Posts filed under ‘soup’

A surfeit of beets

Borscht!Some people get flowers on opening night of a play. I got beets.

No kidding: My friend (and the stage manager of the show I’ve been directing) came into an excess of beets and, after asking if I liked them (oh, yes!), brought in a bag of beets bigger than my fist, probably 2-3 pounds worth.

Young beets are great for raw preparations: julienned atop a salad, thinly sliced and sprinkled with a little salt. Older beets need cooking to transform their woody texture to something tender and delectable. And other than just roasting and eating them, my favorite thing to make with big o’l beets is a big ol’ pot of borscht.

Or borsht. Or borsh, or even barszcz, depending on which Eastern European language is describing this hearty vegetable soup. The “authentic” recipes are as varied as the cultures they come from, and you can find internet flame wars on various cooking sites involving people who swear that their grandmother’s recipe is the One True Borscht/Borsch/etc., and all others heretical nonsense. There are recipes that call for beef, recipes that call for pork, recipes that call for no meat at all. Some say cabbage is required, some say potatoes, and some even say you don’t need beets to make a borscht.

If you’ve read me long, you know I’m not a purist. I’ve made borscht with and without cabbage, carrots, potatoes, meat; I’ve even made it with duck leg confit because I had some on hand. I always use beets – without beets, I’d call it vegetable soup and be done with it. But otherwise, like many good dishes, my borscht is a matter of what’s fresh, what’s local and what’s in the larder.

Roasting the bonesThis time I went the whole nine yards and started by spending Saturday making a big pot of home-made beef stock, beginning by oven-roasting a couple of pounds of “soup bones” –  meaty beef shanks that the butcher had sawn in short lengths, the better to expose the tasty marrow – from Heritage Farms NW.  There’s nothing like rich, flavorful homemade stock to add depth and character to a humble soup, and this may be the best batch I’ve ever made. I wound up with four quarts of stock; half of it went back into the pot this morning to make the borscht, and the other half is in the fridge, awaiting further reduction tomorrow evening to produce demi-glace, the syrupy, concentrated essence of beef that’s one of the serious cook’s best friends.

Stock isn’t hard to make. It does require attention – you don’t want any part of it to scorch or burn, because that adds an unpleasant bitterness to the stock. And you do want to simmer it long enough to reduce the liquid by a good deal and concentrate all the rich flavors – otherwise you might as well make your soup with water. Here’s a great little step-by-step tutorial for the uninitiated. Don’t be put off by what seem to be many, many steps; none of it is hard or even particularly labor-intensive, and the results are fabulous.

However: You could also make a perfectly good borscht with stock-inna-box, or even a good beef concentrate (Better than Boullon is a staple of my own kitchen). Vegetarians, look for mushroom stock if you can find it; good vegetable stock if you can’t. Just please, please, don’t use bouillon cubes – they taste of nothing much other than salt, and your soup will wind up much too salty.

The borscht itself is easy as can be, and (once you’ve got stock) pretty quick to make; it’s also infinitely adaptable to suit your own tastes and those of your diners. Except, perhaps, the ones who are averse to beets – and if they’re willing to try it, they may be surprised.

Beefy Borscht

Ingredients

Borscht ingredients

  • 2 pounds of fresh beets, trimmed and scrubbed
  • Olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp butter (or more olive oil)
  • 1 cup carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped onions (or shallots, or leeks)
  • 4-6 cups thinly sliced cabbage. I like to use purple, because it intensifies the hue of the final dish, but green is fine.
  • 2-6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Some potatoes, peeled or not, and coarsely diced (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh dill, or 1 tsp dried. Additional fresh or dried herbs as you prefer
  • 4-6 cups beef (or vegetable) stock
  • Cooked beef from the stock-making, shredded – or sliced sausage, diced pork chops, or other meat that won’t require long cooking. (Optional, but it turns the soup into a hearty meal).
  • Leftover rind from a hunk of good parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Juice of two limes, or a few tablespoons of red-wine vinegar.
  • Salt (if needed)
  • For garnish: sour cream, sprigs of fresh dill

Toss beets in olive oil, put them on a baking sheet and roast in a 350F oven for 20-30 minutes, until they’re tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool, then rub off the skins and trim off any tough bits near the stem. You can roast the beets the day before; if so, refrigerate overnight. When it’s time to make borscht, cut them in bite-sized pieces.

