Tag Archives: soup

Finally. A soup for my sister.

Lisa – this soup is for you.

Our family has had many memorable meals from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Her Bolognese, her pesto, La Grande Insalata Mista, cannelloni, fresh pasta, focaccia, the Roast Chicken with Lemons. All memorable, all standbys. Although it has been a couple of years since Chick Pea Soup has been in rotation, I bet I have made this soup over 100 times. How should I describe it? For a grown-up, this soup can be rustic Italian; for a kid, it’s an easy going pasta and beans; for a baby this soup could be food, could be a toy, and it’s definitely great for practicing small motor skills.

I made Chick Pea Soup today but what I initially wanted to make was Alice Water’s Pasta e Fagioli –  the one I wrote about in my very first blog post. I love that soup but you have to soak the beans in advance. I can never bring myself to use canned cannellini. Canned cannellini are too mushy and they don’t deserve to go in Alice Waters’ soup. Canned garbanzo beans are another story. Although I usually like to soak and cook my own, today was a very busy day and I had to take short cuts. When I realized at 2 pm that I’d forgotten about soaking cannellini or cranberry beans and that I hadn’t any more time to go to the market, I knew it was time. Time to make the soup that was probably the initial inspiration for this blog. This soup is the reason that I always keep cans of chick peas, boxes of Pacific brand organic chicken stock and canned tomatoes in the house. I have slightly adjusted the quantities of the soup so that there will be no leftovers from the cans. Two cans of chick peas, one quart box of chicken stock, a large can of tomatoes, half a pound of pasta. Done.

We had a whatever-is-left-in-the-crisper salad and Boursin and crackers on the side. I was going to write that this meal was not my proudest moment but I think I’m going to have to take that thought back. Making a meal that satisfies every person in the family, without a special trip to the grocery store, using just what’s on hand, is something to be very proud of.

Last Minute Menu

  • Chick Pea Soup
  • Whatever Salad (ours was romaine, tomatoes, carrots…and feta?! Weird but fine.)
  • Boursin and water crackers

Chick Pea Soup – pasta variation

Serves 6

Chick Pea Soup is unlike most soups in that it is not particularly soupy. Most Americans would beg that this is not soup at all as there is hardly any broth. What I say is that if Marcella says this is soup then I do too. It is a lovely soup. As Marcella states:

Soup is one of the tastiest things one can do with chick peas.

I have to say I agree.

  • 4 whole garlic cloves, peeled (no need to chop!)
  • 1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
  • a small sprig of fresh rosemary (you really should have a plant in the back yard!) or 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
  • (1) 28 oz can tomatoes, drained of their juice
  • (2) 14 oz cans chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 lb elbow pasta (I like the ribbed Barilla elbows)
  • Grated parmesan to serve
  1. Put the olive oil and garlic cloves into a 5-6 quart heavy bottomed soup pot and turn on the heat to medium. Sauté the garlic until it becomes light brown all over and then remove them from the pot (you can toss the garlic out).
  2. Add the rosemary sprig (or dried rosemary if that’s all you’ve got) and immediately add the tomatoes. They will sizzle wildly for a few minutes. I stand as far back as I can with an apron on and my kitchen scissors in hand and quickly snip all the whole tomatoes into 3/4″ pieces. A normal person would just get out the cutting board and chop them up beforehand. If you value your shirts and your hands, I recommend that you do this.
  3. Cook for 20-30 minutes over medium low heat. You’ll be ready to continue when the oil floats free of the tomatoes.
  4. Add the drained chickpeas and stir thoroughly. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the broth, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Add the pasta, and stir every few minutes, following the cooking time stated on the box. Stirring frequently will keep the pasta from sticking to the pot.  Cooking pasta this way is very different from cooking it in copious amounts of salted water.
  7. Season with salt and pepper and serve with freshly grated parmesan.
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Faux pho

Faux pho (which I guess is pronounced “foh – fuh”) is a lot easier to make than true phở. True phở has a bunch of exotic ingredients which, in this house anyway, make it a tall order – especially on a day like crazy Thursday. Saigon cinnamon, star anise, roasted ginger, black cardamom, coriander seed, fennel seed and clove.  Out of those I know I have the coriander, the fennel and the clove. And the star anise. Most people don’t have star anise and I have to admit, mine has been sitting around for awhile. Also the broth has beef bones and chicken parts and a lot of other things that make true phở not for the faint of heart and really not for last minute, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants types. A bummer if you ever crave phở in the middle of the week and it’s not practical to go out.

