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it’s fall

September 23rd, 2010 | 11 Comments »

And not like ‘The calendar says it’s September’ kind of Fall, which seems appropriate even though the first few weeks are still Summer; no, this is the real deal now as the sun has passed into the appropriate spot in the sky that says ‘Hey everyone, here I am in all my red gold glory and yes, Summer is really over.’

Fall is transition. It’s new things like school years, shoes, clothing and meals. It’s a warmer blanket or longer sleeves but it’s still full of sunshine, ample blue sky and a mosquito bite or two. We still can feel too warm during the day, but just watch out for that sunset because whoa now, the temperature drop is precipitous and it helps to have a comfy sweater on hand. And slippers too.

Fall for me is a time of melancholy, and this goes way way back in my life to being very young and watching, probably for the first time, how the light changes from August to September, the way the sky darkens so much earlier and how life just swiftly grinds to a halt from carefree summer to the routine of another school year. So it seems appropriate that I always yearn to be learning in the Fall, that I wish to be back in school, with empty notepads and fresh books full of promise and mystery. I admit to being a lifetime learner, and heaven help me if I ever decide that I can stop getting better at this thing called life. Please make sure you knock me on the forehead if I do, ok?

The food of Fall, for me anyway, is highly anticipated. The richness of a bowl of soup, the scent of apples baking in the oven and the comfort of something steaming in your hands keeps the thought of winter at bay. At least, it can if you close your eyes and think really hard. Like the seamless steps from Summer to Fall, that sneaks up on us too, and often Fall seems like the shortest season around. But I love this time of year for multitudes of reasons. Maybe because it’s so fleeting that we need to grab it tight and enjoy it. It could be the colors, because oh those colors are spectacular, aren’t they? It might be due to soup too.

This is one of my favorite recipes, dug out from my cookbook cupboard when I recently felt brave enough to go in there and conquer the mess it had become. One drawback of being focused so much on the foods that we eat is that I collect a great deal of recipes culled from every conceivable source available. Which, I’m sure we all know, is astronomical. It’s endless, for certain. And I’ve been known to go ‘Hmm, THAT looks wonderful!’ on many, many occasions, print out a sheet and then somehow lose track of it. And either I make it and swoon, or I just don’t get around to it. This recipe for Zuppa Arcidossana was in a large and jumbled ‘To Keep” pile that was stuffed between a few good books in the cupboard, but ultimately, and sadly, forgotten. As soon as I pulled it out, I had that lightbulb moment of ‘Oh my word, I loved this soup!’ and was so glad it felt cool and temperate enough to embark on another pot of it. Because people, THIS is soup. This is that hearty, steaming, chock full of veggies soup that we dream of when the sun makes that inevitable turn and we finally tuck away our shorts and tank tops. This is what soup should be; it’s warming but it isn’t too heavy. It’s simple to make – like wayyyyy simple folks – but tastes complex and full of depth. It’s versatile beyond imagination. It’s delicious far past any normal words, unless you count ‘Oooh’ ‘Mmmmm’ and deep contented sighs to be normal. Which, around my house is completely fine if you do. In fact, it’s expected.

Zuppa Arcidossana (Italian Bread Soup)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
1 cup 1/2-inch-diced carrots
1 large onion, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and black pepper
1 cup stale bread (use coarse, country-style bread), cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 pound spinach, trimmed, washed and roughly chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup ricotta salata, cut in 1/2-inch cubes (feta may be substituted)
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley, optional.

Put oil in a large pot or deep skillet and brown sausage over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. When sausage is cooked through and leaving brown bits in pan, add carrots, onion and garlic, and continue to cook until vegetables begin to soften and brown, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Add bread to pan and stir for a minute or 2; add spinach and continue cooking just until it wilts, a couple of minutes.

Add about 2 cups water and stir to loosen any remaining brown bits from pan. This is more of a stew than a soup, but there should be some broth, so add another cup of water if necessary. When broth is consistency of thin gravy, ladle stew into serving bowls and top with cheese and some freshly chopped parsley if you have it. Serve immediately.

Mark Bittman, NY Times, 4/29/09

KATE’S NOTES:
I reversed the order of cooking and browned the carrot, garlic and onion first for quite some time before adding in the sausage and giving it a good searing as well. Since you are only adding water, the fond on the pan will add an immense depth to the pot. You can, however, use any good stock on hand. Fresh bread actually works fine in this soup too, if you don’t have any stale on hand. You can toast or broil fresh bread to stiffen it before adding to the pot.

