soups

a hearty winter soup

This soup doesn’t look like much in the bowl, but I promise you eyebrows will raise once you taste it. It first caught my attention while reading Orangette a few weeks ago. Laid up with a sinus infection, that manifested into strep throat, left me with time to catch up on blog reading. The timing wasn’t ideal, just one week before Christmas, but one must make the best of a bad situation, right?

So, after I dropped the girls off at school one morning, I popped into the market and picked up a head of Savoy cabbage, and got to work slicing it paper thin when I got back home. The recipe is from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking. I must confess that I didn’t own one of her cookbooks until just a few weeks ago. After cooking up this very humble cabbage dish, the fire was fueled, and two days later the book arrived at my house. I instantly became smitten with it, but also realized the reason I had yet to add one of her books to my collection. Partly, I prefer to collect vintage, hard-to-find, cookbooks. There’s only so much book real estate one can allocate in a NYC apartment.

Hazan was a cook to whom we owe much in terms of preserving old Italian recipes, and methods. Her tone, though, is rather contrary to my approach. My feeling when sharing recipes is to encourage people to get into the kitchen, and I believe that was her goal, too. Still, you have to read the introduction to Essentials of Italian Cooking with confidence in your skills. For instance, when she discusses basil in the Fundamentals section (pages 7 to 52), she says “Do not ever use dried or powdered basil. Many people freeze or preserve basil. I’d rather use it fresh and, if it isn’t available, wait until it is in season”.

It is a well-intentioned point of view, and I agree fresh basil offers the most true flavor. The reality is that most people do not use a whole bunch of basil before it goes bad. Preserving is a very thrifty way to manage your budget, and still enjoy a basil-flecked marinara sauce year-round. I appreciate her conviction, but cooking isn’t one size fits all, and I prefer to write in a way that welcomes the reader to try recipes with less rigidity.

Alas, I’ve gone off topic, in a way, so let us make our way back to the soup. As the smothered cabbage, the base for the recipe, wilted away on the stove top, I began to get excited. The smell was intoxicating. I stayed true to her recipe, for the most part, with one very liberal change. The soup, as Molly describes it, is supposed to be a loose kind of risotto, meaning on the thicker-bodied side. The intent to heal my cold left me wanting a soup with more broth to slurp, so I doubled the amount of stock. It was still incredibly thick, so don’t let this sway you. I’m including the original measurements, so you can decide which version you want to go with. I also used Pecorino-Locatelli cheese to add a sharper edge to my soup. Hazan’s original recipe calls for Parmigiano-Reggiano, which has a nuttier, aged flavor (a favorite of mine, too).

The last time I made this soup, just a few days ago, in fact, I had run out of chicken stock in the freezer. Sadly, I came home to find my last jar had cracked (yes, it almost made me cry). I was also out of my homemade vegetable bouillon—it’s bare bones around here, I tell you, so I swapped in plain old cold water. I’ll be honest, it is a more substantial tasting soup, if you have chicken stock on hand. In a pinch, though, the water worked just fine, and a little extra Pecorino sprinkled on top gave it the necessary oomph. A couple of slices of this apple-sage vegan sausage on top made it extra hearty. Don’t worry about serving it alone, though, it is sure to leave a last impression.

Last night I fell asleep with Hazan’s book by my side, a number of pages now dog-eared. Her spell has been cast on me, and the respect to which she pays to food, coaxing flavors from simple ingredients, makes me wish I wasn’t so late in picking up her cookbook. The saying goes “better late than never”, though, and I hope to have a few more decades of cooking left. I plan to hand her book down to my girls one day, splattered with memories of the many meals to come.

Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup

Music Pairing: I’m Living in a Great Big Way by Louis Prima

slightly adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

Serves 6

Hazan notes in her recipe that you can use regular green, red or Savoy cabbage. I’ve only made it with Savoy, but am eager to try it with red cabbage next. I imagine it will be a nice contrast of color with the rice.

