Thursday, February 8, 2018

Roasted Cauliflower Tikka Masala Soup

If I come back with two things from a trip home to Central California, it’s a box of See’s and a bag of dried apricots. But if I come home with just one thing, it’s going to be the apricots every time.

I know what you’re thinking: “Corrie, they sell those at CVS.” HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAhahahhaha NO. Those sad, pale, creepily plump and waxy impostors don’t even deserve to share the name, much less end up in your kitchen.

CVS apricots are decidedly not fetch.

These particular apricots are procured exclusively from a garage down the street from my sister’s house in Fresno, California – and in my estimation are the number one reason to say Fres-Yes. [Ok, fine, family comes first. But then it’s all apricots.] They’re set out in little bags on a few small tables along with a little lockbox to deposit your payment if the owners aren’t home. How charming is that?

My brother calls them “nature’s candy,” but honestly “God’s gift to mouths” is more accurate. You may think I’m being outlandish, but they’re such a dang treat that I’m willing to be ridiculous.And to me, part of being ridiculous about dried apricots is building a soup around them.

Actual footage of my face while taking the above picture.

This soup is inspired both by those apricots and by paneer shahi korma at the old Dusmesh on Ludlow – you know, years ago when that adorable and infectiously happy girl worked there and knew everyone’s names? In the good old days before we all started having to point out that there were, in fact, good old days? A creamy spiced tomato curry with soft and chewy homemade cheese, what set the paneer shahi korma apart was the cashews and the sweet, plump raisins.

Well, my raisin-hating coworkers (there’s literally a ban on raisins in my office) will be happy to know I’ve defeated them in this recipe. Why use stinky old raisins when you can use GOD’S GIFT TO MOUTHS?           

And why use paneer when you can use roasted cauliflower? JK, I haven’t fully lost my mind; I totally would have put paneer in here if I had any. That said, the texture of roasted cauliflower is hard to beat; I love the tension of the tender but slightly resistant stalk against my teeth. If I remembered the first time I ate roasted cauliflower, I would no joke get a tattoo of the date in a little heart. This is a serious relationship, alright?

And I for one am thrilled with its current ubiquity in substitutions from rice to couscous to mashed taters to pizza crust. Bring it on (and by “it” I a little bit mean gas, but I would never actually type something like that on the internet where anyone could see it). 

If you have the time and the willingness to prove your superiority, do feel free to make your own spice blend. Tonight I was in that phew-long-week! mode, which – compounded by the fact that I was not feigning authenticity in any way — meant I used tikka masala curry paste. Jars of this instant-delish condiment are (!!!) even available at the ever-improving Vine St. Kroger in Over-the-Rhine.

You can also amp up the spice factor. As written this is purely mild, wholly accessible comfort food. But if you want to sweat, you know what to do. Another variation: easy to veganize using coconut oil in place of butter and coconut milk in place of heavy cream! I lately happen to be nearly always scheming to get more butter in me, but I understand that may not be your bag.

Also running a cream scheme.

As for me, I could have rolled around in this soup all night long. You can vary each bite to your taste – maybe this one is just soup! Next we’re going for a cauliflower/spinach combo, followed by a super mega combo involving every element of the soup PLUS some fresh dance moves because it’s so undeniably tasty that you just have to express yourself.

Actual footage of me eating this soup.

The real winner bites are the bites that prove the concept: the ones with the apricot. While I’ll maintain that these gingery toasted cashews are one of my better ideas, the apricots — softened up by the hot soup and adding sweetness and tang at the same time — absolutely steal the show. A bite with apricot is like Christmas and Valentine’s Day happening at once, a gift that fills you with love for yourself and all of humanity. Shakespeare would surely have opined, “Though they be but little, they are fierce.”

If you decide to make this recipe, let me know. After this post I may be starting a dried apricot smuggling ring import service.

Roasted Cauliflower Tikka Masala Soup
with ginger-scented spinach, ginger-toasted cashews and dried apricots

Serves 2

1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
1 small head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
2 shallots, thinly sliced, divided
1 tablespoon prepared tikka masala paste
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups tomato puree (I blended leftover diced tomatoes with juice)
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon butter, divided
4 cups baby spinach
1” piece whole peeled fresh ginger plus 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, divided
1/3 cup raw cashews
5 dried apricots, diced

Preheat oven to 450F. Place cauliflower florets on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with melted coconut oil and about ½ teaspoon salt.  Roast until tender and browned, about 25 minutes, taking out to stir halfway through cooking. Remove from oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt 1 teaspoon butter in soup pot over medium heat and add half of shallots. Cook, stirring, until softened (5 minutes). Add garlic and tikka masala paste and stir to coat shallots, cooking for another minute. Add vegetable broth and tomato puree, stirring to fully combine. Let simmer while you prepare the other components.