In the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot or dutch oven, melt butter or olive oil until it sizzles. Add onion and carrots; sautee, stirring frequently, until onion is softening. Stir in the cabbage, garlic, potato (if you’re using it; I don’t), herbs and meat, and add stock to the pot to generously cover all the ingredients. If you happen to have a rind of parmesan on hand, toss that in – it will melt into the soup, adding an extra touch of tang and umami to the soup.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until carrots are tender. Stir in the lime juice or vinegar (I prefer lime, but vinegar seems to be traditional). Taste to see if salt is needed. If your stock is home-made, it probably won’t be (the natural saltiness of beef gets concentrated in the stock-making).

Ladle into bowls, garnish with a swirl of sour cream and a sprig of fresh dill. Serve hot, with crusty bread to mop up the bowl. Serves a bunch, and like so many soups, it’s even better the next day.

This soup freezes beautifully, especially if you leave out the potatoes (I’m never happy with how potatoes fare when frozen). Half the batch I made this morning will go into freezer containers for cold-weather meals!

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October 3, 2010 at 1:12 pm Leave a comment

Dinner is late tonight …

Winter Squash and Garlic Soup… but only because I decided last night to throw together a loaf of my favorite home-made bread, and it needed a couple hours resting time between shaping and baking.

Dinner itself, on the other hand, was a practically fast food, even though it was made from scratch.

Winter squash and roasted garlic were made for each other, and this easy winter soup (a simpler variation on one that was the subject of my very first post on this blog) combines the two in a bowl of delicious, creamy, savory-sweet goodness .

The original recipe calls for whole squash – butternut, acorn or even a small pie pumpkin – peeled, seeded, cut in chunks and roasted until tender and then pureed before combining with stock and roasted garlic. Which I don’t mind doing … but last summer I was smart enough to pick up a few cans of gorgeous, canned organic squash puree from Stahlbush Island Farms. I almost passed it by – after all, it was summer, and the farmers’ market was full of fresh produce; the thought of buying canned seemed almost redundant.

But I’m very glad I stopped at their booth, because the purees are terrific, besides being incredible time-savers. If they return to our market next season, I plan to stock up.

So while the bread dough rested, I put the garlic on to roast and caught up on my blog-reading. When the loaf went in the oven, I put the soup on to simmer. When the bread was done and cooling enough to handle, I threw together a simple salad of beautiful baby greens from Cinco Estrellas Farm in Junction City, topped with a bit of goat cheese from Fraga Farm in Sweet Home, two of the vendors taking part in the wonderful new Corvallis Local Foods online market that’s been supplying probably 75 percent of my food for the last few weeks.

The result: A dinner both simple and sophisticated, and utterly satisfying.

Easy Squash Soup with Roasted Garlic

Ingredients

  • 1 head garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups pureed winter squash (butternut, acorn, pumpkin, whatever you prefer)
  • 1-2 cups good stock (depending on how thick you like your soup). I used rich homemade stock from my Christmas duck, but chicken or vegetable stock is fine.
  • 1 tsp curry powder (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • Sour cream, creme fraiche or plain yogurt to garnish (optional)

Method

Preheat oven to 350F. Rub the outer papery husk off the garlic without separating the cloves. Using a sharp knife, cut off just the tips of the pointy end to expose the garlic. Place in an ovenproof ramekin or very small baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until garlic is soft and caramelized. Allow to cool.

In a large saucepan, combine squash puree and stock. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves into the soup. Add curry powder and/or cayenne, if you like it. Turn heat to medium low and simmer for 30 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Taste; add salt and pepper if you want it. Ladle into bowls and swirl a spoonful of sour cream, creme fraiche or yogurt onto the surface (unless you prefer a vegan soup).

Makes about a quart of soup; the number of servings depends on whether you’re using it as a starter or the whole meal. Serve with crusty bread, a green salad and a nice glass of wine. Count your blessings.

January 12, 2010 at 11:04 pm 1 comment

The last of the tomatoes

The last of the harvest

Green tomatoes

Last weekend, belatedly, I found time to get out to the garden and strip the last tomatoes from the vines. For all my complaining about the late ripening – and for all my desultory gardening habits – it was a good year for tomatoes; once they finally got around to ripening, my six heirloom plants kept me in ripe tomatoes for nearly two months before they succumbed to the advancing autumn. Lots of BLTs, salads, and just plain sun-ripened, sliced tomatoes, and a few interesting experiments in stuffing the Pepper Tom variety (a tomato that ripens like a bell pepper, with sturdy outer walls and an almost-hollow center.

