavy stock pot or Dutch oven.  While the oil is heating, lightly season the meat with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. When the oil is shimmering, start browning the meat. There should be a distinct sizzle but no smoke. If you happen to burn the fond (the delicious brown crispy stuff on the bottom of the pot, be sure to wipe it off before you continue to the next step or your soup will taste acrid.) The meat should be deeply browned on both sides but not burnt.
  2. After the meat is brown, add the tomatoes, bay, thyme sprigs, drained chickpeas, wine and enough water to cover everything by an inch. Cover the pot and bring the soup to a simmer over medium high heat. Then turn the heat to low, with the lid half way off. You can simmer for 3 – 5 hours.
  3. While the soup is simmering, take a moment to make the croutons. Heat the oven to 325. Toss the bread cubes in a bowl with some olive oil, 3 or 4 tablespoons and a pinch of sea salt. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for about 10 minutes or until they are golden and crisp. Remove and set aside until ready to serve.
  4. When both the meat and the beans are fully cooked and tender, remove the meat to a cutting board and when it has cooled slightly, shred the meat and discard the bones, fat and gristle. Add the shredded meat back to the pot.
  5. Beat the two eggs together in a small bowl and then whisk into the soup. Whisk in 2 cups of the parmesan, and swirl in a little more olive oil
  6. To serve, ladle the soup into a wide soup plate or bowl. Garnish each with a few large croutons, another drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and several torn basil leaves.
Mr. de Carlo describes this soup as Umbrian. I don’t understand how this works exactly, but when I eat something like this, so complex and so distinctly of a certain place, it’s like being right there in Umbria just for those few moments you are eating. And for me that is reason enough to make this soup.

 

 

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Rather Exciting Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

There is something unbearably grim about March. There are some signs of spring, sure. In the back of the garden, vibrant, yellow, witch hazel blooms and the bobbing maroon, green, and white petals of hellebore sway crazily in the wind. A few weeks later, near the trellis, little purple crocuses poke up bravely. I say that because they’re getting beaten down by hail, driving rain, and then blanketed with wet snow. It’s a good thing they’re so short or they’d be flattened.

On top of all this bad weather, I’m sick of bad weather cooking. Long simmering stews?! Again?! Not another soup. Or a roast. Really, no more haunches of animals, thanks. On Saturday, we were very busy so I didn’t have time for a big cooking marathon anyway. Even though I am partial to a Saturday cooking project, they’re hard to fit in with family life. So. What I am supposed to make for dinner?

I’ll tell you. Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. But with a twist. I didn’t grow up with Campbell’s Tomato Soup or grilled American cheese sandwiches so I am not at all invested in that gestalt. What I am offering here is hardly the garden-variety tomato soup and sandwich of your youth. No. This is creamy tomato soup as you probably remember, but made smoky with bacon and hot Spanish paprika. The cheese sandwich oozes taleggio over satiny folds of Italian prosciutto and roasted salt and peppery asparagus. If you can get your hands on some buffalo taleggio, you better go for it. I have to say, not only is this menu completely delicious, but, the colors are ravishing and the perfect antidote to dreary grey skies.

Saturday night soup and sandwich: it could be really boring but I promise you, it’s not.

Smoky Tomato Soup - for 4

I suppose it takes about an hour, a lazy hour, to put this together. And if you have a picky child, you could substitute Monterey Jack for the taleggio and skip the ham and asparagus. Please though, no American cheese.

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 slices of bacon, cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced, not too finely
  • kosher sea salt
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp hot pimentón (smoked paprika)
  • 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2 cups low salt chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. In a large heavy saucepan or smaller dutch oven, heat the olive oil and bacon over medium high heat. When the bacon is just crisp, remove it with a slotted spoon  and set aside on paper towels.
  2. Add the onion and 1/2 tsp of kosher salt to the bacon fat and cook for about 5 minutes. The onion should soften and brown slightly.
  3. Add the flour, thyme, and pimentón, and cook, stirring for 1 minute.
  4. Add the tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook with the lid slightly ajar and stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender.
  6. Stir in the cream and return to the boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Garnish with the bacon and as I often say, with home-made croutons. So worth the small amount of extra work!