Melt 1 teaspoon butter in a pan over medium heat and add remaining shallots and whole piece of ginger. Cook shallots for 3 minutes or so, then add spinach and a pinch of salt and pepper, stirring until just wilted. Cover and remove from heat.

In a small pan, melt remaining teaspoon of butter over medium-high and add grated ginger, stirring until fragrant (30 seconds). Add raw cashews and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook until nuts have nice golden spots, stirring frequently (3-5 minutes but watch it so as not to burn).

Stir heavy cream into tomato soup and turn off heat.

To serve, divide roasted cauliflower between two bowls. Ladle half of tomato soup over each, then top with half of spinach (discarding whole piece of ginger).  Garnish with ginger-toasted cashews and dried apricot pieces.

Bonus angle because I really do want to dive back in.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Vegetable Soup with Butternut Squash, Rainbow Chard and Orzo

It’s official: I’m going through a squash phase.

It feels a little late in the season, or maybe a little early in the year, but when they’re still all over the market and lookin’ so fine...why fight it? Not enjoying squash right now would be like boycotting one of our unseasonably warm days because it’s just not right to be outside in a t-shirt in February. I mean, it’s totally not right, but if we have to deal with climate change, might as well make the most of it.

BTWI just googled "squash with t-shirt on," because that felt like the good and proper thing to insert here. The internet failed me.


With so many colors in each bite you’re practically diving into a bowl of Skittles, and not just from the rainbow chard. This baby has a familiar vegetable soup backbone that provides a perfect platform to focus on two flavors; the aforementioned squash and chard really stand out when it comes to size, texture and visual interest.

And now for the confessional portion of this entry:

I’m pretty trusting of my cooking instincts in general, but there’s one area in which I too often indulge to my inner Mr. Hyde: my utterly profligate use of herbs. Despite instances of being proven otherwise, with herbs I always have MORE IS MORE echoing in my head. I think it goes back to my childhood, when I was the strange kid sneaking into the garden to stuff my face with curly parsley, pineapple mint or anise leaves. It’s probably also the reason I keep buying culinary herb plants, no matter how treacherously herbicidal I know my thumbs to be nor how inconducive to plant life my travel schedule is. When it comes to herbs, a tablespoon turns to two (or four), an extra flavor goes into the mix, and I crush the poor Jiminy Cricket voice telling me “hey, you know fresh oregano is way too overpowering for this.”

Oregan-Oh no you didn't!

Fresh oregano is a flavor bully, a fragrant temptress full of promises. She seems so amiable, with her supple leaves and her aromatic whispers of past Italian feasts. But give her an inch and she’ll take a mile. I heard Jiminy, I did. I almost banished the oregano from my handful of herb ends and pieces at the last minute, but it was a Wednesday. And Wednesdays are for wild’n out. 

Where are the ladies, Nick? Ladies can't wild out?

Am I saying that the devilish Ms. O ruined this soup? Heavens no. Never let the bullies get you down. All I’m saying is that I’ll henceforth remind myself to put the NO in orega-no.

There was plenty to love here, from a richly flavored broth to tender squash to AHEM bubbly broiled cheese. I just wish the oregano hadn’t shouted down the dill. Dill is a terrible thing to waste. Dill or no dill, though, this is a tasty, toasty vegetable soup perfect for a stupidly cold night (no need to boycott this weather – it’s exactly as miserable as advertised). I’m just going to leave the oregano out of my recipe so as to give myself (and you) a rare opportunity to rewrite history, the satisfying platform to right a wrong. What a delicious second chance this will be. 

From now on I’ll let my conscience be my guide, and — while I’m at it — maybe I’ll double up the crostini.

Vegetable Soup with Butternut Squash, Rainbow Chard and Orzo
with fresh herbs and mozzarella-topped crostini

Serves 2

extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stick celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 leaves rainbow chard, stems separated and diced, leaves roughly chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup diced tomatoes in tomato juice
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup peeled and 1” diced butternut squash
1/3 cup orzo
a few stems each Italian parsley, basil and dill, leaves picked and finely chopped
2 slices pre-made crostini or simple toasted crusty bread
2 oz. shredded mozzarella

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium in your soup pot, and add onion, carrot, celery, garlic and chard stems. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until all vegetables are tender – the chard stems will slow it down some so this will take about 12-15 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste and cook another minute. Add diced tomatoes and juice, broth, and butternut squash. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer until squash is partially cooked – 8 to 10 minutes. Add orzo and cook until orzo cooked but al dente (package instructions help with timing). Meanwhile, turn your broiler on high to preheat.

When orzo is almost perfectly cooked, stir in chard leaves and almost all of your chopped herbs, reserving a bit to garnish (AKA make it pretty). Cook for another minute or two, just to wilt the greens.

Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if necessary. Divide soup between two bowls and place them on a baking sheet. Top each bowl with a slice of crostini/bread and 1 oz. shredded mozzarella. 