Two weeks ago, a surplus of very ripe tomatoes heading toward over-ripe prompted me to make a couple of pans of my infamous Tomato Goo: tomatoes, onion and garlic, flavored with the last of the basil from my herb garden, slow-roasted until nearly all the liquid is gone and shoveled into serving-sized freezer bags for the winter.

This week it was time to deal with the remaining, unripe tomatoes. In other years, I’ve wrapped them lovingly in newspaper, put them in a box and set them down in the cool of my unheated basement/garage; stored that way, unblemished tomatoes will continue to ripen right into winter, a few at a time. I’ve had ripe tomatoes for Christmas, some years. Not quite as luscious as sun-ripened, but miles better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.

This year’s green tomato harvest was modest, though, with lots of smallish fruit, so I decided to deal with them immediately, and make food for what promises to be a busy weekend: A green tomato salsa, and a delicious tart-and-savory curried tomato soup.

Does anyone invent recipes from thin air? I rarely do. Rather, I read cookbooks (and other people’s foodblogs) avidly, consider what ingredients I have on hand and what flavors I like together, and improvise, taking notes as I go. What results may or may not be recognizable as the original recipe.

That’s almost certainly true of this soup, which started out as a found-on-the-Internet recipe for a chilled summer soup. The basic elements are still there – green tomatoes, potatoes, loads of onion and garlic, curry powder – but I wanted a something warm and hearty for fall. The original called for lots of cilantro and mint; I don’t much like cilantro, but I still had lots of aromatic basil on hand, and my Italian parsley is coming back strong after the summer bolt. The original directed me to peel the tomatoes and potatoes – not a bad idea if you buy them from the supermarket, to eliminate pesticide residues, but mine were grown organically, and there’s a lot of nutrition in those peels, so I left them on. It also called for sugar – rather a lot of it – to balance the tartness of the tomatoes. Why cook with sugar when you’ve got a couple of nice, sweet-tart heirloom apples on hand? And so it went, an adjustment here, another there, until my soup barely resembles the original at all. You can do the same, and make the recipe your own.

Curried green tomato soup

Curried Green Tomato Soup

Curried Green Tomato Soup
(Makes 4-6 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium union, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp good curry powder
  • 1 large (or 2 medium) potatoes, cubed
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 cups chopped green tomatoes (4-6 large tomatoes or a bunch of small ones
  • 1 large (or 2 small) apples, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parlsey
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Additional parsley and curry powder for garnish

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add garlic, onion and curry powder. Cook, stirring often, until onion begins to soften, about five minutes. Add potatoes, stir to blend, and brown slightly. Add stock. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes until potatoes are tender.

Stir in the tomatoes, apple, basil and parsley; cover, and continue simmering for 10-15 minutes more.

Remove from heat and use a wand blender or food processor to blend until fairly smooth. If you want a silky soup free of bits of peel, pass it through a coarse strainer and return to burner if necessary to reheat. I didn’t bother; the peel is tender and adds some texture. Stir in cream. Taste; add salt and pepper if you like.

To serve, ladle into bowls, and garnish with a drizzle of cream, a sprinkle of curry powder and a sprig of parsley. Serve hot.


Even easier:

 

Green tomato salsa

Green Tomato Salsa

Green Tomato salsa
Makes 3-4 cups

Ingredients (measurements are approximate and not critical. Use what you have):

  • 1 pound green tomatoes
  • 1-2 ripe tomatoes
  • 1 seranno (or other) pepper, minced (seeds and all); use two if you like your salsa fiery
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne (or more, as above)
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1-2 tsp salt, to taste

Cut the fruits/vegetables into chunks; mince the chiles. Dump everything but the salt into a food processor and pulse until it’s chopped fine, but not pureed. Taste, correct seasoning. Transfer to a lidded bowl and allow to ripen at room temperature for an hour or so, then refrigerate. Keeps several days in the fridge.

Besides making a great dipping salsa (I like it with flour tortilla chips, but use what you prefer), this stuff would be fabulous with fresh seafood…


Oven Roasted Tomatoes (aka Tomato Goo)

 

A method. Make as much or as little as you like. I often make two pans at once, rotating them between the upper and lower shelves of my oven a couple of times during the cooking.

