Posts tagged soup

It’s the Little Things

Over the years, I’ve revealed a few facts about myself on this blog. For example, I often mention my Italian-American upbringing and that I currently live in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. You know that I’m married to a wonderful man named Jim, and that I join the local CSA every summer. Well, here’s another piece of information about me, albeit a bit more obscure: I have a fascination with small things.

Let me explain: In the back of my pantry, you’ll find an entire row of pint-size ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise jars. I used to collect sample packets of shampoo and hand lotion as a kid, and my Facebook photo is a picture of me eating a miniature creme brulee with a tiny spoon. Perhaps my obsession stems from the fact that I’m only 5 feet tall, I’m not sure. Whatever the reason, I’ve been fixated on little things for as long as I can remember.

On Valentine’s Day, Jim and I planned our menu around my small-sized fetish. A year ago we purchased two sets of Staub mini cocottes and promptly stored them away in the cupboard, forgotten. Cocottes are small cooking vessels, often shaped like Dutch ovens, that are suitable for individual portions of food. (Apparently cocotte is also the French word for a prostitute or promiscuous woman, but we’ll leave that discussion for another blog.) We pulled ours out from their dusty boxes on Valentine’s Day and finally put them to good use, primarily with the help of Le Creuset’s handy mini cocotte cookbook that we stumbled across during a recent trip to Pittsburgh.

First course
For the first course, we made French onion soup. Granted, the soup was first cooked in a big pot and then transferred to the tiny cocotte, but it fit the size requirement just fine. It was next topped with crusty bread, gruyère cheese, more onion, and baked in the oven for a few minutes. Hot and hearty, this soup was a cozy opening course on a chilly holiday.

Spinach souffles in mini cocottes

Second course
The next part of our tiny-themed meal arrived in the form of mini spinach soufflés. They had already started to deflate by the time I took this photo, and I’ll be honest, they weren’t the most successful part of our meal. We’re still not certain what went wrong; we beat the egg whites until they were stiff, and we followed the recipe closely. In the end the soufflés were a rather deflated and defeated mess of fresh baby spinach, eggs, and parmesan cheese.

Dessert
Moving on from our soggy soufflés, we ended our meal with vanilla creme brulee, served in two small ceramic hearts that Jim bought for our first Valentine’s Day together. They were rich, creamy pick-me-ups after our disappointing second course. And of course they looked absolutely adorable.

So that’s the photographic tour of our Valentine’s Day feast. It was pint-sized all the way through, from start to finish. I’d love to eat out of these cute containers every day, but that would be impossible; my appetite is anything but cocotte-sized.

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Gina DePalma’s Zuppa di Farro

Have you ever come across a recipe—whether online, or in a cookbook or magazine—and fallen in love with it immediately, before even tasting the results? Similar to finally finding the one, I think you just know when it happens. Lucky for me, I’ve been struck by this culinary bolt of lightning more than once, most recently with chef Gina DePalma’s recipe for zuppa di farro (farro soup). I found it at the beginning of last month on Serious Eats, bookmarked it immediately, and couldn’t wait to try it.

soup

I’m not sure what inspired my strong feelings about this recipe. Perhaps it was DePalma’s evocative prose about discovering this soup in Italy during lunch on a blustery day, or maybe it was her appetizing photo. In addition, a closer look at the recipe revealed two things: many of my favorite ingredients were included (tomatoes, farro, pancetta, parmesan cheese) and I had almost all of them in my pantry or refrigerator. Like any great love story, it was meant to be.

All I needed was time, as DePalma suggests soaking the farro for two hours before cooking. Most recipes I’ve seen soak the grains for 20 minutes, but on a chilly Sunday afternoon with nothing to do and nowhere to be, I did as the recipe instructed. The rest of the steps were simple: I sautéed the onions, garlic, and pancetta, then added the tomatoes, farro, and some homemade chicken stock (instead of DePalma’s suggested beef stock). The soup simmered for a while on the stovetop, and then rested so the flavors could come together. A cup of the mixture was pureed and then added back into the pot before serving, creating a more liquid base of flavor.

Oh boy, were my instincts right about this soup. The chewy grains melded with the tomato-infused broth to create a rustic, hearty-but-not-heavy dish that delighted with each spoonful. Meaty chunks of pancetta swam here and there, peeking out between the sprinklings of tangy parmesan cheese and spicy fresh parsley. Jim and I ate it for two nights in a row, almost reluctant to finish it off; we just didn’t want this love story to end. But by the end of the bowl, I realized that although recipes may come and go, at least this one would have a permanent place in my heart.