Broil until cheese is bubbly, then sprinkle with remaining fresh herbs and serve.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Comforting Kale, Leek and Farro Soup

The Mondayest of soups, no tea no shade. Lemme splain.

The negotiations we make with ourselves when we’re tired/grouchy/hungry etc. will never cease to amuse me. After a busy day at work that followed another night of questionable sleep, I walked into my apartment and stared down my favorite reusable shopping bag. It was waiting by the door for me to trot it up to the grocery. “I’ve been so empty and lonely lately,” it complained, trying to guilt me into filling it with fresh purchases. I’m not responsible for your existential crisis, bag!

Cold, tired, hungry me started in on the mental math: Guilt plus current step deficit on my Fitbit divided by the current rate of decrease in brain functionality due to hunger pangs multiplied by the amount of time it would take to get to the grocery and back, uhhhhh, okay so I was never that great at math. I do know, though, that it took me about 6 seconds to give up on that calculation and decide that SURELY there had to be a recipe somewhere in my cookbook collection that I could bend to fit the contents of my fridge and pantry.

The revelation here, much like the undisputed but oft-ignored fact that it takes just as long to get take-out as it would to just cook something already, is that I definitely could have gone to the store and back in the time it took me to flip through 6 different beautiful tomes looking for inspiration. There’s something about gorgeous food photography that tends to make me less hungry; they do say you eat with your eyes, but maybe my imagination is a little too strong. I meandered through salads and apps, mains and sides, faux-feasting and daydreaming futures for out-of-season vegetables for a good 45 minutes before happening upon this recipe.

I also paged through a quite delightful but not terribly appetizing vintage soup pamphlet that was given to me by my friends Aaron and Julie. I swear I’m going to make good and try one of these mysterious concoctions at some point. Tonight was not that night.


But you know, had it not been for my intractable desire to not leave my apartment, I may never have tried this humble little soup, either. And though I’ve been giving my illogical decision making a bit of a hard time above, I’m fully standing by my decision. Not only was it a fun game of ingredient Password (you say cabbage, I say kale; you say onion, I say leek), but it’s a nice bowl of food that demonstrates the need for teamwork. Had I given myself this Chopped basket sans the outside input of Joshua McFadden, I don’t know that I would have come up with something as good. That’s mostly due to a splishy-splash of one secret ingredient: vinegar.

I’ve used vinegar to finish a soup before, but not throughout the simmering process. I assumed something bad would happen if I put it on the heat: Would the soup pickle? That doesn’t sound “comforting,” as promised by the recipe’s title. Trying a new thing, even something as small as two teaspoons of champagne vinegar, can be scary. The weird part is that I can’t define why it’s scary, as I’ve never regretted a new-thing experience (searching my memory database right now to think of an exception, but no – even that South African Elton John cover band was worthwhile). Trusting this recipe was certainly no exception – the vinegar, along with the lemon juice, completely sets it apart. I’ll admit the results look a bit murky and boring, but looks can be deceiving. It tasted bright and clean, but pleasantly unchallenging as well. Pretty much all you can ask for from a Monday-soup, IMHO. Maybe the acid from the vinegar helps to soften up the kale even more, eh? That sounds believably science-ish.

Another fun new technique: Toasting the farro prior to adding it to the soup. This keeps the final texture a bit more contains and adds a nuttiness that really cozies up to the Parmigiano quite nicely. And a bonus: While you’re toasting it, it smells just like roasted nuts. I adore a good magic trick.

Since at this point in my life I derive most of my excitement from food (as if the previous statement did not make this clause redundant), I tend to be a bit of a magpie: distracted by the shiny, the trendy, the technicolor. This soup may have clipped my magpie wings, but it’s good to come down to earth now and then. A solid, earthy, hearty but light and — yes — comforting exercise in stubbornness and substitution. 

Comforting Kale, Leek and Farro Soup

Serves 2

Adapted from Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables

extra virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts thinly sliced
1/2 bunch of lacinato kale, ribs removed and leaves sliced into ~1/4” ribbons
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 sprig rosemary
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
1/3 cup farro
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth (used my usual Better than Bouillon No-Chicken base)
juice of half a lemon
shaved Parmigiano Reggiano

Heat a good splash of olive oil (a tablespoon-ish) in a pot over medium heat and add leeks along with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Add kale, garlic and rosemary, stir, and cover until it’s all very soft – about 20 minutes. Add vinegar, taste for seasoning, and cover for a few more minutes while you toast the farro.

Heat about a teaspoon of olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the farro and toast, stirring, until golden and crisped but not burnt. Add the farro to your pot of vegetables along with broth, and bring to a simmer for 25 minutes or until farro is tender.

Remove from heat, remove and discard rosemary sprig, and stir in lemon juice. Serve topped with a drizzle of olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano and black pepper.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Warming Acorn Squash Soup

I feel like I’m doing some personal compensating for pumpkin spice backlash today.