One batch of smothered cabbage (recipe here)

6 cups (1.5 L) chicken or vegetable stock (the original recipe only uses 3 cups/750 ml)

2/3 cup (140 grams) arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano rice

2 tablespoons (28 grams) butter

1/2 cup (56 grams) freshly grated Pecorino-Locatelli cheese, plus more for garnishing

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Add the cabbage and stock to a deep 6-quart pot. Bring to a boil. Add the rice, and cook until it is tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the butter and cheese. Season with pepper, and taste, adjusting for salt, and more pepper, as needed. The soup will last, stored in a covered container in the fridge, for up to one week.

homemade corn broth

This is my seventeenth summer going to Cape Cod. Michael first took me just a few months after we started dating in August of 1995. I was a kid back then, just 21 years old, but still remember that summer so vividly. The 300 mile drive in his little red Toyota Celica, and the box of cassette tapes he used to pack for road trips. It was the first time I’d heard Cracker, and found myself singing Movie Star again all these years later as I made the drive out here last week. I still keep the Best of Van Morrison, Vol. 2 cassette in the glove compartment.

As we make the drive out here, I still murmur silly things like Bic Pen Drive, as we pass the Bic Drive exit on the I95. And crude things like “Exeter, I wasn’t even in her”—Mikey made that one up as we drove through Rhode Island once. Then there’s Mash-the-peas, as we pass Mashpee, one of the towns on the Cape. The motel we stayed at, Terrace Dunes, is just down the road from the house we rent now. I glance at the efficiency unit we called home for those two weeks every time I drive by it on my way down Shore Road.

And there I go with the “we” again. Technically, I’m still part of “we” because it’s me and the girls, but often the “we” I refer to in conversations is me and Mikey. It’s hard to remember that “we” is now just “me”, at least in the immediate, physical sense of the being.

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this little light of mine

When Isabella was in pre-K she sang This Little Light of Mine at her winter recital. She would practice the song over and over again at home, and every time it would end with me in tears.  Mikey used to laugh, in a very loving, teasing way, for how freely my tears flowed at school performances because I’m generally a tough Brooklyn gal.

Tonight that song popped into my head while I was cleaning the dinner dishes. The line “no one’s gonna blow it out” hit a particular chord every time Isabella used to sing it. I saw my job as a mommy to keep that light going—make sure no one ever tried to extinguish her dreams. Now I’m faced with keeping that flame lit all by myself, and heaven knows her inner light was challenged in the most painful way.

Over the last 373 days, I’ve felt depleted and numb in ways I never want to feel again. One year ago, I had a house full of people. Michael’s death was still so fresh and raw for them, so my home—our home, overflowed with people flocking to support me. I know the sentiments are still there, but one year later, it’s just me and the girls mostly. People have moved forward in their own ways, the way families do—the way they should. There’s still that moment during dinner when a silence falls upon the house because he usually came home while we were eating.

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french onion soup {day 65}

I've reverted to my real old school ways. I'm keeping a paper calendar again. I know, this is so 20th century. Those who know me, are not surprised. Much as I love technology, the inner workings of it are not my strong suit. Honestly, it's hilarious I publish this blog, and am considered a social media maven in some circles—until last week, I didn't know how to load a cd on my iPod—seriously!

After 16 years together, Mikey and I morphed into one whole unit. We each had our strengths, and compensated for the other's weaknesses, for lack of a better word. He was the tech guy. New computer, no problem. He'd magically make all my files appear.

Need a workout playlist—done.

Printer not playing nice? A few curse words later, and all my tech worries were a memory.

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vegetarian matzah ball soup

One would think focusing wouldn't be an issue with all the deadlines looming this week. It's a sunny day though, and the rays streaming through the window are teasing me, coaxing my inner procrastinator.

I stopped for what I thought would be a quick lunch break, figuring if I gave into my grumbling tummy, perhaps the words would come easier. I thrived yesterday in the kitchen, testing two new recipes. That is where I'm at my most comfortable these days. I understand my ingredients, and we have an unspoken trust that I will never do wrong by them.

As I sat at my desk slurping some leftover matzoh ball soup from Monday night's Passover dinner, I decided to take do a Facebook check in. There on my screen, my eyes caught sight of a photo. I recognized the guy in it. I clicked the image for a larger peek, and realized it was my dad.