Fancy Grilled Cheese Sandwich - for 4

  • 8 slices rustic bread – I use Columbia Bread from the Essential Bakery – the pre-sliced loaf
  • 3/4 pound taleggio cheese
  • 4 slices of Italian prosciutto
  • 12 spears of asparagus – trimmed, tossed with 1 tbsp olive oil, dusted with kosher salt and pepper and broiled for 3 minutes turning once, until blistering and crisp tender.
  • olive oil and a pastry brush or spray olive oil
  1. Cut the taleggio into 16 thin slices and lay 2 on each slice of bread. This may not cover each slice of bread completely.
  2. Lay a slice of prosciutto over 4 slices of bread and 3 asparagus spears over the top. I think it looks pretty if the asparagus tops stick out beyond the edge of the bread.
  3. Place the slices of bread with just cheese on top of the asparagus. Brush or spray the sandwiches with olive oil and grill in a hot pan, or even better, a panini press until the bread is crisp-tender and the cheese is molten and oozing.

 

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Snowed In – Red Lentil Soup

Sometimes this magical thing happens in my kitchen, where I have all of the ingredients, even some that are fairly obscure, and I can make something really delicious on the spur of the moment.  I love it when that happens.

Since Plenty, what I’ve been in the mood for is vegetables, and this blog I follow, Dana Treat, has tons of ideas for seasonal delicious vegetable food. (Notice that I didn’t say vegetarian? I really am not a vegetarian.) Still, maybe because of the holiday gluttony, vegetarian, even vegan food is what I crave. So I was very happy to discover this soup last week. It’s one I’ve eyed and abandoned in the Deborah Madison Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for years. For some reason, I think because Ms. Madison described the soup as “thin”, it didn’t sound so delicious. Then I saw the photograph on Dana Treat, and I was turned. This is a fabulous soup. Also, it is very easy to make, which proved to be very handy when I was housebound with four kids for three days last week.

So often jilted by the weatherman predicting snow, I refused to believe what the weather reports were saying. Surprise, surprise! Wednesday morning we were totally snowed in, a rare thing in Seattle. I couldn’t get the car out of the driveway. I was afraid to even try. I was kind of desperate to come up with a dinner for four hungry kids using only what I had in the cupboard. Scanning the recipe for Red Lentil Soup with Lime; was it possible I had what I needed?! I peered into my pantry.

Wow. I had two cups of red lentils! I had basmati rice! Turmeric and cumin – I always have those! When I found some only barely wilted cilantro in the crisper and a couple of limes, there were clearly beautiful possibilities for dinner. (Although I feel I must mention that my brave and kind friend Mary Alice went out into the cold to bring us a gallon of milk, orange juice and—because I’m shameless—some fresh spinach for this soup! She trekked through the snow and ice with a backpack and Yaktrax (so cool!) on her boots for us!) Technically I suppose we could have skipped the spinach, but when you’re snowed in you get anxious for something green.

As always, and even though there is rice, I think this is lovely with homemade croutons. Only five extra minutes!

Red Lentil Soup 

from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison

  • 2 cups split red lentils
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • salt
  •  1 large onion, chopped fine (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 bunch of chopped cilantro
  • juice of three limes
  • 1 bunch of spinach sliced crosswise in ribbons
  • 1 cup cooked basmati rice
  • full fat Greek yogurt for garnish
  1. Put the lentils, turmeric, 1 tbsp of butter, and 1 tbsp sea salt with 2 1/2 quarts of water in a 7 qt. heavy sauce pan or dutch oven. Over medium high heat, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. The lentils should be very soft and nearly falling apart.
  2. Using an immersion blender, pureé until very smooth.
  3. While the soup simmers, in a large heavy sauté pan, cook the onion in 2 tablespoons of butter, with the cumin and the mustard seeds, over low heat. When the onions are very soft, after about 15 minutes, add the cilantro and cook for one more minute.
  4. Add the onion mixture to the soup and the juice of two limes. Taste to see if you would like more lime juice. This soup tastes very good a little sour.
  5. When it is time to serve the soup, take 1 tbsp of butter and melt in a wide skillet over medium heat. When it foams add the spinach and sprinkle with pinch of seasalt. Cook until it is just wilted and divide among the soup bowls. (I skipped the spinach for my son, he hates it. The soup was still very good)
  6. Add a generous spoonful of warm rice to each bowl. Ladle soup over the spinach and rice.
  7. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt.

Croutons

While the soup is simmering and the onions are sweating in butter, you could make the croutons. They are not required but I totally love them with this soup. I happened to have a very stale ciabatta on the counter during the snow week and I hacked off slices all week long. I put croutons under poached eggs, with cheese and salami and with this soup. It really doesn’t matter if the bread is very stale. The croutons should be glossy with butter and olive oil and so crisp they shatter as you bite down.

I would cook the croutons first, and then wilt the spinach, in the same pan.