I had exactly one pumpkin spice concoction last fall, a pumpkin spice chai latte enjoyed on a work trip. I remember it well: It was late September, just barely past the equinox but a cloudy sky and blustery wind off the Potomac made it feel quintessentially autumnal. I hadn’t seen this particular iteration on a menu before (likely because I mostly live under a rock when it comes to seasonal Starbucks) and it just felt right. Of course, it also felt right to do penance in the form of immediately posting an Instagram story heavily utilizing the “Basic” sticker.

But listen, the equation of the PSL with basicness is not exclusively the territory of beachy waves and mason jars. There's also the basic truth, which is that squash goes so well with the blend we refer to as "pumpkin spice" that it's literally in the name. 

Rather than using pumpkin spice here, though, I've used garam masala, an Indian spice blend that leans more savory than traditional pumpkin spice due to the inclusion of cumin and coriander but includes those other familiar fall flavors. I also amped up the ginger, threw in some cayenne, and added turmeric, which in retrospect is so hammeringly trendy right now in probably inflates the #basic factor.

Getting back to that simple truth, though: Here we have beautifully fragrant, warming spices toasted up to therapeutic effect (at least in psychosomatic terms) in a comfortingly smooth pureed soup with PSL sweetness added in the form of caramelized leeks scattered on top. For that I offer no apologies.

Of course, though — like with the impromptu pumpkin spice chai from four months ago that is clearly still looming large in my memory as (idiotic as it may be) somewhere between a detour from and a betrayal of my concept of self — this soup was not in my plans.

See, I was cruising Findlay Market yesterday for some tempting veg when this unmarked mystery cucurbit caught my eye. What’s this? No sign? And residing on the shelf that usually holds bananas? Obviously I must interrupt the friendly shopkeep ASAP to inquire as to the variety and provenance of this fat and ripe little gourd. 

When she answered "acorn, local" I was incredulous to the point of Google image searching. My acorn squash experience heretofore has been exclusively Elphaba Thropp-level green-skinned, and these looked straight-up '80s-Nerf-ball orange. BTW just learned Nerf is an acronym for "non-expanding recreational foam." The foam may not be expanding but my mind sure is, amirite? New knowledge plus acceptance of a new color paradigm for acorn squash. Dang, didn't know I could feel woke about squash.


Is it weird that my impulse buys have been mostly squash-related lately? I was going to leave myself a Note to Self on this habit (hey, buy a chapstick and an Entertainment Weekly next time, ya goof!), but honestly - when the results are healthy and delicious, what's to correct? Maybe 2018 is the year of the squash.

Actually, it's the year of the dog, so naturally I just image searched "squash dog" so you don't have to. Ya welcome.

And if you're worried that my making this #basic soup is an indicator that I've lost my soup edge (not that your soup should have edges, because that ain't right) or my sense of culinary exploration, never fear. It's not like I ate this while wearing Lululemon pants and reading The Power of Now* or something.

*I totally did that.

Warming Acorn Squash Soup
with caramelized leeks and toasty pumpkin seeds

Serves 2

extra virgin olive oil
2 acorn squash, halved lengthwise and seeds scooped out and discarded (or separate them out to roast if they look like good ones)
½ a medium red onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stick of celery, chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or just a pinch if you don’t like much heat)
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon raw pumpkin seeds
1 leek, white and light green parts sliced about ¼” thick
1 teaspoon butter
freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400F. Spray or rub a bit of olive oil into cut sides of squash, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place cut side down on a cookie sheet. Roast in oven until flesh is tender – mine took about 25 minutes – then remove and let cool a bit.

Meanwhile, put a drizzle of olive oil (a teaspoon or two) into your soup pot over medium heat. Add red onion, celery and carrot with a pinch of salt, and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is soft but not browning – about 10 minutes.

Add garam masala, cayenne, ginger and turmeric, and cook, stirring, until spices are toasted and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add broth and bring to a simmer.

Check to make sure the squash isn’t too hot to handle comfortably – if you’re good, then grab a spoon and scoop the flesh into your soup. It’s okay if some of the skin ends up in the soup pot too – you’re going to blend it up anyway and it’s a fairly thin, tender skin. Let this simmer together a while to blend flavors while you make the toppings.

Place butter in a small sauté pan over medium-low heat, add leeks and a few tablespoons of water. Cover pan and let cook until leeks are tender – mine were there in about 12 minutes. Uncover and turn heat up to medium-high, stirring occasionally, until liquid has mostly evaporated and you’re seeing caramelization happen on the edges of the leeks. Push leeks to one side of the pan to continue caramelizing, then add pumpkin seeds to the other side of the pan, seasoning with salt and pepper. Toast up the pumpkin seeds until crispy and starting to pop, then remove to a paper towel. Add a pinch of salt to the leeks, stir and remove pan from heat.