Faux pho is a different story. I made faux pho last Thursday and although it was a little insane to make it for the first time mid-week, I know that I’ll make it again and that next time it will be MUCH easier.

You might look at the picture and the list of ingredients for this soup and then see that I categorized it as Fast and Easy and come to the conclusion that I’ve either lost my mind or that my chopping hand is bionic (it’s not). I’m not crazy either. The prep for this soup isn’t bad at all. Do all of the knife work up front. If you chop everything before you start a recipe, the process goes a lot faster and there’s a lot less fumbling around as you cook. Also here is a Rule of Thumb (I can’t emphasize this enough):

The first time you make any recipe with a long-ish list of unfamiliar ingredients, don’t make it mid-week. Make it on Sunday afternoon so you can read the directions carefully and leisurely play around with it.

With this recipe it’s especially important because it’s not that hard or time consuming. Trying a recipe with more prep than you are used to mid-week might be so stressful that you’ll never try to make that really great recipe again. In this one there are no difficult techniques. There is some chopping, not too much.  Just the shallots, ginger, the green onion and the chili.  Think about it. How long could it possibly take to chop the ingredients in those small quantities?!

If you’ve never prepared lemongrass before, you’ll want to read the directions about trimming and removing the outer layer a couple of times before you start (since the line of directions has only 17 words – it won’t take that long). And you’ll see very quickly that lemongrass is not a big deal, no more difficult than prepping a scallion.

A couple more things: First, I rewrote the recipe and tried to break it down into essential parts.  It looks longer this way but the scope of work should be crystal clear. Also I adjusted the role of the chilies. In the original recipe they are added with the basil, the lime juice and the soy sauce. Since I had green thai chilies they were nearly indistinguishable from the scallions. It was as if those innocuous little green rings were crazy spicy naval mines in the soup – ambushing unsuspecting children and less seasoned adults. Those bird’s eye chilies are hot! So I specify using the red variety (so you don’t confuse them with the scallions) and using them as a garnish.

Chicken Noodle Soup with Lemongrass

Serves 4

The Soup:

  • 2 1/2 tbsp canola oil
  • 3/4 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 shallots (4 oz total), peeled and sliced into thin rings
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, ends trimmed, outer layers peeled off and discarded, halved lengthwise, whacked once hard with a mallet
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 2 tsp packed light brown sugar
  • 5 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 3 1/2 oz shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
  • 12 ounces fresh udon noodles
  • 8 large fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1 medium lime, half juiced and half cut into 4 wedges
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce

To Garnish:

  • 2 medium scallions, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks (or coarsely grated)
  • 1/2 c. fresh cilantro leaves, rinsed and dried
  • 1 red thai bird chili, sliced into thin rings

Preparing the chicken:

  1. Heat 1 1/2 tbsp canola oil in a 6 quart heavy bottomed soup pot until shimmering.
  2. As oil is heating, season chicken breasts with 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper.
  3. Cook chicken breasts without disturbing for 2 minutes, or until the chicken easily releases from the pan. Flip and cook until the second side is browned, 1-2 minutes more.
  4. Place chicken on a cutting board to cool.

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil for the udon as you are preparing the broth.

Making the broth:

  1. Add the remaining 1 tbsp canola oil and shallots to the pan.  Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes or until shallots begin to soften.
  2. Add lemongrass, ginger and brown sugar, cook until ginger and lemongrass become fragrant and the pan starts to sizzle – about 1 minute.
  3. Add the chicken broth, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  Raise the heat to medium high.  Bring the broth to a boil, then lower heat and simmer.
  4. Add the mushrooms and continue to simmer for 5 minutes.