  • 4-6 slices from a loaf of stale artisan bread, about 1/3″ thick
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  1. Heat the butter and oil over medium high heat.
  2. Sauté sliced bread until golden, then flip. 1-2 minutes per side.

There is something about this soup, or maybe there are a few things. First of all, the color is ravishing, a pure saturated yellow, flecked with bright green cilantro. The scent of melting onions and the toasted aroma of mustard seeds were the perfect antidote to a cold wintery night. And then of course there was the cool, creamy, yogurt, in counterpoint to the richly flavored soup. We all loved it.

Snowed in

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Ribollita

More cannellini beans. More soup with bread stirred into it. What can I say? I imagine it will be difficult to convince anyone that they ought to run out and try this soup. I was dubious too, the first time I tried it.

I don’t think it’s just the memory of the candlelit barrel vaulted brick ceiling in the restaurant or of being an architecture student in Florence or of walking out in the chilly darkened narrow streets of late fall behind the basilica of Santo Spirito. That memory is sketchy and faded and would be unlikely to have any bearing on how I remember this soup. It was over 20 years ago after all. I do remember the cistern quality of the room, the dim light, the heavy dark wooden furniture. Also that it was kind of thrilling to enter a space that was so deep underground. A dozen of us crowded around a long corner table. We’d been strongly encouraged to try the ribollita. Yes, skip tagliatelle al cinghiale e porcini. Skip bistecca alla fiorentina. (It’s way out of your meager student budget anyway.) Don’t just order a salad or pasta. So I, like everyone else at the table except for one extremely picky person, shrugged and ordered ribollita. I am still so happy I did.

Ribollita is not a brothy soup. It looks like wet stuffing. (I shouldn’t have written that. Now you’ll never try it.) There are ragged shreds of cavolo nero run all through it – it wouldn’t be ribollita without the cavolo nero. Don’t think you can just substitute plain old kale or cabbage and still call it ribollita. Bread is essential. I have come across recipes that layer the bread in the soup like some kind of bread lasagna. This seems wrong to me. It needs tearing up and stirring in; transforming plain old minestrone into a deliciously rich velvet mess. A drip or two of green olive oil over the top, just before serving – that’s also important.

Ribollita is the easiest thing in the world to make and at the same time, time consuming. To extract rich flavor from such simple ingredients, you have to let it cook for awhile but the hands on part is minimal. You will be richly rewarded for a little planning and labor! I think I might be begging you to try this…No, I am begging you to try this. You won’t regret it. Ribollita is just the thing for December. Utterly warming and deeply satisfying on an almost spiritual level for adults. And yet my four year old plowed through a large bowl. Even after burning his tongue, he kept on eating. Then he asked for seconds.

Ribollita - serves 6

  • 1 cup of cannellini beans, soaked over night and simmered for about 45 minutes until tender. Save the cooking liquid. (Simmer with a bay leaf and a couple of smashed cloves of garlic. Add a tablespoon of salt towards the end.)
  • A small bunch of chopped parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 4 large stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 red onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (14 1/2 ) ounce can whole plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 bunch cavolo nero, stalks removed and sliced into coarse shreds
  • 1 loaf of stale pugliese or other Italian style bread, crusts removed and torn into 1-2″ pieces
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil and parmesan
  1. Over medium heat, in a large heavy soup pot, place the parsley, garlic, celery, carrot, onion and olive oil and stir. When the vegetables are hot and gently sizzling, turn the heat down to low and cover. Leave for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let it stick or brown.
  2. Add the tomatoes, and cook for another 30 minutes in the same way.
  3. Add the cavolo nero and half the cannellini beans with enough of their cooking liquid to cover everything and make the soup liquid. Simmer for another 30 minutes.
  4. Using an immersion blender if you have one or a food processor if you don’t, puree the remaining cannellini beans. Add them to the soup. If the soup looks dry, add a little boiling water until it is just liquid.
  5. Add the bread, several glugs of extra virgin olive oil, and season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
  6. The soup should be extremely thick.
  7. Garnish each serving with more olive oil at the table and parmesan if desired.
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White Bean Soup with Croutons

“Although, for the sake of practicality, alternatives are given for homemade meat broth, the hope here is that you ignore them, relying instead on the supply of good frozen broth that you try always to have on hand.”

Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Even though it stresses me out a little bit, I have to say I love that quote. Many times it has been running through my head and gotten me off the couch and into the kitchen with a few leftover chicken carcasses, a couple of pounds of chicken wings and a pile of onion, carrot, celery and parsley stems. Ms. Hazan seems to have little patience for slackers. Homemade chicken stock is not hard to make anyway and as I’ve said before, life is too short to rely on boxed chicken stock. Even the organic kind is really a lab concoction and shouldn’t be used in any soup where the broth is the star. What you need for this soup is homemade stock.

