Saturday, February 4, 2017

Kitty Cat Soup

No cats were harmed in the making of this blog post. 

Last year I bought a condo in uptown-downtown Cincinnati, leaving my beloved Over-the-Rhine after 7 years and moving a whole 3 blocks away. With the move, I vowed I'd finally take the time to really decorate my home, something I've never done apart from semi-purposefully placing my myriad tchotchkes. I don't mean hire an interior decorator or anything; in fact, mostly I just mean "put a thing on your wall like you're going to stay a month or two, would you?"

Unfortunately, I don't have a vision for these things. My mom has that gift, where you look at a room and see what should go where, and I love seeing the photos she sends of her latest DIYs - but I guess that's not a trait that I inherited. And when I go to friends' places and there's a definite style, I'm always bowled over and ready to present them with medals of achievement in grown-humanness.

So imagine my surprise when I suddenly had a fully formed idea of what needed to be on the wall of my dining nook. These four epiphanic words flowed from my mouth so naturally, so smoothly - a bit of divine inspiration so intrinsic to my soul that it's like it had always been there, deep inside me, just waiting to come out. The words were: James Franco Macaroni Art.

You see it, right? Can you think of anything more perfect?

I put together this scheme. Print out a variety of James Franco photographs, go to TJ Maxx and purchase as many strange pasta shapes and colors as possible, and trick my girlfriends into having a craft party and pretending I'm not that weird.

Alas, as too often happens with dumb I MEAN BRILLIANT plans, this never came to pass. And I hadn't thought about it in quite a while until I went to make soup and found my condo disastrously noodleless. My first thought? "Why did I fail you, James Franco?"

Due to the fact that I gave up on my dreams, I couldn't take my art off the wall and repurpose it as dinner.
Look! It's broth! I swear there will be soup at some point!

Obviously you can make soup without pasta, and I do it often, as evidenced by the three soups I've featured so far this year. But I knew what I wanted, and that was a fortified broth with chunky vegetables, bright citrusy herbs, and some quality extruded alimentary paste. GIVE ME CARBS OR GIVE ME DEATH!

Alas, I began a somber scan of the other carbs at the ready. Bulgur, polenta (would that even work?), quinoa, brown rice...nothing sounded right as I pawed through my pantry.

Then, another epiphany, thanks be to James.

I would be shocked that this existed, but, I mean, did I google exactly this? Yes, yes I did. #illuminati
One of my charming coworkers, Laurie, had been compelled to buy me a package of kitty cat pasta  a few months back, and I had hidden it from myself so I would be sure to use it for something special. Ever found a $5 bill in your coat pocket? Imagine that feeling times how much I like noodles. MEOWREKA!

Not only was this type of whimsically shaped pasta just what I wanted to finish off this soup, it also felt particularly timely given that the Women's March had occurred the just the day before. (Check out my friend Emily Maxwell's great piece for WCPO if you haven't had a chance.)

Oh wow, just remembered this is a soup blog. Maybe I should write about soup for a second.

All I really wanted in putting this guy together was a broth that was a bit more complex than it deserved to be, and a chance to get some good Findlay Market vegetables in me. That worked out pretttty well I must say. The broth had so much body and flavor, and was the perfect hot tub for everything bobbing around inside.

Making a decision with every bite about how much of the pistou/pesto/paste/pfft you wanted to add in made the whole bowl basically a Choose Your Own Flavor Adventure. So that's fun!

Nothing like some bright crushed herbs.
This soup turned out good-to-v.good. The method is solid, the broth had a significant amount of flavor and body considering I've yet to make any homemade stock this year, and the pasta was obviously purrrrfect. You can also change up the vegetables at will, clearly, but this combo worked out great. What's not to love about leeks, peas, criminis and spinach? Here's a trick: if it sounds a melange you'd see on a menu with a fresh pasta and be like ohhhhhhh nooooo I NEED THAT, then it's gonna make a good-to-v.good soup.

This is definitely a soup that works well as a full meal. You don't even need bread!

Well, I just revoked my typing privileges due the blasphemy of the previous sentence, so I'll sign off here. This is the last of my pre-travel soups, but I'll put up posts about all the soups I tried in Portugal and Ghana for the next few days -- and I do promise 100% less James Franco.

I Have Kitty Cat Pasta! Soup

Serves 2 as a meal

For broth:
Pat of butter
1 shallot, diced
1 clove of garlic, chopped
4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
A few sprigs of thyme, rosemary and parsley (or whatever you have)
1 bay leaf
Piece of Parmesan rind (my bit was about 2" by 1")

For soup:
Splash of olive oil
1 cup quartered small crimini mushrooms
1/2 cup small cat pasta (or whatever pasta shape you like)
1/4 cup fresh or frozen peas
1/4 cup thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only
1/4 cup canned white beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup fresh baby spinach

For accompaniment:
Olive oil
1 cup parsley leaves
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon pine nuts
Juice of one lemon
Freshly grated Parmesan

Make the broth:

Melt butter over medium-low heat and and add shallots and garlic. Cook about five minutes, or until shallots are translucent, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add remainder of broth ingredients, turn up heat and bring broth to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 20 minutes or so to allow flavors to come together (longer if you have it). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and use tongs or a fork to remove herb stems, bay leaf and Parmesan rind from the broth. Using an immersion blender, blend broth until silky and smooth. Return broth to medium-heat to bring to a low boil.

Finish the soup:

Add peas and leeks and cook for about 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a splash of olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and cook until you're starting to get some nice brown edges, then remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.

After the peas and leeks have been going for 7 minutes, add pasta and beans to soup and keep at a low boil for another 8 minutes or until pasta and peas (the two Ps) are cooked through. Add spinach and cooked mushrooms and give it a good stir, then turn off heat. You want the spinach to wilt but not much more so it stays bright green.

In a blender, place parsley, garlic, pine nuts and lemon juice. Add about a tablespoon of oil and a good pinch each of salt and pepper. Blend until you get bright green, fairly smooth paste. you can add more olive oil if you'd like it to be looser, but I like mine at max herbal pungency.

Ladle soup into bowls and top each with a good tablespoon of parsley mixture and a healthy sprinkling of Parmesan. Serve with more parsley and Parm (the two Ps) on the side.

1 comment:

  1. Can there actually be more Franco? Maybe even a picture of pasta Franco?