Preparing the udon:

  1. In the pot of boiling salted water, cook the noodles, stirring once or twice to ensure they aren’t sticking together.
  2. Simmer for 3 minutes or until just tender.
  3. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking.  Drain well.

Assembling the soup:

  1. Shred the chicken with your fingers or the tines of a fork and add it and the noodles to the broth.
  2. Simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and the noodles are tender, about 2 minutes.
  3. Remove and discard the lemongrass.
  4. Add the basil, lime juice and soy sauce, seasoning with more soy to taste.
  5. Divide the noodles and chicken between 4 large bowls, ladle the broth over the top.
  6. Serve with bowls of the garnishes at the table.

*What makes this pho really faux is that the recipe developers at Fine Cooking decided to make it with udon, not rice noodles. Initially I was suspicious. Why substitute udon for rice? They are equally easy to find and prepare. After trying the soup with udon though, it tasted more substantial than with rice noodles.  I might not use the japanese noodles every time, but it was fun to eat the bouncy chewy udon here.


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Crazy Thursday: another lentil soup

According to Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall, “This soup is a brilliant standby if you need to produce a quick meal from store cupboard ingredients”. I took that as a challenge – mostly because the soup has caraway seeds in it and I almost never like food with caraway seeds. Lentil soup with caraway and minted yogurt. I also find it suspect when an ingredient is given “ed” status. Minted yogurt indeed. Hmph.

You must be wondering why, given the starring role for caraway and the silly “minted name”, I would have ever decided to try this soup. Especially given that it was Crazy Thursday and I usually try to stick with a sure thing that the kids will like because they’re so tired after all the activities they have that day.  Also there are so many recipes in River Cottage Everyday that I am really truly excited about.

What it came down to was that I had all the ingredients. Even the fresh mint for the yogurt I had from the lamb the night before. I also had half a loaf of great bread in the freezer and the Fleur d’Aunis from the tartiflette for a grilled cheese sandwich to accompany. The instructions for the soup seemed really easy and I could see it would be a cinch to put together.  So I went down the caraway path.

Guess what?! The soup was wonderful and not only because it was so easy.  Now I’m curious if the reason I don’t really like caraway is because in most recipes the seeds are included whole and that makes them more pungent.  Not to mention that their hard chewiness is distracting. In this recipe the caraway seeds are toasted and ground. Their earthy herbaceousness contrasts with the coriander – which is sprightly and citrus-y.  Since the soup is pureed, the lentils add smooth vegetal body combined with all the onion and some carrot. It’s actually quite marvelous, the way it comes together.  And I have to admit, the “minted” yogurt garnish is wonderful, adding spring-like freshness – perfect for the last days of winter.

If you use a food processor to chop the carrot and onion, this soup will come together in half an hour – and most of that time is sweating and simmering. While the soup bubbles away on the stove, you can put together some grilled cheese sandwiches.

Lentil soup with caraway and minted yogurt – River Cottage Every Day

Serves 6

The soup

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds, (toasted in frying pan and ground – I hope you’ll bother to toast them – it’s easy)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 12 oz red lentils
  • 1 quart low salt chicken broth – I like Pacific brand organic
  • 2 cups water
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

The minted yogurt garnish

  • 5 tbsp plain yogurt
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy bottomed soup pot.  Add the onions and carrots, stir to coat with the oil. Cover and sweat for about 10 minutes.  Stir every 3 or 4 minutes.
  2. Combine the coriander and the toasted caraway in a small bowl and stir.  Add half the spices to the carrots and onions along with the garlic and stir over medium heat for a minute.
  3. Add the lentils, broth and water to the pot and bring to the boil, skimming off any scum that forms on the surface. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until the lentils are very soft.
  4. Now to puree. Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall would have you transfer the whole pot of soup to a blender or a food processor and puree.  I really hope you have an immersion blender, it’s so much easier to dunk it into the pot to smooth out the soup. You don’t need the fancy huge one from Williams-Sonoma.  It’s overkill.  I got my Braun at Costco 15 years ago and it has several useful attachments.  A food mill would also work using the smallest disk, but if you have an immersion blender that would be the easiest by far.
  5. Return the soup to the pot and heat through. Adjust the seasonings, adding the rest of the caraway and coriander and salt and pepper. (I added 1-1/2 tsp salt)
  6. While the soup sits over low heat, stir up the yogurt and mint.  Put a little blob into each bowl over the hot soup just as you serve.

