Corn and crab chowder

I realize, now that summer has fully reared its head and you probably have a fan pointed at you while you read this, that soup is likely not high on your “most wanted” list, particularly not a thick soup – verging into chowder territory – intended to be served hot, possibly with fresh, warm bread on the side. But I owed you a soup for June (yeah, moving. What can I say?), and corn was fresh and sweet and on sale, and this batch of soup was really. really. good. Maybe file it away for a cool weekend on the coast, or a last harvest end-of-summer reminder. Or maybe just sweat.

I think it’s easier for me than for other sorts of writers to answer that perennial “where do you get your ideas?” question, since my answer is “from everything I eat!” and “from most of the television I watch!” This soup has its foundations in two other steaming bowls: the corn chowder in a bread bowl from the French Market at Disneyland, and a now-unfortunately-defunct grocery store treasure: the “Cravin’ Crab and Corn Chowder” from the little soup kiosk at Safeway, a delightfully sinus clearing spicy bowl my mom used to stock in multiples. This one combines an old Dorie Greenspan recipe from Bon Appetit magazine and one of Kenji Lopez-Alt’s from Serious Eats, then hangs around my brain long enough to pick up some ideas gleaned from various food television shows, resulting in a substantial soup rich with corn flavor, studded with sweet, starchy kernels and plenty of crab meat, topped with a fresh salad of more corn – raw this time – more crab, mixed with enough herbs and lime juice to give it kick, that can either sit atop the soup for occasional sampling, or be stirred in last minute. It could easily take wafers of jalapeño or fresno chili, in both the soup and the topping, and it is as completely at home in a hollowed out boule of sourdough as it is in a gleaming white soup bowl.

The attraction of Greenspan’s recipe was the extra step of cooking the corncobs – devoid of their plump, shiny kernels – in the milk that becomes the “broth” of the soup as a method of injecting extra corn flavor. Lopez-Alt does this too, but uses broth instead of milk and steeps rather than boils. When you strip kernels off of a cob, there is usually a good bit left behind – both the bases of the kernels and the corn “milk” that they release when cut into. Extracting that flavor along with some spices in the same way you might, for example, steep shrimp shells or even tea, ensures a more flavorful liquid base.

I wanted mine really packed with corn, and determined that despite earlier considerations about swirls of heavy cream, or miniscule cubes of potato, all this really needed besides the seasoned base was onion, celery, a bit of butter, and some water to thin it without masking the flavor of the corn. This meant that the soup itself might be on the thin side, so I followed my Lopez-Alt’s idea of pureeing a quarter of the finished product to add thickness. This, along with a little bit of flour cooked down with the vegetables, led to a perfect consistency: not so thin that it would seep into our bread bowls, but not so thick that it was more like spoonfuls of sauce than of soup.

The coup de grace of the cold corn and crab salad on top was a surprise to N., but we both really liked it. You can leave it just atop the bowl, so your spoon can dig out bits of it and control the quantities in each bite, or you can stir it in, so you end up with different textures of corn and a little additional herby kick that remains fresh, since it is only warmed by the residual heat of your bowlful, rather than being actually cooked for any length of time. You could use jumbo lump crab if you’re fancy, but I went with claw meat because I was being cheap economical, and we were both satisfied with the flavor.*

If you are doing bread bowls as serving vessels, may I make the following suggestion? Before serving, spray the hollowed insides of the bowls with a little olive oil spray and brown them under the broiler for a few minutes. I know, more heat in your already-too-hot-summer-kitchen, but it helps them hold up against the onslaught of liquid and contributes a lovely toasty flavor. If you really want to treat yourself, once you’ve sliced off the “lids” of each bowl (reserving the interiors for bread crumbs! Maybe for this!), slather them with soft butter and sprinkle on a little salt and some finely chopped mixed herbs, and settle them under the broiler for a minute or two as well. The butter sizzles and browns and the herbs char just a little bit, and you have a kind of giant soup crouton, far more interesting and certainly more indulgent than oyster crackers, with only a little bit of extra effort.

I know this puts me behind in our soup calendar, but next month I am going to try to catch up, and finally give you what the season requires: cold summer soups. Like last week’s salmon, these will cook early in the day, if at all, then slowly deepen and meld in flavor as they hang out in the fridge, waiting to cool you down at dinnertime. But next week, as we careen frantically into August, I vote we pause just a moment for dessert.

*another idea that would, perhaps, give you the most bang for your buck in terms of price and impression, would be to use 4 ounces of claw meat to stir into the soup, and 4 ounces of jumbo lump for the salad on top.