Chicken broth is so popular in my house that every year when I ask my 9 year old what he wants for his birthday he has a quick single word answer: “Broth.” Instead I make this soup which is broth-y but not quite as uncelebratory as a plain bowl of chicken broth. I guess some people might say a simple bowl of white beans, chicken broth, parsley and garlic isn’t party food at all. If you got off the couch and started making your own broth, I think you might be singing a different tune.

Anyway, this post is not about broth because I already covered it months ago. This post is about White Bean Soup, which is a lot easier than the kale and fennel version I also love. If my kids beg me to make anything, they beg for “white bean soup – with extra broth! Can you make it with extra broth please?!” and I make it if and only if we have chicken broth in the freezer. Last night I used my last 3 bags which Martin had to wrench off the freezer floor – I guess I haven’t made broth since early spring. Clearly I’m going to have to get off the couch and dust off my stock pot.

White Bean Soup with Croutons - serves 4 generously

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic, about 1 fat clove
  • 2 cups dried cannellini beans
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • Sea salt and ground pepper
  • 6 cups homemade chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Croutons for garnish – see below
  • green extra virgin olive oil and grated parmesan also for garnish
  1. The night before you want to make the soup, put the dried beans in a large bowl and cover with 2-3 inches of water.
  2. In the morning, drain the beans and put them in a large pot covered with 2 inches of water. Add the bay leaves, the peppercorns (in a tea ball if you have one – it makes it a lot easier to fish them out), and the 2 crushed garlic cloves. Bring the pot to a boil and then turn it down quickly to maintain a gentle simmer. Leave the pot partially covered. Simmer for 45 minutes and add salt to taste. I would add about 1 teaspoon. When the beans are tender, turn off the stove and leave them until you are ready to make the soup. This could be a lot later in the day – the beans will be fine just sitting there.
  3. Heat 1/2 c. olive oil in a large heavy soup pot. (I use a 7 qt. Le Creuset) Add the chopped garlic and over medium heat, cook the garlic until it is pale gold.
  4. Drain the beans and add them to the pot. Grind in some pepper and a pinch of salt, then stir and cover. Turn down the heat and wait 5 minutes.
  5. Add the 6 cups of stock and turn up the heat until the soup in simmering. Simmer for 5-6 minutes and add the parsley. Stir and serve hot with olive oil, grated parmesan and the croutons floating on top.

Croutons

  • 1 baguette
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  1. In a 10″ or larger heavy skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat.
  2. As the butter melts, slice 12 thin slices from the baguette.
  3. When the butter is no longer actively foaming, add the sliced baguette in one layer to the pan. Check the bottom of the bread after one minute (it’s so sad if the bread burns!) but it will probably take 2-3 minutes total until the bottom is deeply golden and crisp.
  4. Flip the bread and toast the other side, equally carefully.
I would make extra croutons for sure.


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Rain in August = Pappa al Pomodoro

On my mobile telephone, I have this weather app so I can look up what the weather’s like in the cities that I’ve lived in. I love to see whether the weather is worse in Stockholm or Seattle, or if it’s raining in Paris or sultry and warm in Rome. For mid-August, it was awfully wet today here in Seattle. Not only wet, but grey and dark and cold. When I checked that weather app for Rome it showed five little shiny yellow circles for the next five days. It’s not really surprising.  88, 90, 92, 89, 88 – so not only sunny but nice and warm too.

As I stand at the kitchen counter chopping away, I think of sitting at table on the edge of the piazza, taking in the heat and the bustle of Rome, where the scent of exhaust and cigarettes mingles with the perfume of fresh tomatoes, sliced and drizzled with olive oil and sea salt on a wide white plate. Or a bowl of bread and tomato soup, served tepid, slicked with olive oil and strewn with basil leaves. (It’s strange – I usually hate the smell of dirty cars and cigarettes here, but in Rome, I loved it.) Those were some premium tomatoes and I’ve haven’t had anything close since we moved up here from California. I loved mopping up the juices with crusty bread and washing it down with a glass of wine as I watched the passeggiata. Now I find myself on a grey day stuck in my kitchen cooking for small children, with less than wonderful tomatoes and I have to wonder, how did this happen?! And it’s August! It’s not supposed to be rainy all the time is it? Of course we are getting tomatoes but they’re from California, Mexico and those Canadian ones they grow hydroponically. Knowing it’s 90 degrees in Rome is killing me. I could be sitting at the edge of the piazza eating something so simple and delicious. Thinking of all those ripe tomatoes in the outdoor market could easily make me cry.