If you really need to rely on what is at hand and have no fresh mint, just use plain yogurt.

I am sure you are wondering if the kids liked this soup. I think it’s just a matter of conditioning. We don’t ever have pureed soups, so they’re not used to the texture. There was nothing off-putting about the taste. Which is to say, no, they did not like it. They all tried it though! And they happily made do with the toasted cheese sandwiches. Nobody cried. I will make this soup again.


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Curried Cubanos with mojo, baby

What should be done with leftover curried roast chicken?  I’m still not sure why the answer turned out to be Curried Cubanos. I know, it should have been velvet butter chicken, but we have had a glut of curried chicken in the past few weeks. I was sick of chicken leftovers in quesadillas and chicken salad and even though I love chicken enchiladas, there is way too much prep to build them on a Tuesday night. Considering that the chicken was, in fact, curried, almost anything not Indian would be weird.  I was in the mood for a Cubano with Mojo* anyway. Even one with an incongruous Indian accent.

Cubanos with Mojo? (I have to say that looks really funny to me. I can’t write about mojo and not think of Austin Powers – even if they aren’t actually pronounced the same way) Anyway, this recipe for pork Cubano sandwiches from Fine Cooking uses a mojo to perk up the flavor. Although I have to say, that the curry from the leftover roast chicken probably contributed more mojo than the actual mojo did.  Which is not to say that the curry worked brilliantly – I kept thinking: Curried Cubanos…really?! I don’t know…as I was eating them, not ever being entirely convinced. Still, the kids liked them; we liked them. In terms of whether or not I might make them again, and for whom, well, I might serve them to my sister but never to her husband. I just don’t think he would approve.

With the Cubanos we had Black Bean Soup.   It has been at least a year since the last time I made Black Bean Soup. I had been following the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe.  I often turn to this book, especially for basic renditions of ethnic foods. They do a pretty good job of transforming supermarket fundamentals into things like pho and pappa al pomodoro which are a lot more fun than macaroni and cheese or broiled chicken breasts as midweek fare.

That being said, their black bean soup recipe stinks. Really. Their recipe stopped me from making Black Bean Soup at all. For a while, I couldn’t figure out why it was so terrible. They start with all the right ingredients. First, they cook the beans with a ham hock. Then, adding soffrito with red pepper, garlic and herbs. The weird part is that they finish the soup with this cornstarch slurry, promising to keep the soup nice and black and thickening without pureeing too many of the beans. It doesn’t work at all and there were a lot of extra steps.

What I realized when I went back to look at the recipe though, is that they expect the soup to be done in just 2 1/2 hours!  And that’s without soaking the beans.  No way is that going to work. What I have come to realize is you just can’t rush beans. Not black beans anyway. Thickening the soup with cornstarch is a cheater’s method. Black bean soup should be basic and easy going. It requires nothing more than a little planning.  10-15 minutes worth of work will give you back three days of deliciousness.  You don’t want to go messing around with a 3 part recipe to get an inferior soup with a lot of extra work. No. Soak your beans ahead of time and this soup materializes practically out of thin air! I read a bunch of recipes and cobbled this recipe together. This black bean soup is the color of the deepest chocolate. It has a velvety consistency and a gentle, easy, burn. You won’t break a sweat pulling it together.  Count on at least 3 hours of simmering though and on soaking the beans.