 

Corn and Crab Chowder
Serves 4-6
35-45 minutes
4 ears corn, husks and stems removed
3 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped white onion (about 1 small onion)
scant ¼ cup chopped celery (about 2 ribs)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup water
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
1 teaspoon lime zest
1-2 teaspoons lime juice
Optional: wafer-thin slices of jalapeño or fresno chili
8 ounces crab pieces, picked through for shell or cartilage fragments. I used claw meat, but you could use jumbo lump instead, or even a combination of the two as noted above: claw meat to stir into the soup, jumbo lump to serve on top
salt and pepper to taste
Bread bowls to serve, if desired

 

  • In a pot, bring the milk to a bare simmer. While you wait for it to heat, remove the corn kernels from the cobs by standing each ear on end, holding the remains of the stem tightly, and cutting straight down close to the cob with a sharp knife, rotating the cob between each cut. When the milk just reaches a simmer, add the stripped cobs, the coriander, the bay leaf, and the thyme sprigs. Turn off the heat and cover the pot, leaving it to steep while you prep and cook the vegetables, or for at least 20 minutes.
  • In a large skillet, heat the 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat, then add the onion and celery with a pinch of salt and sweat them until translucent and tender. Add all but ½ cup of the corn kernels (reserve that final ½ cup for the corn and crab salad on top), stir to combine, and cook another 5-7 minutes until the corn is just tender. Once the vegetables are all tender and sweet, sprinkle on the 2 tablespoons of flour and stir or whisk to distribute it evenly.
  • Strain the cobs and whole spices out of the milk they’ve been steeping in. Add the milk to the vegetable mixture a little at a time, stirring or whisking as you do so. (I found I wanted to cook the soup in the pot, not the skillet, so I poured the milk into the same 4-cup measuring cup I’d used to add it in the first place, scraped all the vegetables into the pot, then slowly poured the milk back in. Adding liquid to solids rather than vice versa minimizes the chances of flour clumps.) Stir in the 1 cup water as well and bring the whole thing to a simmer. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes with the lid off, stirring occasionally to prevent a heavy skin from forming on the top.
  • While the soup cooks, make the corn and crab salad. In a small bowl, combine the reserved ½ cup of kernels with the chopped chives, dill, lime zest, lime juice, and slices of chili, if using. Add about 4 ounces of the crab meat and gently stir to combine the salad. I didn’t think it needed salt or pepper, but you might, so season according to your palate.
  • Once the soup has simmered for 10 minutes, remove about ¼ of it and puree it until fairly smooth using a handheld or standard blender (be very, very careful when blending hot liquid, as it can “explode” out the top of your machine). Add the puree back into the soup along with the remaining 4 ounces of crab meat and stir to combine and distribute. Heat through, if needed. Taste for seasoning; we found we wanted a little salt and plenty of black pepper.
  • To serve, ladle the soup into your desired serving vessel – either a standard bowl or a hollowed out and lightly toasted bread bowl (see suggestions for toasting in the post above the recipe) – then mound up a few tablespoons of the crab and corn salad right on top. Garnish with a final sprig of dill or length of chive, if desired.

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Arugula Herb Soup

You know I don’t usually do this – usually I report on something delicious, sharing the recipe so you can make it too – but I owe you a soup for May, and there’s absolutely zero chance of a recipe next week, since the moving truck comes on Friday(!!!!), so here we go (and besides, the photos came out so nicely). This one was… weird. It wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t remotely our favorite. If you’re into an herby, grassy taste, you should go for it.

The base here is a soup recipe from Ottolenghi that blends spinach, parsley, cilantro, and mint with a base of onions and garlic and broth. I added arugula to mine as well as some mustard seeds, and ended up with a murky green concoction that, I have to admit, was reminiscent of high quality lawn clippings. N. called it “pesto soup,” and despite the absence of basil, I tended to agree – thickened up a bit and tossed with pasta, it would have been delightful.

Ever the glutton, I decided what this soup needed to add interest and richness was a poached egg, that darling of chefs everywhere (seriously, I think adding an egg is the culinary equivalent of “put a bird on it.”), and I was right. Broken into the soup, the yolk cut through some of the earthiness of the greens that got even better with the addition of a crunchy slice of garlic rubbed toast. So, in other words, the soup was improved by adding other things to the soup.

Perhaps it was the heavy dose of arugula, which contributed a peppery earthiness the soup didn’t need. Perhaps it was just upped quantities of the greens – I do have a tendency to go heavy on the flavoring agents and light on the liquid. Perhaps it was just a soup the likes of which we’ve never had before.

I’ll be spending next weekend arranging my new kitchen, so I’ll see you when I can. Be well!

Arugula Herb Soup with Poached Eggs
Adapted from Ottolenghi’s column in The Guardian
Serves 4-6 as a starter
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 yellow or white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup chopped parsley, leaves and stems, + ⅛ cup for garnish
½ cup chopped cilantro, leaves and stems, + ¼ cup for garnish
¼ cup chopped mint leaves
1 cup each baby spinach and baby arugula leaves, or 2 cups baby spinach (Ottolenghi gives his quantities in grams, and I admit I should have weighed mine, but the food scale is packed, so I estimated)
3 cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
5 ounces greek yogurt
1-2 ounces sour cream
squeeze of lemon juice to taste, if desired
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Eggs – 1 per diner
Garlic toast, if desired, to accompany
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium low heat and sweat the onions and garlic until softened and translucent: 5-10 minutes. Stir in the turmeric, nutmeg, and mustard seeds, then raise the heat to medium and sauté 1-2 minutes. The mustard seeds may start to pop.
  • Add the parsley, cilantro, mint, spinach, arugula, if using, and vegetable stock. Stir together and bring to a simmer; cook for 10 minutes.
  • While the soup is simmering, poach the eggs: heat a pot of water to a bare simmer, then add about a tablespoon of vinegar. Stir the water ferociously just before adding eggs, creating a vortex. The spinning water and the vinegar will help the whites cling around the yolks when you break in the eggs. Break eggs directly into the water one at a time, or, if you’re nervous about that, break eggs into small bowls or ramekins, then tip one at a time into the water. Keep just below a simmer for 3-4 minutes, gently coaxing the eggs away from one another and from sticking to the bottom of the pot after 1-2 minutes. After 3-4 minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove each egg from the pot, and set them aside to rest in a bowl of warm water until you are ready to serve.
  • After the soup has simmered 10 minutes, season with salt and pepper to taste, then remove from heat and use a handheld or regular blender to blend until velvety smooth.
  • Return the soup to the heat and bring to just below a simmer. Whisk together the yogurt and sour cream in a small bowl, then add a ladle or two of hot soup to the dairy mixture and whisk in. Repeat 2-3 times – you are carefully raising the temperature of the dairy so when it is added to the soup it won’t curdle and split. Pour the diluted soup and yogurt mixture carefully into the rest of the soup and whisk through.
  • Stir in the remaining ⅛ cup parsley and ¼ cup cilantro, and crumble in the feta, reserving a small pile to garnish. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  • Ladle some soup into a bowl, sprinkle on the reserved feta, and top with one poached egg per diner. Drizzle over the remaining olive oil and serve with garlic toast.