Ingredients:

Per batch:

  • 8-10 Garden-ripe tomatoes, quartered (cut off any green stem bits and or bad spots)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled cut in wedges
  • One head of garlic, separated into cloves, peeled and slightly crushed with the flat of a knife
  • A generous handful of fresh basil
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 250F. In a large roasting pan, spread the tomatoes, onion and garlic in a single layer. Scatter with basil and drizzle with olive oil.

Roast in oven for 2-4 hours or longer*, stirring every half hour or so, until almost all of the liquid is gone, the onion and garlic have caramelized and the tomatoes have taken on a deep red hue. Cool; spoon into serving-sized freezer bags, squeeze out the excess air and freeze.

* If your tomatoes are especially juicy, or you pack too many into the pan, it can take an entire afternoon to reduce the liquid down. This is a fine project for a lazy fall afternoon, and will fill your whole house with the aromas of tomato, onion and garlic.

The result is a frozen slab of a rich, chunky paste/sauce, slightly sweet from the caramelized onion and garlic and with the same intense flavor as sun-dried tomatoes. Thaw to use, or simply cut off frozen chunks. Use as a basis for a home-made tomato sauce, toss it with pasta, spread it on toasted Italian bread rounds, add it by the spoonful to home-made soups and stews – anywhere you want a jolt of garden tomato in the deep of winter. Best. Stuff. Ever.

October 17, 2008 at 12:37 pm 1 comment

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Baby cauliflower and strawberriesIs there anyone on earth who hasn’t yet discovered the joys of oven-roasted vegetables?

I’m not talking about the potatoes, carrots and onions mom used to throw in to roast with a chicken or a hunk of beef (although those are certainly lovely in their way). I’m talking about treating vegetables – almost any vegetables – to a gloss of olive oil and the merest sprinkling of salt, then running them through a hot, fast oven until their natural plant sugars start to caramelize, adding a toasty sweetness to the pure, clean vegetable flavor.

Steaming used to be my default method of cooking vegetables. But since I discovered the joys of roasting them, my trusty steamer basket has been relegated to the top cupboard, the one I can’t reach without a step-ladder, where things like the waffle iron and bundt pan live.

Roasted cauliflowerThere’s hardly a vegetable that doesn’t take well to roasting. The leafy ones, I guess – they’d pretty much just dessicate. But anything else, from root vegetables to asparagus to crucifers to eggplants, peppers and tomatoes, is wonderful roasted. OK, peas are a little fiddly unless they’re the edible-pod variety, but otherwise …

The basic method is a snap:

  • Cut or break the vegetables into roughly equal-sized pieces. I usually go for “bite-sized,” except for asparagus, which I roast whole.
  • Toss with just enough extra-virgin olive oil to give the vegetables a slight sheen. Less is more – the goal is to enhance the roasting process and keep the vegetables from drying out, not to render them oily. For change of pace and a bit of a tang, add a splash of balsamic vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice to the oil.
  • Spread the pieces on a baking sheet in a single layer. Try not to let them touch.
  • Sprinkle with a little coarse salt.
  • Roast in a 350-degree oven for … as long as it takes. That’s highly dependant on the vegetable. Dense tubers (beets, potatoes, carrots) can require 20-30-minutes in the oven. Thin asparagus needs barely five minutes. Roast enough vegetables and you’ll get a feel for the timing. Meanwhile, keep an eye on things – the bottoms will brown faster than the tops, and you might want to turn the chunks over midway through the process.

That’s it: A side dish fit for a five-star restaurant, or even a main dish if you’re craving veggies.

But you can also use those roasted vegetables as an ingredient, with surprising and wonderful results.

This past weekend I picked up an adorable little cauliflower at the farmers’ market. I thought I might just snack on it raw, but our hot spell left me without much appetite all weekend. Now it’s cooling off again, and I felt like playing in the kitchen. A little of this, a little of that, and I came up with:

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with White Truffle OIl

Ingredients

  • 1 small cauliflower, broken up to make about a cup of smallish florets. Chop the stem pieces to about the same size.
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and cut into chunks about the same size as the cauliflower
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • coarse sea salt (optional)
  • 2 cups low-salt chicken stock (feel free to use flavorful vegetable stock if you’re a vegetarian)
  • White truffle oil (I get mine from Trader Joe’s when I visit my sweetie in Seattle, but I’ve seen it on the shelves in the local Safeway store).