Recipe for Zuppa di Farro (adapted from Gina DePalma’s recipe on Serious Eats)

  • 1 cup farro
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1-1 1/2 ounces of pancetta, diced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • a dash of dried sage
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup canned plum tomatoes, crushed and chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 to 6 cups good-quality chicken stock

Start by placing the farro in a medium bowl, and covering the grains with cold water. Soak for 2 hours. Drain and set the grains aside.

Heat the olive oil over low heat in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add the garlic. Sauté the garlic until it starts to brown, then remove it and discard. Add the onions and the pancetta to the pot and stir. Season with a pinch of salt and keep stirring. Sauté the onions and pancetta until they soften and turn translucent at the edges, then add the herbs. Sauté for another minute, but don’t allow the mixture to brown.

Add the tomatoes to the pot and stir. Then add the farro, about 2 cups of the stock and 1 cup of water. Bring the soup to a gentle simmer, then cover and lower the heat. Simmer the soup while covered for about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so. As the soup thickens, add ladles of stock to the pot. The soup shouldn’t be too thick; the grains should be loose and floating in liquid.

When the farro is tender, the soup is ready. Allow it to cool for 30 minutes in the pot. Remove 1 cup of soup to a blender and puree. Stir the mixture back into the soup, and add more stock if necessary.

Heat the soup a little bit before serving. Garnish with parsley, a drizzle of olive oil, and grated cheese.

Serves 4. Enjoy! (Jim and I ate this soup over 2 days. On the 2nd day it had absorbed quite a bit of moisture, so I added some stock to thin it out.)

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Peach Buttermilk Soup

Once I get on a roll with something, I can’t stop. You may remember that over the winter I was obsessed with soup, trying out several different recipes in response to the never-ending, freezing weather outside. This summer, in comparison, has turned into my season of the peach.

A stone fruit tea cake packed with peaches was so delicious it inspired me to return to the blog after a long absence. Soon after came my successful attempt at Terra Luna’s imaginative peach carpaccio. And over this past weekend, I was inspired by Martha Rose Shulman of the New York Times to puree my favorite stone fruit into a tangy, Indian-inspired soup. (On second thought, perhaps my winter soup fixation isn’t resolved after all.)

makingpeachsoup

I soon realized that fruit soups are the perfect summer food. With most of them, there’s barely any cooking involved, whether you’re using peaches for this recipe, melons for that one, or even tomatoes for gazpacho. No hot oven is needed, no long-simmering pots on the stove. The peaches for my Sunday soup required only a brief swim in boiling water and then a quick dip in ice water, so that their skins slipped off easily. After peeling them, I quickly chopped the fruit into small pieces, and pureed most of them with some buttermilk, honey, and lemon juice. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and vanilla extract were added right before I put the soup in the refrigerator to chill. It was really that easy.

peachdrink01

Shulman compares this soup to a lassi, which is an Indian milkshake drink. Jim and I sipped it slowly for dessert, after an appropriate home-cooked meal of tandoori chicken and basmati rice. The thick mixture slowly slid down our throats, the slightly sour buttermilk tamed by the sweet peaches and rich, almost warmth-inducing spices. Toasted almonds, added at the last minute as a garnish, provided a crunchy contrast to the smooth liquid. It was just as good for breakfast the next morning, while I sat at my desk and reviewed my work for the rest of the day.

I cut all of the measurements for this recipe exactly in half, so that I only had enough soup for three people instead of six. In retrospect that may have been a mistake, as I was left craving more by the time I emptied the bowl. Obviously I’m not ready for my summer of peaches to end.

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One More Soup, In Case We Need It

soup

I’m afraid to say that spring is in the air because I don’t want to jinx it. But I’m starting to make some adjustments: I’ve put the puffy winter jacket away in favor of my lighter wool coat. I don’t know where my hat is. And I’m thinking about dishes with ingredients like asparagus and peas. I’m probably getting ahead of myself, but I can’t help it.

So before I get carried away by the warm air and chirping birds outside, I’m going to tell you about another soup, this time a lovely, rustic combination of Swiss chard, barley, and cannellini beans. It’s hearty, healthy, and totally appropriate for fall or winter. Let’s think of it as the final chapter in my cold weather soup series, and perhaps it will be useful when that last gasp of winter rolls around in a week or two. (Come on, you know it will. I’m sure it’s getting ready to pounce.) 