Using an immersion blender, blend soup until completely smooth. Divide among two bowls and top with leeks and pumpkin seeds, then grate just a bit of nutmeg on top of each.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Pasta and Potato Soup

“I’ve never met a carb I didn’t like” was how I was going to begin this entry, but the word “never” triggered a bout of self-reflection. “Strong language, Cor. Are you sure you want to go on record with that?” So I spent a good (*embarrassing number of minutes that is higher than whatever you think it is*) thinking about my history with our food friends of the starchy persuasion, my #carblyfe if you will, and I have to confess a few exceptions:
  • Chinese mooncakes, which I’ve only tried once and am sure there are better versions of
  • Anything from Subway, get it away from me (see also: why even?)
  • Okay that’s all

The origins of why this soup and why now are twofold. When I arrived in the office on Thursday there was a little brown box waiting on my desk, a gift from some of my coworkers, who are better and kinder and cooler than I could ever deserve. In the box was the most perfect present of all time, a gleaming gold farfalle suspended from a chain, just waiting for me to spend the rest of my life with (and probably be buried in) it.

Dear necklace, I'm farfalleng for you.

See, I like to think I eat pretty healthily. My food is typically made of, uh, food, and vegetables make up a large percentage of my daily diet. I’ve made a hobby of my veg-devotion, and I care not a whit how played out you think kale and Brussels sprouts are. Ours is a deep relationship, and one I will always cherish. But one never really gets over one’s first true love. And if you know me, you know my first love goes by the name of Noodle. My coworkers’ acceptance, nay celebration of this love means so much to me.

The logic was clear from there. I have this farfalle necklace, thus I must make a farfalle soup. I started digging around for some In-ternet-spiration this morning for soups featuring large pasta shapes and came across this rather unassuming recipe written in the most self-effacing British manner (“You know better than I what to do with the garlic,” etc). I kept poking around in other corners, but knew I was sunk: the premise of pasta and potatoes together was too tempting to not be realized.

According to that article, this is Italian peasant food. Every time I've made something described as such, it's been delicious. Peasants may by definition not have much, but they sure do have a fabulous track record in the recipe department. 

The other reason this was perfect for today: I needed something indisputably hearty to propel me up The Ladder, an annual civic engagement tradition amongst friends meant to fête the impressive redevelopment and growth of downtown and Over-The-Rhine. (Okay, it’s a bar crawl, but a very uplifting and chill one and the only one I would ever espouse. It was unfortunately taking place at the same time as the “Onesie Bar Crawl,” a wholly undignified affair that made us feel quite secure in our vast superiority with regard to both maturity and responsibility.)

Proof of The Ladder's wholesomeness - even for babies!
With the above considerations, this soup was inevitable. The potatoes and pasta make for a pleasing base, but where this turns from satisfactory to gimme-more is with the drizzle of good olive oil, proper pile of romano and generous dusting of freshly ground black pepper. They’re the perfect accessories to intensify the simplicity of the flavors without overwhelming – nothing to challenge the palate here but a whole lot to like. Luckily, this soup is so filling that the gimme-more feeling is about your next spoonful, and not seconds, per se. One bowl of this and you’re set (and happy) for hours.

Peasant food: basically zero ingredients.
And just to not leave bread out of the action, I thinly sliced some ciabatta and crostinified it. You may think that sounds like overkill, but you’re dead wrong. This mushbowl, delightful as it is, is in want of some crunch – and in this case no other crunch would do.

This soup is the culinary equivalent of a heavy down duvet that you don’t have to share with anyone so you can burrito up and let the feathers squish into all your crannies. It’s safe and feels familiar — although I’ve never quite had anything similar before — because it’s pure and simple comfort food. And let me tell you, eating pasta and potatoes and bread all at once? It feels like getting away with something on the level of having peach pie a la mode for breakfast (in bed). Honestly? Honestly? It tastes like freedom.

But I understand that sometimes we all need a little justification for such flagrant disregard for clean eating, particularly early in the year while the ghosts of New Year’s resolutions are still rattling their chains (I assume the ghosts are what’s making my Fitbit vibrate at me, no?). As my own gentle vindication, I’ve crafted the following proclamation. Feel free to adapt for your own use whenever expedient.

WHEREAS, it was 13 degrees outside when I walked home from the market; and
WHEREAS, I not two days hence returned from a hemisphere where it was summertime; and
WHEREAS, sometimes a grown woman has to do what she knows in her soul to be correct;
NOW THEREFORE, I, Corrie Loeffler, humble eater in Cincinnati, Ohio, do hereby proclaim February 3 as GET OVER YOURSELF AND EAT YOUR CARBS DAY.  

Mark your calendars for February 3rd, 2019: You’re invited to my carb party.