Method:

Toss cauliflower, shallots and garlic in a mixture of olive oil and vinegar until well coated. Use a slotted spoon to transfer onto a baking sheet, sprinkle very lightly with salt (or not) and roast as above for about 20 minutes, turning the vegetables halfway through the cooking.

In a saucepan, heat the stock until boiling and add the roasted vegetables, reserving a few small florets for garnish if you like. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are very tender, 10-15 minutes.

Roasted cauliflower soupRemove from heat. Using a wand blender or food processor, puree until the vegetables are one with the liquid. Don’t expect a creamy white soup; it will be the color of good brown bread from the caramelization. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Ladle into bowls and drizzle a few drops of white truffle oil on top. Float a floret on the soup. Eat with good bread. Purr.

(You can skip the truffle oil if you don’t have any, but try it sometime. Its flavor is a wonderful compliment to roasted vegetables, enhancing the toastiness.

Serves two, though it would be easy to increase the recipe to use a larger cauliflower.

May 19, 2008 at 7:28 pm Leave a comment

Getting ready for the season

Countdown: 35 days till my local farmers’ market opens for the season!

I expected this would be a seasonal blog when I started writing it; sure enough, I haven’t posted an entry since December.

Because, really, who wants to read “I took the (whatever) from last harvest season out of the freezer tonight…” Winter cooking, at least in my house, is more about sustenance than it is about enjoying the process. I envy those of you who live in places where there are local farm markets all year round. Oh, we’ve had a winter market this year, two days a month, but I always forget which days until it’s too late.

However: Spring is definitely here in Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley. The daffodils are up, the ornamental fruit trees started blooming this week and we’re less than five weeks from the opening of our local market. So I’ve begun the annual process of clearing the pantry and freezer of the remnants of last year’s harvest to make room for this year’s.

Cuban bean soupIt’s still a little chilly here, and I’ve still got some of Matt-Cyn Farms’ wonderful beans on hand, so I put them on to soak last night and thumbed through recipes this morning. A little of this, a little of that, and I wound up with a Cuban-style bean soup with ham, enriched with tomato and brightened with the tang of fresh lemon juice. That, and some of the first $1.29 a pound asparagus of the season, oven-roasted, made for a wonderful dinner. And there’s plenty left for lunches next week.

Cuban Bean Soup with Ham

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried beans. Black beans are traditional; I used half black turtle beans and half bicolored yin-yang beans from Matt-Cyn Farms
  • 10 cups water or vegetable stock, or any combination of both. I keep my vegetable trimmings in a bag in the freezer; when I have a couple bags full, I throw them in water with some pepper and herbs and make stock.
  • 1/4 pound ham, cubed. Bone-in ham steaks are an economical way to buy ham; include the bone for flavor (remove before serving!)
  • At least 2 cloves garlic, finely minced. I used 6; I would have used more if it hadn’t all been sprouting (instead, the sprouting cloves will go in my garden)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped (many recipes call for green, but I find green bell peppers unpleasantly bitter. The red, yellow or orange versions add a pleasing sweetness to the dish).
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, or an equivalent amount of tomato goo*
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste. I didn’t bother with salt; the ham was sufficient.
  • Dry sherry (optional)
  • Hardboiled egg, chopped (for garnish)
  • Lemon wedges (for garnish)

Either soak the beans overnight, or use the quick-soak method (Cover beans in water, bring to a boil, put on a lid and cover the pot. After an hour, the beans will be ready to cook). Discard soaking water.

In a large, lidded pot, bring stock/water to a boil. Add soaked beans and ham. Once the beans come back to a boil, turn the heat way down and simmer, partially covered, until tender (1-2 hours).

Make the sofrito: Pound the garlic, cumin, oregano, mustard and cayenne together until well blended. I use a mortar and pestle. You could also throw it in a food processor.

Heat the oil in a saucepan, then sauté the onion and red pepper, stirring, until wilted. Add the spice mixture and stir for a minute. Add the lemon juice and 1/2 cup of liquid from the beans. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Check to make sure the beans are tender (because once you add the lemon and tomato, their acid will prevent the beans from getting any softer), then stir the sofrito and the tomatoes in and simmer for another hour, partially covered.