I had some leftover green beans from a previous dinner that ended up in the soup as well. I used shaved parmesan instead of ricotta because I love the rustic edge it gives soup. Swap up the veggies, adding whatever suits you, or you have on hand. Use a different sausage or skip it altogether. Fresh herbs are a must here; I used rosemary and thyme in ample quantities.

Zuppa!

May 4th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

I’m the total opposite of this guy.

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Instead of warily watching over the masses, determining who best to give a bowl of soup to and weeding out the undeserving, I would be holding the door open, waving folks inside and pushing bowls into their hands; bowls of steaming, hearty and delicious soup with plenty of great bread for dunking.

I am no Soup Nazi. I’m a Soup Queen. We’re in May now, and I still can be swayed by a bowl of soup; I can read a recipe that is more suited to November’s chill, a thick blanket of fleece and a crackling fire and regardless of the fact that Spring is quite literally bursting out of it’s seams outside, I find myself lusting for that soup. It’s really a huge turn from even a few years ago. I used to never make soup. In fact, it intimidated me and I can’t explain why. I think I tried to make it on several occasions and was met with a thin, watery extraction, flavorless and vague that did nothing to satisfy the need inside of me for warmth or comfort. I can’t say; I’ve obviously blanked out the bad experiences of it. Back then, soup was a can for me, sad as it is. I cranked open a tin container to achieve a highly prized level of comfort, and wistfully dreamed of the steaming pot, bobbing with colorful vegetables and thick cuts of meat, or dripping with toothsome noodles and wished for the ability to do it from the ground up.

Obviously, what I didn’t know about soup was that it really needs to be built from the ground up in order to achieve that amazing soup quality that we all crave. Getting this…..

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requires little else but a few tidbits of knowledge. Armed with that knowledge, I’ve knocked out soups by the score, at least one pot a week and often more.

Mmmmm, you can almost smell it, can’t you?

The origin of soup can be traced back nearly 6000 years. The word ‘soup’ is believed to have evolved from the term ‘sop’, when long before eating utensils were created and everything was consumed with your fingers, getting those precious drops of juices in the bottom of your bowl was necessary. A thick hunk of bread accomplished this task nicely.

squirrel-and-bread

Surprisingly, the word ‘restaurant‘ comes from a term first associated with soup, when in the 16th century in France, a highly concentrated and nutritious food known as a ‘restaurer‘ was sold by street vendors, advertised as an antidote to physical exhaustion. A Parisian entrepreneur opened a shop in 1765 specializing in servings ‘restaurers’, and the term ‘restaurant’ was coined to describe it. The ‘restaurer’ being served was but a humble bowl of soup used as a means to rejuvenate from the trappings of modern life. It’s no wonder that now, many hundreds of years later, when we crave comfort and seek solace from our own modern world, that a bowl of soup feels like a restorative shot in the arm.

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Soup grew in popularity with the onset of canning in the 19th century, and today there are hundreds of options available in the supermarket; dried, canned and all designed to be quick and easy. There is soup for all weather too, and a soup found in all cultures, all cuisines and in every form from around the world. We have classic soups, cold soups, fruit soups and herb soups. It can be called bisque, chowder, stew and consomme. The Chinese have Egg Drop and Birds Nest soup; the Greek have their Avgolemono, Scots their Cock-a-Leekie, the French serve Bouillabaise, Hungarians love their Goulash, Russians their Borscht, the Spanish and Portugese revere their Gazpacho. Heated arguments ensue over which clam chowder is better- New England cream based, or Manhattan tomato based- and Gumbo pots simmer throughout the Southern United States. Ever heard of  Canh Chua? Revithia? Caldo Verde? Lan Sikik? Callaloo? Fasolada? Bourou-Bourou? Kharcho? Snert? They’re all traditional, cultural representations of soup. Anthony Bourdain claimed that he fell in love with food after eating a bowl of Vichyssoise when he was a boy. And in the 80′s, a flash in the pan boy band went by the name Menudo. Soup is everywhere.

There tends to be a mindset about making soup that it has to take a long time in order for it to be good. While there is something to be said about creating a deep and flavorful pot, simmered for hours at a time, with the ingredients on hand and a quick turn with your knife, soup can be on the table in less than an hour. My Recipe Index has lots of good options for both an easy spin on the stove and a good pot to create over a lazy afternoon.