There’s hope though, for dinner anyway. What would you think about making tomato and bread soup? I had this soup several times a week, living in Italy. I’m sure if you’ve never heard of it, it sounds weird. If you’ve ever followed any of my soup recipes though, you know I’m a big fan of the garlic and olive oil slicked toast raft in a wide bowl of soup. This is a bit different. You cook stale bread into a chunky garlicky tomato broth for half an hour, and what you end up with is a satiny-rustic adult-baby food. All of which sounds like too much contradiction to be comprehensible. You’ll just have to trust me. Pappa al Pomodoro will transport you to the edge of a piazza in Rome no matter where you are or what the weather is like. Even if the tomatoes are pallid and mealy, this soup will still be fantastic.

A bowl of pappa al pomodoro, a glass of wine, a crisp salad and the sound of rain falling heavily outside the open back door changed everything. Tonight, the weather felt like an event to celebrate as we ate our wide bowls of silky, bread-thickened, tomato perfumed soup to the sound of raindrops. Even if the tomatoes did come all the way from Mexico.

The finished soup

Pappa al Pomodoro

This soup takes no time to throw together and it uses only water no stock. Don’t be tempted to substitute chicken stock for the water – this soup manages to be deeply flavorful and rich without any stock.

  • 1 red onion, diced fine
  • 1 slender carrot, diced fine
  • 1 stalk of celery diced fine
  • 1 pinch red chili flakes
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs  Roma tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped – I use a serrated swivel peeler – this must be the fastest way to peel them. Don’t use fancy heirloom varieties – they won’t be flavorful enough here – you’ll lose everything that makes them special. what you want is a dense paste tomato – like a Roma.
  • 1/2 a bunch of basil, in chiffonade
  • 1/2 pound of quite stale Italian style bread, in 1/2 inch slices (you can dry it out in a 200 oven for 2o minutes. It should be quite hard.)
  • 1 cup hot water
  • more extra virgin olive oil for drizzling, grated parmesan for dusting

Chunky tomato broth

  1. Put the sliced stale bread in a large bowl and cover with cold water.
  2. Put the onion, carrots, celery, chili flakes and olive oil in a heavy 6 quart soup pot. Turn the heavy to medium and and stir until it sizzles gently. Turn down the heat and cover, cooking for 12 minutes, stirring a few times.
  3. Add the garlic and tomatoes, and stir, cooking for 5 more minutes.
  4. While the garlic and tomatoes cook down a little, drain the bread, discarding the water. Squeeze all the water out of the bread and crumble into the soup pot. Add the hot water and stir. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer over low heat for 25 minutes, stirring every few minutes
  5. Add the 2/3 of the basil and stir.
  6. Serve the soup garnished with the remaining basil in individual bowls.
  7. Pass the olive oil and parmesan at the table to season further.

Bread soaked in water

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White Bean and Kale Soup, Fennel Variation: Part 2

 

I don’t think my dad can stand it anymore. I think he might stop coming for dinner. My kids are complaining.  I just need one last brothy fennel scented bowl and I might be able to stop for awhile…

I hope you’re feeling smug. You have stock in the fridge and the freezer now.   Now the soup will be a snap. One thing about making stock is that it slips so easily into the rest of the day – especially if you’re fearless about leaving the barely bubbling pot on low heat and getting on with other things. Although I like all the small building blocks – slicing an onion is an exercise in thoughtful efficiency, smashing every clove in a head of garlic can be cathartic. The scent of fennel seeds crushed under a pestle – and I’m in Italy. There is nothing monumental about any of these tasks but the result is there simmering on the stove. If all you ever do is open a box of stock, all you get is that funky boxy chicken smell.

The work on Day Two is minor. You set the beans to soak  late in the day after the dishes are done, your kids are asleep and you are about to open a good book. At least that is what happens to me every single time. I get into bed at about 11:30 PM with my book, something I’ve been dying to read all day, and then suddenly I remember, I have to soak the beans! So I haul myself out of a warm bed, through the cold house, and downstairs to dump 1 1/2 cups of cannellini beans in the biggest Pyrex bowl and cover them generously with water. Then I go back to my book. That’s the end of Day Two. See what I mean? A four year old could do it – if he could stay up that late.