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“Chicken Noodle” Soup: Ramen Noodle Soup with Roasted Chicken

Well, I fell off the wagon longer than I’d intended for a number of reasons, but I owe you a soup recipe for April, so let’s get on that. It would feel disingenuous, I think, to careen through a year of soups without at least gesturing toward the perennial classic that is chicken noodle. Darling of head-colds everywhere, this is the feel good, childhood callback, gentle-on-the-tummy go-to. Every commercial soup company has a version. Usually it’s chunks of chicken, often cooked in the broth itself, along with a mélange of vegetables, and a heap of noodles of some sort, usually high on the egg content.

The problem is, though, and this is an issue with soups in general, that when I think of chicken noodle soup, all I can think of is softness. The vegetables, cooked to within an inch of their lives, are soft. The chicken chunks are tender (unless they’ve been cooking in the broth too long and have toughened while giving over their flavor to the liquid they are drowning in), but the noodles have lost any indication of al dente, sinking into near-mush while they wait for you to drag yourself out of bed and dip up a bowlful. And probably because this soup has become synonymous with “get well soon” food, it is made to be gentle on the belly, and thus its flavors are also soft: it is entirely unobjectionable. While that doesn’t sound like a tremendous issue when discussing food – who would want a bowl of soup to be objectionable? – to me, that’s just a polite way of saying that it’s boring.

My version of chicken noodle soup needed to break, therefore, from the softness that so often pervades both its ingredients and its flavors. When I want a soup with a deep, flavorful broth and perfectly cooked, just chewy noodles, I find I want ramen. This is perhaps a function of living in Los Angeles, where ramen shops are fairly ubiquitous (seriously, between pho and ramen, you could probably live for more than a week in my neighborhood consuming only Asian noodle soups, and you wouldn’t have to eat at the same place twice. And that doesn’t even take Thai restaurants into account).

A bowl of ramen is a treasure chest. In a way, it’s the soup version of my favorite sort of salad: full of stuff. Once you dig through the perfectly chewy noodles, there are hunks of meat, there are so-thin-they-are-almost-transparent slices of chili, there are vegetables or mushrooms or scatterings of herbs or sesame seeds, there are still fresh and crunchy green onions, and of course, quivering like unguarded crown jewels, there’s the soft boiled egg. Sometimes the broth is pork based, sometimes it is miso based, sometimes it is fish or seafood based. I saw no reason, with its deep flavors and its pile of noodles, why it couldn’t be chicken broth and form the basis for my own twist on chicken noodle.

I had a lot of ideas about what I wanted to put into my chicken (ramen) noodle soup, but because I was curious, I asked the internet, and Laura’s recipe looked so perfect that I ended up following it almost exactly. I have adapted a few things – adding baby bok choy and changing up the broth approach a bit – but the approach is essentially the same, and her recipe for soft-boiled egg – the first one (and then the second one) I’ve ever made – worked perfectly for me. We did find we wanted the shiitake mushrooms in smaller pieces; the whole caps looked gorgeous floating in there like rafts, but were a bit ungainly to eat. You can do with or without the jalapeño or fresno chili slices; think of them as sinus-clearing options.

Here, we are starting with a premade chicken broth and enriching it, enhancing the flavors even more with more vegetables, and the aromatic warmth of ginger and garlic. Your chicken broth might already be pretty tasty, but trust me on this: deeply flavored broth is important for a good bowl of ramen. When you serve this up, it’s a play of textures, and really, you get to be the boss. If you are nuts about broth, make it brothier. If you are noodle-crazy (like me), use less broth and pile in the chewy noodles. The chicken will still be juicy after a crisp in a skillet and then a quick roast in the oven, but it will still absorb some of the broth from the soup and lap up some of those flavors. As for the egg, well, if you need me to extol to you the virtues of a just-runny yolk stirred into noodles and vegetables, then you’ll need to come over and sit down for a while, because there’s too much to say for this one little post.

This isn’t your traditional chicken noodle, but I see no reason why, with its deep flavors and treasure chest of ingredients, it shouldn’t become your new favorite way to slurp up those classic soup components.