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This soup- Zuppa Arcidossana or Rustic Italian Bread Soup- the recipe that prompted me to make a hearty rich Fall-like pot on a beautiful- but cool- Spring afternoon, was one of the simple means to that steaming goodness. Browsing through the New York Times Dining section each Wednesday often gets me in a state like this; I spot a recipe I know I would love and my mad culinary brain must have it. Now. It’s all Bittman’s fault. The soup was simple, hearty and really flavorful, not to mention very quick.

Zuppa Arcidossana

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
1 cup 1/2-inch-diced carrots
1 large onion, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and black pepper
1 cup stale bread (use coarse, country-style bread), cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 pound spinach, trimmed, washed and roughly chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup ricotta salata, cut in 1/2-inch cubes (feta may be substituted)
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley, optional.

Put oil in a large pot or deep skillet and brown sausage over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. When sausage is cooked through and leaving brown bits in pan, add carrots, onion and garlic, and continue to cook until vegetables begin to soften and brown, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Add bread to pan and stir for a minute or 2; add spinach and continue cooking just until it wilts, a couple of minutes.

Add about 2 cups water and stir to loosen any remaining brown bits from pan. This is more of a stew than a soup, but there should be some broth, so add another cup of water if necessary. When broth is consistency of thin gravy, ladle stew into serving bowls and top with cheese and some freshly chopped parsley if you have it. Serve immediately.

Mark Bittman, NY Times, 4/29/09

KATE’S NOTES:
Browning the vegetables adds a lot of flavor. I browned the carrot, garlic and onion for quite some time before adding in the sausage and giving it a good searing as well. Since you are only adding water, the fond on the pan will add an immense depth to the pot.

I had some leftover green beans from a previous dinner that ended up in the soup as well. The bread I used was a baguette, and it wasn’t stale; I just cut off the super crusty ends and added them into the soup pot. The slices were toasted to make them nice and crunchy, then set in the broth to soften slightly. I added about a teaspoon of fresh rosemary for extra flavor.

Instead of ricotta, I used fresh mozzarella and of course, shaved parmesan which this soup absolutely cries out for in droves. Basil would also make a good garnish on the top.

A cold day to honor chilled soup

November 18th, 2008 | 4 Comments »

It’s National Vichyssoise Day;  a chilly November day and we will be honoring cold soup.

Something just isn’t right about this picture. Like Ice Cream Sundae Day, it should be during one of those scorching months of summer where appreciating a cold food is actually a fun prospect, not one to make you shiver.

Vichyssoise- say Vee shee swaz, or Veesh eee swaz- sounds like one of those incredibly complicated dishes that require time and focus, but in truth, it’s a simple potato leek soup that is pureed smooth and served chilled. There is nothing hard about it, nor time consuming. And it’s delicious in either form- hot and chunky (which food snobs would argue that it’s NOT Vichyssoise in that regard but I couldn’t care less about that) or smooth, silky and ice cold.  Julia Child’s recipe was so simple that it didn’t even include chicken stock- it was just potato and leek simmered in water and seasoned with salt and pepper. You can’t get much simpler than that.

The origin of the soup is questionable in whether it’s genuinely French or an American creation. Both countries claim to be the first to produce the dish, but the credit is generally given to Louis Diat, a chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City. He produced the soup based on a memory of his childhood where his mother and grandmother would make a potato leek soup and his older brother often poured milk into his bowl to cool it off. Diat thought the soup tasted wonderful and in the summer of 1917 he recreated it for the hotel patrons. Diat was French and his hometown in France was Montmarault, not far from the town of Vichy which became the moniker for his creation. The original menu at the Ritz was French, and the soup was named Creme Vichyssoise Glacee, then changed to Cream Vichyssoise Glacee. Other culinarian historians debate that the soup was first made by French chef Jules Gouffe and published in a French cookbook in 1859. Regardless of who can be credited with the invention, Vichyssoise has a reputation for high class finesse despite being little more than peasant food. Anthony Bourdain lists Vichyssoise as a catalyst for his lifelong passion with food; having been served the soup on a trans-atlantic voyage at the age of 9, he recalls falling in love with the “delightfully cool, tasty liquid.”