I’d planned to puree some of the beans and add them back in to thicken the soup, but it was plenty thick enough without doing so.

When ready to serve, check the seasoning and, if you like, stir in a couple of tablespoons of dry sherry to finish. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with chopped egg and a slice of lemon. Should serve six or so, with a nice salad and some chewy bread to mop the bowl.


Bonus: Tomato gooI probably ought to call it something nicer, like “slow-roasted tomatoes,” but my sister dubbed it tomato goo and tomato goo it is. It’s my favorite thing to do at the end of tomato season, when there are so many ripe tomatoes (from the garden or market) that I can’t possibly eat them all. It’s easy:

  • Quarter a bunch of ripe tomatoes, cutting out the blossom ends and any bad bits
  • Peel some sweet onions and cut them in large wedges
  • Peel several heads of garlic; leave the cloves intact
  • Chop up a few fistfuls of fresh basil.

Mix everything together and spread it in a shallow layer in a large roasting or baking pan. The layer should be no more than one tomato chunk deep. Drizzle with olive oil.

Put in a 250F oven and let it cook, stirring every half hour or so, until the liquid has almost entirely evaporated, the onions and garlic have caramelized and the tomatoes have turned into something as good as the best sun-dried tomato you ever ate. This will take hours. Read a book or do the laundry or something.

I always make two pans at a time, one on the top oven rack and one on the bottom. If you do that, swap the pans’ positions a couple of times for more even cooking.

When the goo comes out of the oven, cool and spoon into freezer bags. Press out the air, seal and freeze. To use, peel back the bag and cut off chunks. If you want to thaw it, use the microwave (open the bag first). Add to soups or stews, use as a pasta sauce (alone or with amendments), add to omelettes, spread on rounds of good toasted bread for instant bruschetta, etc. etc. etc.

March 15, 2008 at 7:27 pm Leave a comment

Leek and potato soup

The leeks I brought home from the market yesterday went straight into the soup pot, and we were so hungry that the soup didn’t survive long enough to get its picture taken.

Never mind; this is one of my favorite easy winter soups, subtly flavored but hearty enough for a meal and easily converted for a vegetarian or vegan diet. Total prep time is perhaps 45 minutes, tops, and most of that’s time spent simmering.

Ingredients

1 slice of bacon, chopped into small dice (or a tablespoon of olive oil to make this vegetarian)
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 large leeks, white part only, split in half lengthwise, rinsed of any residual sand and then sliced across the stems into small pieces. You should wind up with about two loosely packed cups of leek bits
3 cups of good, low-salt chicken or vegetable stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme, 2 bay leaves and a few springs of Italian parsley (make a bouquet garni by choosing one of the longest green leaves from the leek, wrapping it around the herbs and tying with kitchen string to make a tidy little packet that will be easy to fish out when the soup is done)
3-4 potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice. I used red potatoes, but any variety that doesn’t turn to mush when simmered would be fine.
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns OR 1/4 tsp ground pepper (if you don’t like stumbling across peppercorns in your soup)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream (omit for a vegan version)
Minced Italian parsley, for garnish

Preparation:

Heat the bacon a heavy-bottomed stock pan until most of the fat is rendered out; add garlic and stir until it softens (reduce heat if necessary to keep garlic from scorching).

Add leeks and stir to coat well with fat, then continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the leeks begin to soften.

Add stock, herb bundle, potatoes and peppercorns; bring to a simmer and continue cooking until potatoes are tender, approx. 30 minutes. Remove herb bundle and discard.

At this point, if you want a thicker soup, ladle 1/3 to 1/2 of it into a separate container and use a wand blender to puree it, then return the puree to the pot. If you don’t want any chunks at all, just blend directly in the pot until it’s all pureed.

Taste; correct seasoning. Stir cream into the soup if you want a rich, silky finish, or not if you don’t want the dairy. It’ll still be delicious. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Makes about 6 cups of soup, so if you don’t have a big family, I hope you like leftovers as much as I do.

I like my soup with buttered saltines, but homemade bread or a good salad would be nice, too.

November 18, 2007 at 6:52 pm Leave a comment

Autumn harvest: Pumpkin soups

I’m not that fond of pumpkin pie. I mean, I love pie, but presented with a table full of pies, I’ll reach for apple or pecan or even mincemeat else before I bother with pumpkin.