 

Chicken (Ramen) Noodle Soup
Lightly adapted from Fork, Knife, Swoon
Serves 4 modestly or 3 generously
6-8 cups chicken broth, store-bought or homemade
2 inch knob of ginger
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 yellow onion, root and stem end removed, quartered
3 carrots
2 stalks celery
3-4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 chicken breasts, bone-in, skin on
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
3 heads baby bok choy, trimmed, rinsed, and larger leaves separated so only small heads remain
½ cup sliced scallions, dark and pale green parts only
2 packages (3 or 3.5 ounce) ramen noodles
Optional: thin slices from 1 jalapeño or fresno chili, ¼ cup cilantro leaves, 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

 

  • Preheat the oven to 375F. While it warms, add broth to a large pot – if you prefer a more noodle-forward soup, use 6 cups of the broth. If you prefer a brothier end product, use all 8 cups. Pop in the prepared onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and ginger, then bring to a boil with the lid on. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • While the broth is warming, season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the vegetable oil and sesame oil in an oven-safe skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken breasts skin side down and cook without moving them for 5-7 minutes, until the skin is golden and crisp. Flip both breasts over, cook another 4-5 minutes, then transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes (start checking doneness at 15 minutes), until cooked through. When done, remove from oven and cover with tinfoil to keep warm until you are ready to serve the soup.
  • After the broth has simmered 20 minutes, remove the large vegetable pieces with a strainer or a slotted spoon. Taste for seasoning and add soy sauce until the broth reaches your desired saltiness. Add the shiitake mushrooms as well, and simmer 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms are softened. If desired, now is the time to fish out the mushrooms, remove their stems (which can be a bit tough), and slice them before popping them back in.
  • At this point, pause for a moment to make your soft-boiled eggs. Bring a small pot of water to a boil, then use a spoon to add the eggs, still cold from the refrigerator, one per diner. For a custard-y middle (that is, still liquid but quite thick), boil for 7 minutes, then remove to an ice bath for 5 minutes before peeling.
  • With your eggs working, add the prepared bok choy to the broth with mushrooms and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in the noodles and simmer 3 minutes more.
  • Now you are ready to assemble. With tongs, pile the noodles in a large bowl. Add broth and vegetables. Slice the peeled soft-boiled eggs in half and position atop the noodle pile. Slice the chicken into thin strips, keeping as much of the skin on as possible, and arrange these around the bowl. Scatter on the scallions, and add the chili pepper slices, the sesame seeds, and/or the cilantro, if using, over the top. Serve immediately.

Creamy Asparagus Soup with Two Garnishes

food-blog-march-2017-0391As it turns out, when you start to conceive a soup for March, there are a number of things to think about. Which half – the “in like a lion” or the “out like a lamb” part – do you capture? Do you take into account Punxsutawney Phil’s ominous scrabblings, or do you celebrate the early vestiges of the spring you feel coming? Do you blitz together creamy, lingering winter flavors, or do you fly light and bright and vegetal, in hopes of what might be just over the horizon?

food-blog-march-2017-0390If you’re me, you mull, you consider, you scribble, and then you try to do all of the above. For some people (read: east coast food snobs foodies), the emergence of ramps is the harbinger of spring. For me, it’s asparagus. I like the image of the little fern-like tops pushing their way up out of the cold ground, extending into bold, fat, turgid stalks. It’s not the likeliest vegetable to put into a soup, but it’s such a welcome green flavor that I wanted to celebrate it. The grassy character of asparagus got me thinking about cream of celery soup, one of those condensed classics that I’ve never actually eaten from a bowl, but have seen on any number of casserole recipes right up there with its gloopy mushroom cousin.

food-blog-march-2017-0376Cream of asparagus soup sounded comforting and easy, but what really got me excited was the prospect of garnishing it. A few Christmases ago, one of our appetizer options was wrapped asparagus: one set lovingly encased in wafer-thin strips of prosciutto; the other bundled into swaths of smoked salmon. And combining my childhood recollection of crackers crushed into soup for texture and the number of smoked salmon Caesar salads with homemade croutons we’ve had lately, my soup toppings seemed set. The prosciutto would be crisped in the oven and float tantalizingly on the creamy surface, and the salmon would be piled right in the middle for a treasure chest you could drag your spoon through on its way to a rubble of crouton.

food-blog-march-2017-0369Of course you wouldn’t eat the soup with both garnishes – prosciutto and smoked salmon (although, for the purposes of photographing each we did, in fact, have both), but two toppings seemed like a nice option to give you. I’ll be honest: we liked the salmon best, and definitely dug the croutons, but the prosciutto does go well with the soup’s flavor profile.

food-blog-march-2017-0365This was delicious – creamy and comforting – but the real excitement came when we sat down to eat it. I turned the heat on our gas stove down to low in case we wanted seconds, finished my photo session, toppings arranged just so, and brought two steaming bowls over to the couch where we were set to embark on a thrilling Friday night: soup and a British murder mystery, and no sooner had the ominous intro music begun to play than the power went out. We sat, we waited a few moments, we relocated to the table and lit a few candles, and then we ate soup in the semi-darkness, with the wind outside ripping down branches and the rain sheeting over the roof (we’re still in Los Angeles, right?), and were pleased to be indoors, with gas heat, and warm soup, and the whole weekend still to come.

food-blog-march-2017-0380A few notes: if you want the excitement of finding asparagus tips threaded through the smoothness of your soup, you can, as we did, leave them aside until after you puree. If you don’t want the disruption, add them along with the stalks and blend away.