I really love potato leek soup, and the simplicity of the preparation. For added flavor, you can roast the potato and the leek until golden brown, then add them to simmering chicken stock. I love using Yukon Gold potato for this soup as it gives it such a gorgeous yellow tone, and eaten as a chunky version or blended smooth, it’s a perfect and soothing soup for a cold day as well as a delicious and light chilled soup in the midst of steaming July. The usual garnish is chives or parsley, and a tiny pat of butter in a hot bowl gives it a nice rich decadence. The milk or cream is entirely optional too; the soup is divine just plain. It’s one of those items where more is definitely not better.

nablopomo21

Food holiday mish-mash

November 12th, 2008 | Comments Off

Officially, we’re looking at National Chicken Soup Day and National Pizza with the Works (except Anchovies) Day.

k, thanks…..bye

chicken-picture1

Oh right, sorry there Chicken, a little humor insert, but that’s the extent of what I feel for these particular days- not a lot of excitement. How can you get excited about Chicken Soup? Or pizza overloaded with too many toppings? Ho hum…

I love Chicken Soup, don’t get me wrong. Little else can soothe so universally as chicken soup, made fresh with lots of vegetables and soft dreamy noodles. It’s a well known fact that it’s good for colds and sinus infections, but whether or not it’s beneficial isn’t always the reason to indulge; eat it because it’s delicious and a simple and healthy option. Soup is such a great way to offer a meal that is low in calories and high in substance; you can add in a multitude of vegetables and easily achieve a large amount of your RDA in vegetable consumption with one meal. A little goes a long way too.

Soup is a much beloved and oft repeated meal in our house and the sky is the limit for what goes into the pot. I didn’t cook up anything new for this post, but here are some of my favorite soups ever-  Chicken Tortellini Alfredo Soup, a lively Smoky Chicken Tortilla Soup, and a rich and creamy Chili Blanco, then a completely random but delicious Chicken Corn Potato Chowder. This last one isn’t a chicken soup, but it’s wonderful anyway, and as long as we’re talking soups, you should give this Pesto Vegetable Soup a shot.

And now….Pizza.

I’m a minimalist when it comes to pizza; the less on the crust, the better I like it. I’ve had those Everything Pizza’s and it’s just too much stuff. I’m not a fan of onions on my pizza unless they are beautifully caramelized; mushrooms aren’t a favorite either. I don’t like hamburger on it, or canadian bacon, or pineapple or pickles or jalapenos or cheddar cheese or potato or beets……

All right, those last two might be considered a long shot, but the rest is not. A classic combo that I love is sausage and green pepper; I also love just pepperoni with nothing but cheese. I love chicken, tomato and green pepper, I love fresh tomato and fresh mozzarella, with capers and kalamatas. And I love vegetable pizza. But these days, with dairy being on my avoidance list, pizza has taken a backseat in my culinary repertoire and I seriously miss it. Indulge in a slice or two for me, would you??

nablopomo21

{{chicken photo courtesy of Easy Chicken Recipes}}

Lentil Vegetable Soup

March 27th, 2008 | 4 Comments »

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Lentil Vegetable Soup

2 c. small french green lentils, washed and picked over
6 c. water

Combine in large stockpot and bring to a boil. Simmer about 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain and reserve. Use any form of lentil you wish; the small green ones hold their shape nicely for a good texture in soup.

In a large soup pot, I heated olive oil. Into the oil went two small yellow onions, diced; about 5-6 small carrots, peeled and diced and one yam, peeled and diced. I cooked the vegetables until soft over medium-high heat, then turned down the flame and allowed them to brown slowly, stirring occasionally. After about 25 minutes, I added in two cloves of minced garlic and a cup of cooked wheatberries. I browned it for another 10 minutes, then added in two cans of diced tomato, a quart of water and the cooked lentils. I brought this to a simmer, then stirred in about 2-3 cups of shredded spinach. I seasoned it with a little white pepper, cumin and Prudhomme’s Vegetable Magic seasoning. Five minutes later I turned off the flame.

The browning of the vegetables was solely to add flavor to the soup. It isn’t important, but I like a deep flavorful soup base and I was out of any kind of base except chicken and I didn’t want that. The variations on this recipe are endless and imaginative; Heidi tosses out lots of options on her site. The saffron cream was very good but the soup tasted delicious even without it.