In the morning, it’s good to start before anyone else is awake. Outside is still darkly grey, but I flick on the light and the kitchen glows like a lantern. Drain the beans and put them in a large pot. Then cover them with 2 inches of water. Add a few smashed cloves of garlic. 24 peppercorns (don’t ask me why 24 – I read it in some recipe somewhere a long time ago and it just stuck) and bay in a large mesh ball. Start the pot to boil. When it does, lower the heat and leave to slowly simmer. I make a cup of coffee and go with my mug back to bed. I can laze around with my book for around 45 minutes then it’s probably time to turn off the stove. Taste a bean and see if it is soft – not mushy though – and nearly ready to eat. Now it is time to salt – if you salt at the beginning, the skins will be tough. Add salt to the water until it is quite salty – at least 2 tbsp. Turn off the heat. Let the beans sit there in the cooking liquid until you’re ready for them.  For me this could take at least until lunchtime.

Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup with Fennel, (Finally!)

  • 8 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 generous pinch of red chili flakes
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1  bunch of kale
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 4 canned plum tomatoes
  • the cooked cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 tsp fennel, freshly ground in a mortar and pestle or in a clean coffee grinder
  • the juice from one lemon
  • sea salt and pepper

Optional condiments

  • grated parmesan
  • green spicy olive oil
  • homemade croutons or toast with olive oil and garlic

Ok – the rest is quick.  Check it out: Chop the onion.

See how I sliced the onion in half from top to bottom, then made long parallel cuts toward the root.  After that it is very simple to slice thin perpendicular cuts to get perfect small dice. Cutting an onion this way is much faster than randomly chopping into tiny pieces.

Peel, then chop the carrots:

Trim then slice the celery:

 

Trim and core the fennel, slice into 1/4″ slices – they should look like long quarter moons.

Wash and remove the ribs of the kale. Slice into ribbons.

 

Take a large heavy bottomed soup pot (I use a 7 1/2 qt. enameled cast iron) and heat over medium heat.

Add 1/3 c. olive oil, the chopped onion and 1 tsp. chili flakes. Stir thoroughly and lower heat. Cover. Simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.

Add the carrots and celery. Raise the heat to medium-high. Stir and cook with the lid off for 5 minutes.

Add the chopped garlic , ground fennel and sliced fennel. Cook for two minutes.

Add the tomato. Cook for 2 minutes.

Taste for salt and pepper. If you decided not to salt the stock, be sure that the vegetables are salted until they taste deliciously but not too salty.

Add the beans, then stock. Bring the soup to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Add lemon juice to taste and taste again for salt and pepper. I like the lemon subtle. The juice from one small lemon should be plenty – this is not lemon soup.

While the soup simmers, bring a medium pot of water to the boil. Add a tbsp of salt and blanch the kale for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

If I were you, here’s what I’d do.  (I am always guilty of overselling – sigh. I do hope you like this!)  If you have one, set a wide soup plate on the counter. Pour a glass of wine and leave it on the table where you plan to eat so that the flavors open up. Toast a piece of rustic bread by brushing it with olive oil and running it under the broiler. Don’t burn it and do toast both sides – it should be golden and crisp on the outside and almost creamy inside. Peel a clove of garlic and cut it in half. Rub the cut half over one side of the toast and put it in the soup plate. A handful of  blanched kale goes on the toast. Ladle soup over toast and kale until the bowl is brimming. Drizzle a tablespoon of pungent green olive oil over the top and grate parmesan cheese lightly over all of it. Take the soup plate and go sit with the glass of wine.  Take a deep breath – the fennel and garlic are the most forward. Then the warm scent of chicken stock. Pale and yielding cannellini beans contrast with deep green chewy kale. Something about the toast pushes me over the edge. Taste it. White Bean and Kale Soup is grown-up and sophisticated yet so mild and comforting it could be child’s food.

There you have it. My most favorite meal. (at the moment)

 

 

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My Desert Island Food: White Bean and Kale Soup, Fennel Variation: Part 1

Consider that for years I have scrupulously avoided all dark mineraly leafy greens. Chard, spinach, escarole, kale. So bitter and chewy – not what I was after in a vegetable. So no one could be more surprised than I that my current obsession is with lacinato kale. Dinosaur Kale. Black Kale. The blackest, most tooth-y leafy green of them all. I’m still not quite sure how it happened. And of course kale’s healthy. In fact, as far as I can tell, it’s the healthiest thing at the grocery store. It gets a 1,000 point ANDI* score, right up there with mustard, turnip, collard greens and watercress, making it almost 30% more healthy than even spinach! Why the fixation on kale? The strange dark chewiness – intriguing! I have a girlfriend who is so into lacinato kale that she eats it raw. But first she has to massage the kale. She said it was part of being macrobiotic or something. Massage. Kale. Really?! I should be on the receiving end of any massage, not mere kale.