However you choose to puree the soup – handheld or regular blender – be sure to be thorough. Unexpected snippets of leek or onion mar our velvet intentions and need to be blitzed into oblivion.

Be sure to cook the croutons until they are quite crisp. I like a salad crouton with a tiny bit of chewy give in the center, but here, the soup soaks in and the cubes need to be fully dry to avoid turning to instant mush.

food-blog-march-2017-0401

Creamy Asparagus Soup with Two Garnishes
Adapted from Jamie at Home
Serves 4
About 45 minutes
For the soup:
4 tablespoons butter
1½ cups diced white onion (1 medium or ½ large)
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, halved, cleaned, and thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, cleaned, thinly sliced
1½-2 pounds asparagus, woody ends snapped off, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 quart water (4 cups) (you could use broth here, but I wanted to keep the flavors veg-central)
salt and pepper to taste
¼-½ cup heavy cream
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons chives, very thinly sliced
For the prosciutto garnish:
4 slices prosciutto
For the salmon and crouton garnish:
3 cups ½-inch sourdough bread cubes, cut from about ⅓ of a large loaf or batard
4 cloves garlic, minced, or ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
zest from one lemon
½ teaspoon black pepper
¾ teaspoon salt
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces smoked salmon

 

  • In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, leek, and celery pieces and turn the heat down to medium low. Sweat the vegetables for about 10 minutes – we are looking for tenderness, not for color. If they begin to brown, turn down the heat.
  • While the vegetables are cooking, begin work on your garnishes – see instructions below.
  • When the vegetables are tender and the onion pieces have become translucent, add the water and the asparagus stalks, reserving the tips if desired. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to keep the liquid at a bare simmer for about 20 minutes, until the asparagus pieces are tender.
  • Blend extremely well using a handheld or a standard blender – you are looking for a completely smooth mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • If you have reserved the asparagus tips, add them now and simmer just until they are tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Pull the pot off of the heat, add the cream and stir, then return to low heat, add lemon juice and chives, and warm through.
  • To make the prosciutto garnish, while the onion, leek, and celery are cooking, preheat the oven to 300F and spread out 4 pieces of prosciutto on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake at 300F for 20-25 minutes, until they are crisp enough to shatter.
  • Set aside until soup is ready and serve balanced on the edge of the bowl, crumbled over the soup, or with one end immersed for drama, as above. Eat immediately; it will not remain crisp for long once it hits the hot liquid.
  • To make the crouton and salmon garnish, while the onion, leek, and celery are cooking, preheat the oven to 300F. In a large bowl, whisk together the minced garlic or garlic powder, the lemon zest, the salt, and the pepper. Add the sourdough cubes and toss well to combine.
  • Spread the seasoned bread cubes out on a baking tray and toast in the 300F oven for 20-25 minutes, until they are thoroughly dried inside.
  • While the cubes toast and the soup simmers, unwrap the smoked salmon and use two forks, back to back, pulling away from each other, to shred it up.
  • To serve, after ladling in a serving of soup, place a small mound of the smoked salmon in the center of the bowl, then place a handful of croutons over the top. As you can see, for aesthetic purposes I piled mine to the side, but you can put them right in the middle if you wish. Eat immediately.

Split Pea and Ham Soup with Collard Greens

food-blog-february-2017-0318Two things come to mind when I think of split pea soup, both from childhood. In the real world, I think of my mom and sister – R. ate a lot of Campbell’s soups for lunch when she was little, and I remember Mom asking her whether she wanted some “hammy pea soup.” On screen, I remember the charming little clip from the beginning of Disney’s The Rescuers Down Under depicting how the fancy restaurant Bernard and Bianca go to gets its soup course to the table. Both memories charm me more than the actual product, so I decided, as a first real dip into the soup project, in a February that veers wildly between dreary and bright (and not just on a meteorological front), making this one over would be a rewarding project.

food-blog-february-2017-0307I’ll be honest, though, right out of the gate: this is indeed a project. This is not a soup you’ll have on the table, or in a mug curled up on the couch, in a half hour or so. This is a multi-step, multi-hour prospect.

Are you still here?

Good.

food-blog-february-2017-0294The average split pea soup is not unlike a dreary February day, the kind where you feel pressed into the couch by lack of motivation, or just unable to move away from your newsfeed. It is thick and heavy and sometimes muddy in flavor, as pulse-based soups can be. There are, I think, two ways to amend this. One is to go the daal route, amping up the spice quotient. The other, the one I chose, is to add freshness near the end of the cook time, forcing the wintry brew toward something springy, no matter what Punxsutawney Phil had to say this year.

food-blog-february-2017-0295My method of freshening was almost entirely though association of the two major players. Split peas are a starchy, dry, processed product. Why not take them to a family reunion with their plump, sweet, former selves? A cup of frozen peas would jangle in at the end to brighten things up. The other major ingredient in the mix – the ham – is usually in the form of a “ham hock,” the lower part of the leg, smoked, with the skin and bone still present. Ham hock reminded me of collard greens, and I started wondering how some ribbons of greens, cooked until tender but not decimated, would do in this soup. Pairing collard greens with starchy legumes is hardly new – food historian Michael Twitty writes this important discussion of the cultural background of collard greens, including their frequent matching with peanuts in the cuisine of the African diaspora.