Smoked Salmon & Corn Chowder with Roasted Red Pepper Spread

September 13th, 2007 | 7 Comments »

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Smoked Salmon Corn Chowder
from ‘The 12 Best Foods Cookbook’ by Dana Jacobi

4 small red potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 T. canola oil
1 small red onion (or two shallots) peeled and minced
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 green (or red) pepper, cored and diced
1 14-oz can creamed corn
1/2 c. frozen corn kernels (i used corn cut from two fresh cobs)
1 c. fat free lo-sodium chicken broth (i used way more, like almost a quart)
2 t. fresh thyme leaves, minced; or 1/2 t. dried thyme
Pinch cayenne pepper
4 oz smoked salmon, flaked
Salt and pepper

Place potato in medium saucepan and bring to boil; simmer until just fork tender. Drain, and set potato aside. In stockpot, heat oil, then saute onion until tender. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds or until fragrant, then add pepper and cook until crisp tender (or to taste- you may like it softer). Add in creamed corn, corn kernels, thyme, broth and cayenne and bring to a boil. Add in potato and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat, stir in salmon, season with S&P and serve.

Roasted Red Pepper Butter

1 c. room temp butter
7-oz jar roasted red pepper, drained and finely minced
2 t. milk
1 T. fresh chives, minced
1 T. fresh parsley, minced
1/4. c. fresh grated parmesan or asiago cheese
Salt and Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and beat with a hand mixer until smooth and fluffy. Can be shaped into a log and chilled, or stored in a plastic container.

Hint: with the peppers, the finer you mince, the prettier and more spreadable the butter will be. I used a knife on mine but next time will use a food processor or chopper to get them even finer.

Wheatberry Lentil Soup

February 22nd, 2007 | 12 Comments »

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This utterly outstanding soup is courtesy of the current issue of Eating Well magazine. There is an very nice article about wheat berries in it, along with some very tempting recipes. We have enjoyed wheat berries before but I wasn’t 100% sure of how to cook them and so they disappeared from our meals. The magazine lists a method too. Of course, you could make this soup without the wheat berries and it would still likely be quite good. The berries add a certain earthy-ness to it though. Wheat berries are the whole, unprocessed wheat kernel, they are loaded with B vitamins, iron, magnesium, zinc and fiber and because they aren’t refined, all three parts of the grain- the nutrient rich bran, germ and endosperm are all intact making them a whole grain. And we all know how whole grains are very good for you. They do require a long cooking time though. Once cooked however, they keep very well in the freezer and can be tossed into soups still frozen, or heated up quickly in the microwave for a nice side dish. They are nutty, chewy, and grainy. You should be eating some of these little grains. To cook them, put two cups of washed and picked over berries in a large saucepan and add 7 cups of water with about 1/2 t. of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 1-1 1/2 hours while you go about your business. They should be chewy, easily broken with your teeth but not hard. Spread the cooked berries on a cookie sheet to cool, then they can be frozen in one cup increments in freezer bags for a month. The two cup amount yielded about 5 1/2 cups when I cooked them.

When you have the berries cooked, then make this soup.

Wheatberry Lentil Soup
1 ½ c. green or brown lentils, washed and picked over, 4 c. vegetable broth, 4 c. cold water. Place lentils in 4-quart stockpot, add broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are tender, 25-35 minutes.

4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped, 1 large onion, finely chopped, ½ t. salt, ½ t. fresh ground pepper, 2 T. olive oil. Heat oil in sauté pan. Add carrot, onion, salt and pepper and sauté for approximately 15-20 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Vegetables should be tender, slightly browned. Then add the following:

4 cloves garlic, minced, 1 ½ t. ground cumin

Sauté for about 30 seconds to one minutes, Turn off heat.

When lentils are tender but not mushy, add 1-1 ½ c. cooked wheat berries and about two cups of rough chopped fresh chard or fresh spinach. Heat through until greens are wilted. Add in carrot mixture. Add in 3 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

(Serving size: 1 2/3 cups. Calories per serving: 250. Fat: 8 g (1 g sat, 5 g mono) O mg cholesterol, 36 g. carbs, 9 g. Protein, 9 g fiber, 617 mg sodium, 433 mg potassium. Extra nutrition: fiber, vitamin A, folate, vitamin C and Iron)

This soup was really delicious, and very flavorful. The lentils and berries added a nice chewiness to it, the carrots, while soft, weren’t mushy and had some good texture still. And I just love spinach, so that was perfect as well. The soup had a really good scent to it too, very earthy and hearty and it reminded me clearly of what the air smells like after a good rain. Kind of odd, but that was the image that came to mind when I bent over the steaming pot. Although I only had one serving, it filled me up. What a lunch! I could have just kept eating but y’know that just doesn’t help me when I see that drawer full of jeans that don’t fit.

A good note- all of Eating Well’s recipe’s are available on their website without a magazine or online subscription, so if you are at all interested in more things to do with the mighty wheat berry, visit them at eatingwell dot com. You might be really glad you did.