Black Bean Soup

  • 1 lb black beans, picked over and soaked overnight in a large bowl. The water should cover the beans by at least 2 inches
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • A 2 inch chunk of salt pork
  • 1 quart chicken broth, boxed is fine – I like Pacific brand
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained of their juice and cut up.  (I like to do this right in the can with my kitchen scissors as I learned from Laurie Colwin in her book Home Cooking, which I love)
  • 1 heaping tsp ground cumin
  • 2 or more minced cloves garlic
  • 1/8-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp of salt, more to taste

Grated cheese, chopped green or red onion, sour cream or greek yogurt for garnish

  1. 3 hours before dinner Put the chopped onion, the olive oil and the piece of salt pork in a large enameled cast iron pot or a heavy bottomed soup pot and turn on the heat to low.  Put the lid on the pot and cook 12-15 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times.  You don’t want the mixture to get crisp or brown, just to gently soften.
  2. Add the beans, the stock and the water and simmer for an hour or so until the beans are soft.
  3. 2 hours before dinner Add the tomatoes, cumin, garlic,chili flakes and salt.
  4. Leave to very gently simmer for a long long time – about 2 hours.  If you put it on a flame tamer and you are feeling brave you can run an errand or pick up the kids from school.  This makes me a little nervous but I still do it.  I would use a flame tamer though.  It would be very sad to scorch this wonderful soup.

Curried Cubanos

If you have leftover roast pork in the fridge, use that and you won’t have to make excuses about the curry.

Mojo

  • 1 medium clove of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp fresh cilantro
  1. Mash salt into the garlic with the back of your chef’s knife or a mortar and pestle.
  2. Transfer to a small bowl and add the rest of the ingredients.  Let sit for at least 5 minutes

The sandwiches

  • 4 oval shaped subs or bulky rolls, split, not too crusty
  • 3 tbsp grainy mustard
  • 6 oz leftover curried chicken
  • 1/4 lb thinly sliced ham
  • 4 slices swiss cheese
  • 2 dill pickles, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  1. Heat a sandwich press or use a grill pan heated over medium heat.
  2. Brush the inside of the rolls with the mojo and mustard.
  3. Stack the bottom part with equal amounts of pork, ham cheese and pickles.
  4. Top each sandwich with upper half and brush top with the butter
  5. Place in press or on grill pan.  If using grill pan, weight sandwiches with a plate with cans set on top.  Flip sandwich when bottom side is browned. Brown each side and let the cheese melt.

Since I had leftover chicken anyway, this menu was a breeze.  I soaked the beans after dinner the night before and started the soup at about 1:30 pm the following day, when the little guy started his nap.  I spent about 15 minutes on it, about 5 of those minutes at 1:30 and 10 at 2:30.  I didn’t do anything else with dinner until 5:15.  We were eating by 5:45, and that included heating up the panini press.

*Mojo: In Cuban cooking mojo applies to any sauce that is made with garlic, olive oil and a citrus juice, traditionally sour orange juice. It is used to marinate roast pork or plantains.

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Truly quick, truly homemade: Lentil Soup

I am so excited. I have a new cookbook. The River Cottage Family Cookbook
and from looking at the photographs, I can revel in the fact that there is someone out there who is as messy in the kitchen as I am.

Although none of the recipes are new to me, the format and the message are so appealing.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (sounds SO British!) and Fizz Carr are all about eating local and organic whenever possible and not shying away from the realities of food i.e.: beef actually comes from steer, sausage might be pork which is a pig.  We try to eat healthily and responsibly at our house and this book will be very inspiring.

The fun part was, the recipe that caught my eye called for things I already had in the pantry and the fridge.  So last night we had Lentil and Bacon Soup for Lots of People, only I halved the recipe because it was only the five of us, and since it was crazy Thursday, one of us was actually at music practice.  This is a fantastic soup recipe – incredibly quick and the perfect rainy evening meal. I ate three big bowls. On the side we had this goat cheese mash that I am always making with whatever the season suggests.  It’s very good.

A Fast Menu

Lentil and Bacon Soup

Goat Cheese, Garlic and Olive Oil Mash with Italian Crackers

I have no game plan for this because it’s so straight forward and fast that you really don’t need one!