food-blog-february-2017-0296Split pea soup usually has some other starchy ingredient in it – most often potatoes. I opted to omit this entirely, but you could certainly add some back in, or change it up and use celery root instead for a more herbaceous flavor. Instead, I made my base simple: carrots for sweetness and color, leeks for a mild onion-y punch, and just a bit of garlic to keep things savory. At the last minute, I stirred in a handful of parsley for a final bright burst.

food-blog-february-2017-0302As I noticed when I consulted a few recipes for inspiration, differences in procedure really lie in how you treat the vegetables. Some recipes brown them first, then add the peas and broth, but this can result in disintegrated veg by the time the soup is ready. Some, to prevent this over-softening, add the vegetables part way through the cooking, but then the soup doesn’t benefit from the extra flavor a bit of caramelization and initial browning provides. The New Best Recipe cooks the vegetables in a separate vessel before adding them to the soup, and that would be fine if you don’t object to extra dishes… but I always object to extra dishes. I would rather it take longer and have less to wash up.

food-blog-february-2017-0308In my procedure, we cook everything in the same pot. First, brown the exterior of the ham hock first (I used a smoked pork shank, but they are almost the same thing). Once it is crisp and golden on the exterior, the vegetables get browned in the residual fat (plus some fatty bits and pockets, if you want to carve any off and add them), then set aside until the final twenty minutes of simmering, so they retain some texture and have the extra flavor from the pork fat. Yes, this adds some time, but you’re prepped for a project anyway, right?

I have to admit, though I always want to like what I make, I wasn’t expecting to be crazy about this soup. With the dreary, February-gloom hanging around my expectations despite attempts to create brightness, I thought I would like it but not love it.

food-blog-february-2017-0312It’s nice to be wrong sometimes, isn’t it? This soup exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds. The play between the two kinds of peas – creamy and starchy on one hand and barely cooked pops of sweetness on the other – was delightful. The ribbons of collard greens were perfect: vegetal and tender, good flavor companions with the peas and the shreds of ham. Sometimes when I make a soup I end up freezing half of it and planning in vain to use it again, but this one we scarfed down the night of, and then for lunch the next day, and then for lunch again, and it was gone, and our bellies were warm and bolstered against the gloom of February.

food-blog-february-2017-0318This will keep in the fridge for 4-5 days in a sealed container, and reheats easily in the microwave or on the stove. You might need to add a drizzle or two of extra broth when reheating, since the peas suck up a lot of the liquid as they cook and as they cool. Delightfully, this is one of those soups that, while it’s delicious the first day, improves as it sits and its flavors mingle.

food-blog-february-2017-0320* yes, that coaster does say “I want to hold your ham.” It’s from a set my sister gave me that features misheard song lyrics, the technical term for which (can I tell you how much I love that misheard lyrics have a technical term?!) is mondegreen.

 

Split Pea and Ham Soup with Collard Greens
3-4 hours
Serves 6
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾-1 pound ham hock, smoked pork shank, or bone-in picnic ham
2 leeks, white and pale green sections only
3 carrots, stem end lopped off, peeled
2 cloves garlic, crushed, papery skins removed
6 cups water, broth, or stock. I used my roasted vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
½ pound green split peas (a little more than 1 cup)
ground black pepper to taste
salt to taste
1 bunch collard greens, tough stems removed
1 cup frozen green peas
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

 

  • Begin by prepping the vegetables. You’ll be happier later. For the leeks, slice off the root end, then cut vertically so you have two half-moon shaped logs. Rinse these under water, working your fingers between the layers to excavate hidden dirt. Shake vigorously. Set on your cutting board with rounded sides up, then cut in half vertically, then in half again so you have four piles of thin strips, as in the photo above. Slice across these strips to produce small squares. For the carrots, cut each in half horizontally, then in half vertically. Treat these like the leeks, slicing each rounded half-log into four thin strips, then cutting across the strips into small pieces. For the collard greens, once you have removed the tough stems, stack the leaves in a pile and roll them up tightly into a fat log. Slice across the log into thin ribbons. You can cut those into smaller pieces if you want to, but I liked the look and feel of the ribbons.
  • In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. When it is shimmering, add whatever sort of ham you’re using and cook until all sides are nicely browned: 2-4 minutes per side. Remove the meat and set aside. Lower the heat to medium and add the prepped carrots, leeks, and garlic. If the ham has some pearly fatty bits, carve those off and add them to the pot with the vegetables to continue rendering. Cook, stirring, until nicely caramelized: about 10 minutes.
  • Remove vegetables and fat scraps to a plate. Discard the fat scraps, if there were any, but reserve the vegetables. In the pot, add the stock or broth or water, the ham again, and the bay leaves. Cover the pot, turn the heat up to medium high until you reach a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and simmer until the ham is tender and pulling away from the bone. For me, this took about 90 minutes. It may take you up to 2 hours, depending on what kind of meat you are using.
  • When the ham is quite tender and pulling away from its bone, remove it from the fortified cooking liquid and set it aside until it is cool enough to handle. After it cools, separate the meat from the bone and shred the meat. Discard any rind or fatty bits.
  • To the cooking liquid in the pot, add the thyme sprigs and the green split peas. Keep the liquid at a simmer for 45 minutes, until the peas are tender but not dissolved. Once you’ve shredded the ham, you can add the bone back into the cooking liquid if you wish. Season to taste with salt and pepper, keeping in mind you’ll be adding ham back in, which can be quite salty.
  • With the peas tender and just beginning to fall apart, add the reserved vegetables, the prepared collard green ribbons, and the shredded ham to the pot. Return to a simmer for 20 minutes. Many of the split peas should now have collapsed into a creamy mess.
  • Finally, add the frozen peas to the pot and cook just until they are hot – another 5 minutes at maximum. Remove the bay leaves, the crushed garlic pieces, and the ham bone, if you put it back in there. Stir in the parsley, taste for seasoning once more, and serve, preferably with a piece of garlic-rubbed toast to dip.