Pasta and Potato Soup

Serves 6 reasonably or 4 generously

Adapted from Rachel Roddy's recipe

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 carrot, small diced
1 stick celery, small diced
1 small yellow onion, small diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 sprig of rosemary
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 piece of parmesan rind
5 cups water + 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth (I used Better than Bouillon no-chicken base)
3 ½ cups dry farfalle (or pasta shape of choice)
grated pecorino romano
freshly ground black pepper
more olive oil

Note: I know it seems like a lot of olive oil, but it’s necessary to achieve a nice silky texture in the final product. For the finishing drizzle especially, it’s important to use a good quality olive oil since the flavor will be changed when it hits your tongue.

Heat olive oil over medium heat and add carrot, celery, onion and garlic with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and onion is translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add rosemary and potatoes and stir to coat potatoes in olive oil – cook another few minutes. Add water, broth and parmesan rind. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer until potatoes can be smashed with the back of a spoon – about 10-15 minutes depending on the size of your dice. Spend some time breaking up a good amount of the potatoes so you have a nice, thick, creamy soup.

Add pasta and cook until al dente – mine took about 11 minutes. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, lots of freshly ground black pepper and a hearty pile of grated romano. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

Roasted Delicata and Charred Broccoli Soup with Preserved Lemon and Tahini

I find cooking inspiration in all aspects of my life: friends, books, travel, events, cravings, moods, philosophical musings – all can be signs flashing SOUP at me.

Sometimes, though, the inspiration comes from a literal sign, as in the first sign I saw upon walking into Madison’s at Findlay Market on Thursday.

“Oo, pretty!” I thought. Regardless of the fact that I had no plan whatsoever of what I would do with it, I knew I had to have it.  The colors were Crayola perfect and it felt so smooth and firm to the touch – a lovely specimen that I felt a visceral need to take a knife to. Apparently I have a Dark Passenger when it comes to ripe, local, seasonal produce. Uh, yikes? Also, remind me to work on getting some pop culture references that match the freshness of my vegetables.

Delicata squash has a thin, delicate skin (which I’m reminded of by how hard autocorrect is trying to fix my spelling of “delicata”), so I knew I wanted to leave it intact rather than making this a pureed soup. That meant roasting the charming little smiles of squash until it was golden and bubbly, amping up the sweetness factor and making the flesh melt-in-your-mouth tender with just that paper-thin skin holding its shape. 

Since I was going to be turning the oven on anyway, why not roast a few more things? I adore the flavor broccoli takes on when you — let’s face it — burn it a little, and obviously I’m going to want some roasted pepitas incorporated in some way.

My sense of why-notness ended up building the whole soup. I had a hard time naming this recipe since I kept yes-anding my ingredients. I know there’s joy to be found in simplicity, but sometimes you just want to pow yourself in the mouth with flavor. In this soup, the depth came from the roasting, the charring, the melting of leeks. But the pow? The pow came at the very last minute with the addition of preserved lemon, a secret weapon ingredient that adds a bright, salty tang that’s just unfamiliar enough to make this soup exciting. Yeah, I said it. EXCITING SOUP. Get on my level.

The last truly important element is the tahini, another “why not” that worked out brilliantly. The soup tasted fine before I stirred the little pile of tahini concoction into my bowl, but the creaminess and body just a little bit of tahini adds to the broth takes the pow and adds some silky lusciousness. The tahini mixture can be served on each bowl to give the eater some sense of accomplishment (“And I helped!” – very current pop culture reference), but if you don’t have four people eating, it also works to mix it into the whole pot. I can tell you from experience that the leftovers remain delicious.

Is this a life-changing recipe? No. But this represents one of my favorite luxuries: The luxury of time to play in the kitchen. No restrictions and no directions, just a fridge, a pantry and my imagination. After traveling for a few weeks, nothing makes me feel more at home than creating something from scratch (let’s not quibble over the bouillon) from my very own brain on my very own stove while wearing my very own pajamas and listening to my very own Stitcher Premium playlist. We each have our own definition of self care (so hot right now); this is mine.

Soup post-stirring, featuring pajama-pants cameo.

Roasted Delicata and Charred Broccoli Soup
with preserved lemon and tahini

Serves 4

For soup:
extra virgin olive oil
1 head of broccoli, stem peeled and diced, crown separated into bite-sized florets
zest of 1 lemon
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
crushed red pepper flakes
1 delicata squash, halved, seeds and pulp removed, and sliced ¼” thick
1 leek, white and light green parts, halved and sliced ¼” thick and rinsed well under cold water
4 or 5 small Yukon gold potatoes, quartered and sliced ¼” thick (about 1 cup sliced)
1 or 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth of your choice (I used Better than Bouillon no-chicken base)
4 leaves of lacinato kale, ribs removed and leaves sliced into ribbons

For topping:
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tahini
1 teaspoon minced preserved lemon
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
juice of 1 lemon (probably the one you zested earlier)