Anyway I don’t eat it raw. No. I like kale blanched then sauteed with little rings of shallots and ribbons of prosciutto. Tossed with sherry vinegar and a knob of butter. Or in white bean soup. And make that cannellini beans not navy beans. For me, white bean and kale soup is the pinnacle of all soups. I have been working on variations of this soup for over a year and I think I am nearly there. White bean and kale soup might be a strange thing to crave on a desert island, I know, but for me this is the best kind of food: flavorful, nourishing, and more-ish. So today, I am going to start a two-part article on my desert island food which, shockingly, turns out to be White Bean and Kale Soup with Fennel. The creamy beans, the blackish intensity of the kale, the delicate, particular perfume of fennel. Not to mention the chicken broth holding the whole thing together.

Store-bought stock will not cut it in this recipe. I don’t want you to try this with Pacific Organic Chicken Broth or anything else from the soup section at your grocery store. The full experience starts with a deeply flavorful but light-handed, deftly salted broth. If you start with stock from a box, I can’t be responsible for your impression of my favorite soup! You will think I’m a nutcase if you start with industrial broth. (You probably think I am a nutcase anyway!) We have to start from the beginning. Chicken bones, water, salt and pepper, carrots, celery, etc. And go from there. This is how I do it. Part One.

Chicken Broth

People like Ina Garten start their stock from whole chickens. In Ms. Garten’s case, from 3 whole chickens. I have tried this with 2 whole chickens (my pot, while huge, is not that huge) and it is very nice, but it costs $28 just to buy the birds. Stock should be about thriftiness, though not mean frugality. The components should be fresh and plentiful, but whole chickens?! Not here. Save them for roasting and do as I do. Fresh backs and necks with maybe a leftover roast leg or thigh for richness.

Don’t freak out about the length of the recipe. This is fifteen minutes of hands on work. Fifteen minutes! You can handle it.

  • 4 pounds of backs and necks
  • if you have them, any frozen roasted chicken bones or leftovers from a roast chicken
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 3 celery stalks, washed and chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 2 red onions, peeled and cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 head of garlic cut in half across the equator
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 24 peppercorns
  • parsley, tied up and tied to the pot
  • olive oil, sea salt, ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450.

Toss the raw chicken backs and necks in a wide roasting pan, giving the bones plenty of space with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 heaping tsp of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

Roast for 4o minutes, until deeply browned and very fragrant.

Put the bones in the bottom of your soup pot. I used to use an enormous stainless steel pot, but it was so unwieldy and the process became too much of a production. Now, I use an 8 quart Le Creuset stock pot that I think of as medium sized and make enough stock for 2-3 pots of soup. I use 8 cups of stock for the soup and freeze the leftovers.

Once the bones are in the soup pot, the roasting pan will be a sea of chicken fat and olive oil, pour all of it off and dispose of it properly (not down the drain!). Then take about 1/2 cup of water and scrape up all the brown flavorful bits off the bottom. Do this while the pan is still hot! Be thorough – there is a lot of flavor there. Pour all of the browned pieces and now very flavorful water into the stock pot as well.

Add any leftover roasted bones from a roasting chicken now, or any leftover cooked chicken on the bone if you have it.

Place the carrots, celery, onions, garlic, bay, peppercorns and parsley into the pot. You can tie the parsley to the side, or not. I like to fish the parsley out at the end as it is kind of slimy and soggy – even though I strain the stock anyway.

Add water until it completely covers the chicken and vegetables and is dangerously close to overflowing.

Heat the water over high heat until just about to boil. Then lower the heat and simmer very, very gently (barely bubbling) for 3-4 hours. Skim off any scum that forms on the top.

When the level of the soup has dropped about an inch and your house is redolent with the the warm scent of chicken broth, it is time to taste. Be thoughtful – you haven’t added sea salt yet.  You have to think carefully about what you are tasting. And you have to choose, salt the broth now or salt the soup later?  I usually salt the soup later – at the beginning when I am cooking the onions, carrots and celery. If you can’t wait that long to start to see that it is perfect already, add one teaspoon of sea salt (I love Redmond Salt from Utah), taste and then add very small increments until your stock tastes lightly salted and totally delicious.