Lentil and Bacon Soup – serves 4-6

(ok, ok – it looks like brown stodge but lentils aren’t loved for their beauty. Trust me – this soup has got your back)

  • 1 large onion (I used a red one)
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled
  • 2-3 celery stalks
  • 5 bacon slices
  • Olive oil
  • 1 3/4 cups lentils, half red, half brown or green
  • 1 1/2 quarts of stock (or water with 2-3 good bouillon cubes or boxed stock – I happened to have homemade beef broth in the freezer from Christmas ) – heated in a pot on the stove
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme – or a handful of fresh sprigs
  • 1 1/2 tsp tomato paste
  • Worcestershire Sauce – a couple of shakes
  • Shredded cheddar or parmesan
  1. Peel the onions and carrots. Wash and trim the celery.  Cut into 1″ chunks and pulse in the food processor until finely chopped – don’t go too far and make a soft, wet, mess.
  2. Slice the bacon into thin little shreds.
  3. Film the bottom of the pan with olive oil and turn the heat on low.  Add the onions, carrots, celery and bacon and stir.  Put the lid on the pan and let cook gently for 15 minutes.  The vegetables and bacon should soften and not brown much, shrinking down in the pan. Stir 2 or three times, every 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add the lentils and stir.  Clear a little spot in the middle of the pan and add the tomato paste.  Allow to cook for a minute, stirring.
  5. Add the stock and stir gently and turn the heat to medium.
  6. Grind into the pot a lot of black pepper and salt to taste – go carefully; with bacon and  Worcestershire sauce this could get overly salty easily.  Add the thyme and Worcestershire.
  7. Raise the heat and bring to a boil with the lid slightly askew. Simmer for half and hour; then taste to see if the brown or green lentils are quite done.  When the red lentils are soft and the green have a little firmness left, the soup is ready.  Taste for salt and serve with grated cheese at the table.

*a wiser person than I am – ok it was Nigella Lawson – wrote that she keeps bacon in the freezer in 5 slice packages – that would have been a good thing to have for this soup

Goat Cheese, Garlic and Olive Oil Mash

I love this stuff.  You can change what you add for flavor depending on the season. In the summer I use tender herbs like chives, basil, parsley, or cilantro.  A splash of cream.  Another of fruity green olive oil.  This variation is for winter.

  • 1 small log of soft mild goat cheese, 4-6 oz
  • a splash of fruity, peppery, green olive oil
  • a splash of cream
  • 2 small cloves of garlic
  • freshly ground black pepper

Mash the goat cheese with enough olive oil and cream to make it easy to spread and no longer at all crumbly.  Grate or crush the garlic using a microplane grater or a garlic press, and stir into the goat cheese. Add freshly ground pepper to taste.  Swirl artfully into a pretty bowl and drizzle more green olive oil on top, if you are feeling fancy.  Although if Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall saw you do that he might raise an eyebrow.  He doesn’t seem to go for frills or serving dishes.

The crackers I like are those ones referred to as crostini and are made of nothing more than flour and olive oil.  Sometimes they are seasoned with sea salt or rosemary.

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Craving Soup: one easy method

I was totally let down by Marcella (Hazan) last week. Even though I have never met her and probably never will, I always think of her as a good friend. I can’t help it. It’s the way she writes – as if she were peering into your pot over your shoulder, watching you screw up. Her tone is so authoritative that I would try anything she says is delicious. Sometimes blindly following her lead doesn’t work out too well.

In the recipe for Barley Soup in the Style of Trent she promised: “…exceptional appeal from successive layers of flavor laid down by sauteed onion and ham, by rosemary and parsley and the diced potato and carrot, which [should have!] provided the ideal base for the wonderfully fortifying quality of barley itself.” Whatever, Marcella! It sounded so good but it tasted like watery gruel with bacon bits. We all hated it – the whole family. I couldn’t even imagine eating some for lunch the next day so I ran it all down the disposal. I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to admit to that. Oh well.