Preheat oven to 425F. Line two rimmed cookie sheets with parchment paper (for ease of clean-up – it’s okay to skip this if you don’t have any) and dump your broccoli stems and florets on one and your crescents of squash on the other. Divide the minced garlic between the trays, and add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to each. Add lemon zest to the broccoli, then give each tray a good splash of olive oil. Mix each until well coated, and put trays in the oven. After 15 minutes, remove trays, stir the broccoli around and return to oven for an additional 10 minutes (or more if necessary). Flip squash slices and push to one side, then add pumpkin seeds with a little drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper and return to oven for an additional 10 minutes. Broccoli is done when stems are tender and it’s got some black char around all the edges, and squash is done when it’s soft and you have golden bubbles formed on the cut sides.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep sauté pan, lay down your leeks, top with potato slices, and add 1 or 2 teaspoons of unsalted butter and 1/3 cup of water. Season with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Turn heat to medium and cover pan with a lid – let cook for about 15 minutes. At this point the potatoes should be fork tender and the leeks should be very soft (“melting”). Uncover pan and turn heat up to medium-high until all liquid has evaporated and you’re getting some color on the leeks – another 3-5 minutes. Add broth and kale ribbons, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer.

In a small bowl, mix together toasted pumpkin seeds, tahini, preserved lemon, Italian parsley and lemon juice with about a tablespoon of olive oil.

To serve, ladle soup base into bowls and top with a quarter of the broccoli and delicate squash slices, then a quarter of the tahini mixture.  

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Zuppa di Pasta e Ceci with Rosemary-Garlic Toasted Chickpeas

Did you grow up in a chickpea family or a garbanzo family? The Los Banos Loefflers were fully garbanzo. I’m not sure if that’s a regional thing (like Hellmann’s vs. Best Foods), or if we just expected a little drama from our beans. Garbanzo! So much pizzazz in those three syllables. Plus it’s like if Greta Garbo dated Gonzo from the Muppets and TMZ came up with their celebrity couple name – and as a concept that just makes me hungry, you know? Garbanzo! Appetizing.

Garbanzo spotted at the Chateau Marmont!

No matter your lexical preference, this is soup is pure heaven derived from our old friend Cicer arietinum, who — with the addition of just a few beautiful ingredients and the magic of time — performs a rare and precious alchemy.

Wikipedia tells me that as one of the oldest cultivated legumes, chickpea “remains” dating back 7,500 years have been found in the Middle East. I promise you if they’d had this recipe, there wouldn’t be any dang remains. (Side note: That phrasing is creepy, no? “Remains” sounds a little too human. Like there could be chickpea zombies roaming around? Zombpeas? Somebody be a doll and edit Wikipedia for me, thanks.)

My mouth is watering just thinking about the ingredients right now.

I can’t give all the credit to the wee chickies here: As we all do, they need a bit of help if they’re going to fulfill their destinies and ascend to their rightful place in the firmament. In this case, the fairy godmothers who are the wind beneath their wings every step of the way are rosemary and garlic. First you cook the dried chickpeas in a fragrant bubble bath (kind of grossly accurate, as the water accumulates a scuzzy foam as they cook) with rosemary, garlic, sage and a Parmesan rind. Into the simple tomato soup base goes a few more cloves, and simmering the finished base with a sprig of rosemary adds a subtle flavor complexity, without venturing near any danger of achieving tomato soap rather than tomato soup. 

The finishing oil has more of both, along with a sprinkling of red pepper flakes to wake up your taste buds and let them know that if they die tomorrow, they die happy buds. And then you’ve got the toasted chickpeas on top: grated pecorino romano, more garlic, more rosemary. Obviously there are other ingredients that come into this soup’s life here and there, but from start to finish, Rosie and Garl (“It’s like Karl with a G!” he’s always explaining) are its Constants.

But imagine a Desmond made entirely of rosemary and garlic.

(Almost went with a “Keep calm and find your Constant” piece of Internet trash but was afraid someone might think I meant it.)

Let’s talk for a second about those toasted chickpeas. Maybe you’re not the kind of person who wants to add more texture to your soup. I get that. Soup is a soft food, and we’re all getting older – maybe you just need to nuzzle into it like a Snuggie on a Thursday night while you’re listening to a book about the dictionary on Audible. That’s FINE. You don’t have to put the little crunchmonsters on top of the soup if you don’t want to. But you really should make them. For you. You’ve got all the ingredients already, and you’re going to want to snack on these pretty much all the time. The romano sets them apart, making them not just a textural contrast but adding a bit of sharpness. Plus, if anyone asks what you’re doing while you’re throwing them into your mouth by the handsful, you can say 
you’re “hanging out with hot chicks” (my new euphemism, you’re welcome). 

Constantly surrounded by hot chicks. 

One more note, not so much on technique but preference. When you soak your dried chickpeas, remember you need a bowl much bigger than you think you need. I like to choose my bowl based on the pleasing sound it makes when the dried legumes bounce into it, so I always go ceramic over metal. Cooking is (news flash) a sensory experience, and every little choice you make in the kitchen brings with it an opportunity to increase your overall enjoyment. Therefore I implore you: stop leaving pleasant chickpea noises on the table! To sum up, in the words of my orthopedic surgeon telling me it’s sort of okay for me to go back to yoga: “You only live once.” Pretty sure he invented that saying. Catchy, right?