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kale, white bean & ravioli soup

I’m a perfectionist, and while I know there’s really no such thing as perfect, it’s the drive that propels me forward each day. The problem is, I often feel like life is moving in slow motion, all the while my brain shuttling fast forward to the end game.

Sometimes I need to be reminded to stop and breath. I owe a big thanks to each and everyone of you for your emails, messages and comments. I’m eternally behind in email and if I didn’t actually tell you how much your words of support and cheers meant, then forgive me. Honestly, every word has reinvigorated my energy and made me ready to roll up my sleeves and forge ahead.

In addition to spending last week launching Simple Scratch Cooking and clearing the mental cobwebs, I also decided to take a break from eating meat. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know many of my recipes are meat-free anyway. Five years ago I stopped eating commercially produced meat and made the switch to locally sourced options from farmers using ethically sound ways to raise and process their flock. It has affected the way I allocate dollars when shopping. The bottomline is animal protein is costly, as it rightfully should be. Raising animals in harmony with the earth, and treating them respectfully during their life cyle is an expensive venture when done thoughtfully.

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vegetable wontons

My obession for from-scratch cooking is sometimes my greatest obstacle. When I’m sick, prepared soups, even those from the little Italian shop near my house just won’t do. Aside from whatever vitamins, minerals and rest my body craves, I think it has also conditioned itself to need homecooking as much as it requires oxygen to survive.

Luckily, when I got hit with the never-ending cold three weeks ago, Jen had just posted her recipe for wonton soup. She doesn’t know it, but she loosened the chains a bit for me. In her post, she said she uses premade wonton wrappers (not to be confused with potstickers). Since we’re likeminded in the how, why and where regarding our food, I decided to take her cue.

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summer fest 2010: corn chowder & ice cream

 

Remember yesterday I mentioned the vacation countdown? Well, hope you don’t tire of hearing about it. Seems every day brings a new reason to need to get away. Today is the middle of week three of construction right outside our apartment. It’s necessary stuff—gas pipelines and sewer pipes. Don’t get wrong, I want them to do this work, lest our basement overflow, or even worse—my stove ceases to turn on (though I can turn out some pretty good stuff with a hot plate and convection oven if my back is against the wall).

So add loud trucks, bulldozers and a lot of dust and dirt to the list as reason #372 why an escape from city living is much needed.

There is a downside to vacation, though. 

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smoky cannellini bean & red kale soup

I must confess, I’m going a bit bonkers. Today will be the fourth day in a row I have not cooked. It is not out of choice. I’m away for work at the 44th Pillsbury Bake Off. Today, as contestants literally march into the cooking area— apparently there is a parade that kicks the whole thing off later this morning, I will have to suppress the urge to push someone aside and commander their stove.

I’m having a great time catching up with some wonderful friends and meeting some lovely new ones. I even brought Carol muffins and bacon parmesan olive oil scones (the recipe is still in development). And when we were served a fun tasting during a session with Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg on flavor pairings, I tweeted I could’ve brought some homemade ricotta to go on the crostini they used to illustrate their point.

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slow roasted tomato soup

 

TGIF. The end of the work week. Well, a mother’s work is never really done. That’s something we all know from either experience, or watching our own. I’ll be busy baking cakes for the Mr.’s big birthday this weekend. Oh, and making these amazing ribs (I can even say they’re award winning). Did I mention he also requested fried chicken? So, 20 of our friends, kids in tow, will be helping us celebrate this very important birthday (it’s a half century folks) on Super Bowl Sunday.

You, on the other hand have worked hard, right? I bet you deserve some rest and relaxation this weekend. So, it’s only fitting to leave you with a recipe that doesn’t require too much heavy lifting. Now if you’ve planned in advance, then you already have some homemade bouillon ready to go and hopefully haven’t eaten all the parmesan skillet croutons (thankfully, they are quick and easy enough to make in case you did). You’re ready to make the easiest, tastiest tomato soup.

My favorite part about this recipe is being able to enjoy tomatoes in the off-season. Start with a good-quality brand—I love San Marzano best, and lucky you if you canned your own at the end of last year’s season. I will one day find the ability to grow a tomato. For now, herbs and collard greens will have to do.

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