There’s another interesting aspect to this soup, besides its ability to keep the cold weather at arm’s length: It marks the first time I cooked with pearl barley. I’m always looking for ways to increase the amount of grains in my diet, and I have often read that barley works well in soups and stews. Pearl barley is not the most nutritious grain out there—it is polished so that both the outer hull and the nutritious layer of bran are removed. But many people like working with it because it cooks faster and is said to be less chewy than other unprocessed forms of barley.

Mixed with the mild Swiss chard and hearty beans, the pearl barley added a light, spongy element to the soup to create a gentle, satisfying meal from start to finish. The next time I make this soup, I think I will shift some of the steps around and add the Swiss chard at the end instead of cooking it for 40 minutes as suggested in the recipe. Not only would this reduce the cooking time a bit, but I think the greens would retain more nutrients if they were cooked for a shorter period of time. So that’s my only advice for you regarding this soup. But you know what? I hope that spring sticks around and you don’t need it anytime soon.

Recipe for Swiss Chard, Barley, and Cannellini Bean Soup (Adapted from a recipe by Marcella Hazan that appeared in Food & Wine magazine many years ago. It has been in my collection for a long time, but I cannot find it online.)

  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard, washed
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup chopped canned tomatoes in their juice
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 1 15-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese

Cut the leaves of the Swiss chard away from the stalks. Slice the stalks crosswise into small pieces. Slice the leaves into strips about 1/4 inch wide.

Heat the olive oil and onion in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally, until onion is slightly softer, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot and celery and cook until soft, about 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the Swiss chard and season with a bit of salt. Cover and cook over very low heat for about 40 minutes. Stir once or twice.

At the same time you start cooking the onion in the large soup pot, bring 5 cups of water to boil in a medium pot. Add the barley and simmer over low heat, partly covered, until tender. This will take about 35 minutes. Drain the barley but reserve the cooking water.

Add the beans and barley to the chard, stir, and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in 2 1/2 cups of the barley water, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat. Serve in bowls with freshly grated Parmesan. You can thin any leftovers with water if it seems too thick. Serves 4 to 6. Enjoy!

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More Snow, More Soup

soup

How much snow can we get in one winter? Lately it seems like hardly a day has gone by without some sort of snowfall, whether as light flurries or fat, drippy flakes. And of course we can’t forget about the freezing winds and equally low temperatures. At night I struggle home from the subway in my puffy coat, arms hugging my sides as I try to reach my apartment as quickly as possible. All I want to do is to get warm. And recently, to my surprise, warming up after a long, cold day has meant soup.

I’m surprised by my need for soup because I’ve never considered myself a soup person. But since this never-ending cold arrived I’ve rarely thought of any other type of meal. I started with my soul-satisfying lentil soup and moved on to this sweet potato and butternut squash soup from the New York Times Fitness and Nutrition section one week later.

I was attracted to this soup because of its ingredients: sunny sweet potatoes and butternut squash. With these two orange vegetables, Jim and I would receive a double dose of vitamin C, always welcome during flu and cold season. I was also curious when I noticed that the recipe didn’t require cream or butter. And then I saw that the recipe was for a pureed soup and I knew I had to make it. Pureed soups are simply my favorite.

This one is especially easy to prepare after a long day at work. The most time-consuming aspect of the recipe is just peeling the potatoes and butternut squash. After that’s done you just toss the vegetables in a pot with some onion, fresh ginger, and some stock or water, and cook it for a while, maybe 30 to 40 minutes. I used up some homemade vegetable stock from the freezer mixed with a bit of water. A quick whir with the immersion blender, and dinner was served.

Pureed into a rich, soothing soup as orange as a sunset, the sweet, buttery vegetables slid easily down my throat and warmed me from head to toe. Spicy ginger added a tingly accent to the meal, and I honestly didn’t notice the lack of cream. The soup didn’t melt the snow outside, but at least I was warm inside. That’s what counts.

Recipe for Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Soup (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe in the New York Times Fitness and Nutrition section)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1-1.5 lbs), peeled and diced
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 1-1.5 lbs), peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 2 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 6 cups water or vegetable stock (I used 4 cups of vegetable stock and 2 cups of water)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Heat the olive oil in a heavy soup pot or large Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and cook for another minute, stirring. Add the squash, potatoes, and whatever liquid you have chosen. Bring to a simmer. Stir. Add a bit of salt to taste, lower the heat, and cover. Simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and can be broken apart with a spoon.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Stir with a whisk to even out the texture. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with crusty bread. Soup should serve 4 to 6 people. Enjoy!

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