Sugar pumpkins

I think it’s partly that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth (Salt tooth? Fat tooth? Tooth for sour-or-bitter? Hell, yeah), particularly when it comes to sweetened vegetables, and I consider pumpkin to be a veg, not a dessert. I can be dogmatic that way, sometimes.

But come fall, these cute little sugar pumpkins start showing up at the market, and it would be a shame to waste their tender flesh and tasty seeds on jack-o-lanterns. So I’ve been developing a repertory of savory pumpkin dishes with just these babies in mind.

Pumpkins, even small, thin-skinned pumpkins like these, can be a handful to prep; I’ve had a basketball-sized pumpkin I was attempting to pare escape my grasp, roll off the counter and smash to the floor, and even halved, it’s hard to peel.

For most recipes, I take the easy route, cutting the gourd in half with my biggest chef’s knife, using a big metal spoon to scoop out the stringy innards and seeds*, oiling the cut edges and setting them face down on a cookie sheet. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour in a 350°F oven, until the flesh is tender enough to pierce with a fork, let it cool enough to handle, peel off the rind and you’re good to go.

* Don’t let the seeds go to waste: Dump the stringy pumpkin guts into a colander and use your bare hands to squish the seeds loose from the fibers. I like to give the seeds a 15-30 minute soak in a cup or so of water in which I’ve dissolved a handful of kosher salt – just enough to leave them slightly salty.

Drain them, toss with a little olive oil (and ground spices, if you like), then spread on a baking sheet and toast in the oven on the rack below the pumpkin. Check and stir every 10 minutes or so until they’re toasty brown – you’ll hear them starting to pop open when they’re nearly done. Cool and reserve for garnishing the soup, or to nibble while you’re cooking. The variety of pumpkin I buy has what the vendor, Cyndee, calls “naked seeds” – the hulls are so lightweight that you don’t risk a mouthful of splinters when you munch them unhulled.

That’s how both of these soups begin, and they’re really variations on a theme: Creamy, savory, rich and a little spicy. The first is my own improvisation, born from a need to use up a few heads of garlic before they started to sprout. I owe the second to my friend Kathy Walton, whose kitchen prowess makes me look like a piker. Both are fantastic, either as a hearty first course or a main dish with a hunk of crusty bread and a good glass of wine or fresh-squeezed cider.

I. Curried Pumpkin and Garlic Soup.

Ingredients:

1 small sugar/pie pumpkin, prepared as above
2 heads (yes, heads) of garlic, roasted and squeezed from their papery skins
Olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 Tbsp (or more) good curry powder
1/t tsp garam masala
4 cups low-salt chicken stock, or good vegetable stock for a vegetarian option
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I like Nancy’s brand, full-fat)
Seeds from the pumpkin, dusted with curry powder before toasting

Preparation:

  • Roast pumpkin as described above; cool and peel from the skin
  • In a heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil; add onion and carrot and sautee, stirring, until onion is translucent.
  • Add pumpkin flesh, roasted garlic, curry powder, garam masala and stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or so to give the flavors time to meld.
  • Remove from heat and use a wand blender to puree to smoothness. Stir in yogurt and return to heat briefly, stirring until it’s heated through.
  • Correct seasoning if necessary. Serve garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds.

To make this dish vegetarian, simply substitute hearty vegetable broth for the chicken broth; to make it vegan, omit the yogurt.

Serves 6 as a starter, 3-4 as a main course (or 2 with plenty left over).

II. Creamy Pumpkin Soup With Bacon

Go to Kathy’s foodblog for the recipe.

My adaptations:

  • I oven-toasted the whole seeds instead of acquiring hulled pepitas and pan-toasting them, and I dusted them with a bit of ground chipotle to add spice and pick up the bacon’s smokey flavor.
  • Lacking chicken demi-glace, but having a cup of stock left over from the 32 ounce container I had on hand, I simmered the excess stock until it was reduced to a few tablespoons, and stirred that into the soup for added chicken intensity.

I suppose the vegetarians among you could substitute smoked … something or other … for the bacon, but I’ll leave that to your imaginations. I’m of the “everything’s better with bacon” persuasion, and it’s one of the things that will likely keep me from ever abandoning my carnivorous ways.

October 19, 2007 at 4:02 pm 3 comments


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