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Project Soup Foundations: Roasted Vegetable and Chicken Stock/Broth

food-blog-january-2017-0245This last week has been a lot. A new president, an elderly dog with suddenly severe mobility challenges, a new president, a state that seemed to offer a pointed meteorological response, particularly on inauguration day (and then clear, sun-swept skies for the women’s march the next morning – what up, universe!), oh, and that whole new president thing. I opted, as is my usual practice, to respond in part by shuffling into the kitchen. Cooking doesn’t do a great deal on a large scale, but it makes me feel safe and in control, and it is with those feelings that I gain a foundation of strength and confidence to undertake other, more consequential actions. So let’s talk foundations. The foundation – the basis – of soup is liquid. That’s not always the part you add first, and it often doesn’t feel like the most interesting part,* but it’s what separates soup from puree, or pasta, or pile-of-diced-vegetables-with-some-beans-and-meat-or-maybe-potatoes.

food-blog-january-2017-0163food-blog-january-2017-0169food-blog-january-2017-0175Obviously you have a lot of choice when it comes to choosing this liquid. You could, of course, work with plain old water, and per some rational arguments this does work, but most soups advocate for a stock or broth of some sort – usually the variety that most closely matches the “star ingredient” in the finished dish. I’d wager a guess that chicken and vegetable are the most common, with beef coming in a wavering third. There are many good options in the aisle at the store for all of these varieties – when I go with store-bought I opt for low-sodium – but what fun would it be if I told you to go out and buy the base of our project for the whole year? Nope. Doesn’t sound like me. We need a strong foundation. We’re going to make it ourselves.

food-blog-january-2017-0182food-blog-january-2017-0184The first hurdle to surmount is the question of broth vs. stock. These terms get used pretty interchangeably, but there is a difference. Harold McGee offers mostly an etymological distinction, citing the latter as deriving from “an old Germanic root meaning ‘tree trunk’” and the former as “more specific and ancient,” going back to the turn of the first millennium with the root bru, which means “to prepare by boiling” – quite similar to our word “brew” (599). Alan Davidson agrees, adding that though broth or bru at its inception just meant the liquid and its contents, in recent centuries the word has implied the presence of meat. A broth could be the resulting liquid of brewing down these ingredients, or a finished product in itself, like the broth of a soup. Stocks, on the other hand, Davidson positions as less finished, component parts of a dish-to-be (108).

food-blog-january-2017-0197More recently, though, at least in American cooking parlance, stock vs. broth tends to be a question of bones vs. meat. A broth is a liquid made from meat that has been simmering, usually along with vegetables and herbs for flavor. Stocks are made from bones as well as connective tissue, along with vegetables and aromatics for flavor, and the collagen extracted from the bones during the simmer results in a product with more body – a heft or thickness absent from broth. As Alton Brown notes, it is hard to remove all meat from bones when you are making a stock, which means that many homemade stocks are actually a hybrid between the two bases; that may be in part why we tend to use the words interchangeably. At least, that’s the answer I’m going for.

food-blog-january-2017-0199food-blog-january-2017-0223food-blog-january-2017-0235According to these defining principles, then, what we’re going to make here is one broth (no bones; all vegetables), and one stock (well, broth-stock. Brock? Stoth?). The ingredient lists are similar and the procedure is easy, if a little time-consuming: roast some veg or a chicken, pop the roasted veg or bones in a big pot, add flavoring agents, cover with water, simmer long enough to produce a bronzed, aromatic liquid. Strain, cool, and store. That’s it. Yes, it’s an additional step or two on your quest for soup, but it makes plenty, and then you’re set for a few months, depending on the frequency of your broth needs. Call it a project for a rainy day, which we seem to be having plenty of lately.

food-blog-january-2017-0210food-blog-january-2017-0207I particularly like making the effort just after Thanksgiving, when the bones and trimmings of that turkey carcass make enough meaty, strengthening, belly-consoling stock to service my soup, stew, risotto, couscous, and arroz con pollo needs for at least a quarter of the year.**

food-blog-january-2017-0213food-blog-january-2017-0211* it’s also not the most interesting or sexy thing to take photos of, so I hope you appreciate Lucy’s willingness to help out by posing with various vegetables (she couldn’t be bothered with the celery, so we stuck with onion and carrots).

food-blog-january-2017-0218** with the Thanksgiving turkey carcass, I increase the amount of water in the mix, but tend to leave the other ingredient quantities about the same.