It’s apt that this soup was heaven, because the evening’s entertainment was catching up on The Good Place, a truly delightful show about the afterlife. Recently my friend Kendall reminded me of a quote from show’s pilot, in which our hero(-ish? Debatable.), Eleanor, objects to her ostensible infinite residency in The Good Place thus: “I was a medium person! I should get to spend eternity in a medium place! Like Cincinnati.”

Cincinnati has put in overtime in its role of pop-culture punching bag over the years, probably on fairly equal footing with soup’s extended stint as shorthand for the sad and alone. But I returned last night from two weeks in South Africa, wide-eyed and full of the beauty of that extraordinary country, and despite the fact that I wouldn’t be eating prawns that were just plucked from the ocean or seeing a seriously for-real wild lion a few feet from my open-air vehicle again anytime soon, I was thrilled to come home to soup and Cincinnati. If Cincinnati is a medium place, I guess I have a medium heart, because it fits just right. TAKE THAT, VERONICA MARS.

This will be my eighth year of a February well spent making soup in this cold but oh-so-warm city. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you, whether virtually or in person, at my house or yours.  If tonight was any indication, 2018 is a great vintage for soup.

I’m naming this soup half in Italian because it’s more fun, not because I lay any claims as to authenticity. Listen, man, language is fluid. Speaking of: the pasta shape here, anellini, means “little rings.” Oh, and in the spirit of having fun with language, and because obviously it comes from the same Latin word, you can pretend it means “little buttholes.” See how much fun we’re having? I have jet lag pretty bad.  

Zuppa di Pasta e Ceci
with rosemary-garlic toasted chickpeas

Adapted from this Smitten Kitchen pasta recipe, which is also very good if you'd prefer not-soup.

Serves 4

For chickpeas:
1 cup dry chickpeas (to yield 3 cups cooked)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 sprig each rosemary and sage
1 2-inch section of Parmesan rind
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled and smashed
¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorns

For soup:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-ounce can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
2 cups cooking liquid from chickpeas
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 cup cooked chickpeas
½ cup anellini pasta (or other small shape)

For toasted chickpeas:
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon grated pecorino Romano

For finishing oil:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Pinch of red pepper flakes

Pour your dried chickpeas into a bowl and cover by at least three inches with cold water - they'll grow. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt and leave to sit for at least four hours (or up to overnight).  

When you're ready to cook, drain the chickpeas and place them in a pot with 8 cups of water. It looks like a lot but it will reduce and you'll end up with about 2 cups to use as broth. Add in the other tablespoon of kosher salt and remaining chickpea ingredients. Bring to a boil, skimming the murky bubbles off as needed. Simmer until chickpeas are tender, which takes a different amount of time depending on how long you were able to soak them. I start checking at around 45 minutes (good practice plus it's fun to eat the chickpeas). It's okay if they're a little under - they're going to cook a while longer in the soup. When ready, remove the aromatics from the broth using a spoon or skimmer, and strain the cooking liquid into a bowl, reserving for the soup. Sort through the chickpeas for any stray chunks of garlic or peppercorns. Divide them into two bowls - one cup will be toasted and two cups will go into the soup.

Heat oven to 425F and roll one cup of chickpeas around in some paper towels to remove some of the moisture. Place on a rimmed cookie sheet and add the remaining toasted chickpea ingredients, stirring until coated. Pop the tray in the oven when it's heated, and bake for 15 minutes or until crispy. 

Meanwhile, start your soup. Shallots go in your soup pot with the olive oil and butter; cook on medium until the shallots lose their color and are nice and soft (~5 minutes). Add garlic and red pepper flakes and stir for another 30 seconds, then add tomato paste. Stir and let that sizzle for another minute or so before adding the can of tomatoes (with their juice) and the 2 cups of chickpea cooking liquid. Break up the tomatoes with your spoon, add the sprig of rosemary and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes, then remove rosemary and remove from heat. Blend until smooth with an immersion blender. 

Return soup to heat and add anellini (or pasta of choice if I freaked you out with the little butthole thing) and 2 cups cooked chickpeas. Simmer until pasta is al dente - mine took about 20 minutes but depends on your noodles. 

While soup finishes cooking, add all finishing ingredients to a small saute pan over medium heat. Cook until garlic is just starting to turn the tiniest bit brown, then pour into a small bowl (you don't want it to get bitter, but a little crunch is delightful). 

Serve topped with a spoonful of finishing oil, a sprinkling of toasted chickpeas and a smile: you're about to have something good.

Bonus pro tip: If you're using a tube of tomato paste, mind your squeeze direction.

Stain would be worth it.