Now it is time to strain off all the vegetables and chicken and bones which will be sapped of anything worthwhile and need to be thrown away. Line a colander with 3 layers of paper towels and ladle the broth through them into a large bowl. You will probably need at least two large bowls.

Then, if you are making soup the next day, ladle 8 cups into a storage container that fits into your refrigerator. Ladle the rest into Ziplock bags in either 4 or 8 cup increments and freeze, labelled and with the date.

I do this every 3 weeks and now I have a huge stockpile of…errr, stock!

*Aggregate Nutrient Density Index    http://andiscores.com/

P.S. Ok…after some thought – who am I kidding?! Kale and White Bean Soup may be my desert island food right now – but how long will this obsession really last!?!?! When I change my mind, I’ll let you know.

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Split Pea Soup

Last week we had an eight year old friend over for dinner.  I had a few misgivings when I offered the invitation because I was committed to making Split Pea Soup and I don’t know too many kids who would want to eat Split Pea Soup. The truth is, this particular kid is averse to some of the most kid-friendly foods like tomato sauce, cheese and pasta so the probability of actually getting him to taste the soup, seemed low. I am not even sure there are too many grown-ups who would be delighted to eat the thick green porridge. I knew even my kids would probably have to be bribed (or as I like to think: incented) with chocolate milkshakes for dessert and another viewing of the Old Spice commercials on Youtube afterwards.  Also, it didn’t help that (as a joke) I described the soup as “green glop with pink chunks in it”. Sorry about that. It did seem funny at the time.  It is a testament to how completely delicious this soup is that every kid ate quite a lot of it, but our eight year old guest devoured it with gusto! If that isn’t enough to convince, I have nothing more to say to you.  As we ate we had some big laughs about the plethora of hair that would grow on his chest because he ate it all – he practically licked the bowl.

I do not come from Split Pea eating people. My mom never made split pea soup. Even my husband, who is from Sweden, where many families have split pea soup and pancakes every Thursday night, even his family never really adopted the tradition. So I am not sure why I decided that the Split Pea Soup from the most current issue of Cooks Illustrated would be just the thing. But it was.

Since I had never made split pea soup before, I looked it up in the Joy of Cooking to see how this version differs from the traditional method. Barring substituting a ham steak and bacon for the ham hock, the methods are strikingly similar. It’s a lot easier to shred a ham steak than deal with the complexities of the hock with its skin, bone and fat. In addition to the traditional croutons (please just make these yourself – or don’t bother) I added crumbled bacon and a swirl of something called balsamic cream that my dad brought me from Germany. Perfect with this soup and I will tell you how to make something similar if you want to try it.

Split Pea Soup is warming, filling, mild and yet somehow very delicious. I can’t pretend that it is pretty.  It is very easy to make. It is perfect for January.

Split Pea Soup

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped fine
  • sea salt
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced or grated with a microplane
  • 7 cups of water
  • 1 ham steak – about 1 pound, cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 slices of thick cut bacon
  • 2 cups split peas
  • 1/2 tsp of dried thyme or 2 sprigs fresh
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 carrots cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into 1/4″ dice
  • Black pepper, crumbled bacon, croutons and balsamic reduction (recipes follow) for garnish
  1. Over medium high heat, melt the butter in a heavy bottomed 6 quart soup pot. Add the onion and a 1/2 tsp of salt. Cook 4 minutes, stirring.
  2. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
  3. Add water, ham steak, bacon, split peas, thyme and bay. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a simmer. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until peas are tender – about 45 minutes.
  4. Remove the ham steak and put on a plate. Cover with aluminum foil to keep it from drying out.
  5. Add carrots and celery and cover. Simmer for a further 30 minutes.
  6. While the soup is simmering, shred the ham with two forks, removing and discarding skin. Remove thyme sprigs – if you used them, bay leaves and bacon slices and discard. After 30 mintues, stir the ham into the soup and serve right away. The soup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If it gets too thick, it can be thinned with a few tablespoons of water.

Croutons

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups 1/2″ bread cubes  - I used a dense baguette with the crusts removed
  • Coarse sea salt
  1. Melt the butter with the olive oil in a medium sized heavy bottomed saute pan.
  2. Add the bread cubes.
  3. Stir occasionally for 7 minutes until the bread is golden and crisp
  4. Sprinkle with a couple of pinches of sea salt

Balsamic Reduction

This is so easy that it isn’t really recipe.

  • 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar
  1. In a small heavy bottomed sauce pan, reduce the vinegar by half until it is thick and syrupy and coats the back of a spoon.
  2. Cool.

Don’t forget to add freshly ground pepper just before serving!


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