 

Roasted Vegetable Broth
Makes 10-11 cups, depending on how much evaporation takes place
About 2 hours, if you are organized
The mushrooms and soy sauce here produce a final product that is darker in color than the broths you might be used to, but I like including them because they contribute such deep, earthy flavors. Don’t worry about the saltiness of the soy sauce – it’s only a few tablespoons in a tremendous three quarts of water. This leaves the finished broth slightly under-seasoned, so you can reduce it down into a sauce without worries, or add salt to taste as you use it for other dishes.
1 onion, stem end and root stub removed, papery skins still on, quartered
1 leek, dark green leaves removed, roots lopped off, halved and rinsed well between the layers
3 thick carrots, stems lopped off, cut in thirds
3 celery stalks, top and bottom tips removed, rinsed free of dirt, cut in thirds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
8-10 garlic cloves, skins on
8-10 shiitake mushroom stems or 4-5 whole shiitake mushrooms (you could use crimini instead, if you prefer, but I had shiitakes. Just go for a dark, flavor-rich mushroom that you like.)
¼ – ½ bunch of parsley, stems and leaves
2-3 big sprigs of thyme (2-3 inches each)
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons soy sauce
12 cups (3 quarts) cold water

 

  • Preheat the oven to 375F while you prep the vegetables. In a large bowl, toss the onions, leeks, carrots, and celery with the 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Line a large cookie sheet with aluminum foil and scoop the vegetables onto it using a slotted spoon. Roast at 375F for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, add the garlic cloves and the mushrooms or mushroom stems to the bowl and toss around a bit to coat them with the remaining olive oil and salt.
  • After half an hour, remove the cookie sheet from the oven, toss the vegetables around a bit to prevent sticking and encourage even browning, and add the mushroom stems or whole mushrooms and the garlic. Put the cookie sheet back into the oven and roast another 20 minutes, until the edges of the onions and leeks are deeply browned and a bit crisp.
  • Put the roasted vegetables into a large stock pot or dutch oven (if you’re careful, you can just lift the whole sheet of aluminum foil and dump them straight in). Add the parsley, the thyme, the peppercorns, the bay leaves, and the soy sauce. Dump in the water, turn the heat on high, and clamp on the lid.
  • When the liquid in the pot reaches a boil, turn the heat down to medium low or low and keep it at just a simmer for 60 minutes.
  • After an hour, turn off the heat and use a strainer or fine mesh sieve to scoop out the vegetables and peppercorns. Let the remaining liquid cool, then strain into your chosen storage containers. I like to use clean large yogurt containers – I portion out about 3 cups per container.
  • Roasted vegetable broth can be stored in the refrigerator for one week, or frozen for several months. Use as needed for soups, stews, deglazing vegetables; anything that needs a rich, earthy liquid as a base.

 

“Everyday” Chicken Stock
Makes 14-15 cups, depending on how much evaporation takes place
About 2 hours (not counting the time required to roast and pick the chicken)
Here we leave the vegetables in bigger pieces since we will simmer for a bit longer – that way they won’t break down entirely as the hot water extracts the necessary flavor and collagen from the bones. I use skin as well in the mix, because I like the extra flavor and seasoning it contributes. You can leave it out if you wish. I’m calling this “everyday” because though I realize you won’t make it every day, it is nice to have access to on a daily basis, which is why always having a few quarts stashed in the freezer is one of my kitchen goals.
Carcass (and remaining skin, if desired) from a 4½-5½ pound chicken, picked reasonably clean of meat (save for chicken tacos, or pot pie, or sandwiches, etc.)
3-4 whole carrots, stem ends lopped off
3-4 stalks celery, leaves and all (rinse or brush off any dirt at the root end if needed)
1 onion, stem and root ends removed, quartered (you can use or discard the papery skin; I’ve done both and there isn’t much difference to the resulting product)
10-12 cloves garlic, papery skins still on
½ bunch parsley, stems and all
3 thyme sprigs (2-3 inches each)
3 sage sprigs (2-3 inches each)
3 rosemary sprigs (2-3 inches each)
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
2-3 bay leaves
16 cups (4 quarts) cold water. We want to cover the ingredients by an inch or two (though some of the vegetables will float), but not add so much water that the final product is diluted – the bones can only give up so much flavor.

 

  • Place all ingredients together in a large pot. I like to use a big pasta pot with the removable strainer insert. You could, I suppose, make use of the strainer insert, but some of the smaller pieces (i.e. the peppercorns) are going to fall through, so I just use the empty pot. Saves at least one dish to wash later.
  • Cover the pot and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, then reduce to low or medium-low and simmer for 1½-2 hours, until the liquid is golden and aromatic, and the vegetables are extremely tender but not yet falling apart.
  • Use a fine mesh sieve or strainer to remove and discard the bones, vegetables, and peppercorns. Let the remaining liquid cool, then strain into a large pitcher and store in the refrigerator overnight. Excess fat in the stock will float to the top and solidify; scoop it off and discard it the next day.
  • Once the fat is discarded, strain the stock into your chosen storage containers. I like to use clean large yogurt containers – I portion out about 3 cups per container.
  • Homemade chicken stock can be stored in the refrigerator for one week, or frozen for several months. Use as needed for soups, stews, risottos; anything that needs a fragrant, golden, poultry-flavored liquid as a base.