Here’s a soup that DID work well. Very well. And it’s so handy to have a recipe where you don’t actually have to have stock stored in the freezer. Although I have to say, I do – Marcella whipped me into shape on that one. As she so witheringly puts it:”…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 you try always to have on hand”. Ouch. We can discuss broth later, I love to make chicken stock and it’s not a huge deal.

Bean and Pasta Soup, a recipe from Alice Waters in her book The Art of Simple Food, is easy, it makes your house smell good and it’s not asking too much to get a kid to try some. I like this recipe because, as I said, you don’t have to have any stock on hand and with her excellent exhortations on when and how to salt and taste, you can really mess around with it. Just follow the directions the first few times and then you can add other things, like kale or green beans or butternut squash or potatoes!

The original recipe calls for fresh shelling beans and the first few times I went out of my way to get some. They were delicious but dragging my kids down to Pike Place Market at what was either the very beginning or the tail end of the cranberry bean season (the classic bean to use for this soup) for limp scraggly looking specimens was a big pain and I don’t have time to consider if it’s bean season or not. Dried beans are very nice. Ms. Water’s suggested variation is to use a cup of dried beans and I always have a lot of cannellini in the cupboard anyway. You could use dried cranberry though – they’re easy to find in the bulk section.

Bean and Pasta Soup, 4-6 servings

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup finely diced red onion ( I use about 1/3 of a red onion – the behemoth type typical of grocery stores – use a whole one if you have a coddled, lovely, farmer’s market onion)
  • 1/4 cup finely diced carrot (I use about 2/3 of a medium carrot)
  • 1/4 cup finely diced celery (I use 2 stalks)
  • a pinch of dried chile flakes
  • 2 tsp coarsely chopped fresh sage. (get a plant and grow this somewhere in your yard, parking strip, whatever, you’ll make good use of it)

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. (I use a 7+ quart Le Creuset which is about right)

Add the vegetables, chiles and sage. Cook until soft, stirring now and then. Cook for 12 minutes. Set a timer. I do.

Now add:

  • 4 peeled and roughly chopped garlic cloves
  • Sea Salt

Cook for 2-3 minutes

Now TASTE. This is important. This is the thing I learned from Alice Waters. And it seems so simple and obvious now. Starting with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt – sea salt – add it and stir. Take a small spoon and taste the soffrito (which is what you call onions, carrot, celery etc). Is it good? Does it taste like you want to eat more of it? If not, add another 1/2 teaspoon. Maybe take it off the heat while you think about it so you don’t burn your carefully softened vegetables. As you make more soup, you won’t have to do this as often. But the first two or three times, taste very carefully every time before you add the next layer of flavor.

Add

  • (1) 12 ounce can of whole tomatoes, drained of their liquid and chopped (add the liquid that comes out of the chopped tomatoes though)

Cook for 5 more minutes. Then add your beans.

  • 1 cup cannellini beans soaked and cooked with a few crushed garlic cloves, peppercorns and a bay leaf, broth reserved
  • Sea Salt

I use a slotted spoon to scoop the beans out of the pot and then ladle their broth into the soup pot until everything is covered up by about a 1/2 inch. Simmer over low heat, stirring sometimes. 15 minutes more or less. The soup is complete now except for the pasta. You could stop here and serve it tomorrow. But if you are going to do that, don’t add the pasta until just before you eat.

Cook 1/4 pound of tiny pasta, ditalini, orzo – that’s what I like – in salted water. When they are done, drain and add to the HOT soup. (If you are reheating don’t add pasta until the soup is good and hot – pasta will soak up all the nice broth and you will have a large bowl of stodge)

If you have a large wide soup plate, now would be the time to use it.

Garnish with:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated.

I like the California olive oil in the tall skinny green bottle from Trader Joe’s for this. It’s got a taste like artichokes and a nice peppery finish.

* I really hope you won’t resort to canned beans for this recipe – did you know they are cooked right in the can!?!?! At least that’s what I heard. There’s nothing wrong with canned beans per se. It’s just that you won’t get any of the good bean broth that way – only that sticky nasty stuff.

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