Last week by some miracle (read a blizzard-free night), ten of the thirteen members of my book club braved the freezing temperatures and the snow covered streets and roads of our small New England town to meet at my house for our monthly gathering. Although the menu choices are up to each host, I thought we all needed some comfort food, and decided on a soup supper. A winter tomato and garlic soup garnished with creamy blue cheese bruschette was the centerpiece and a dense chocolate cake the finale. A mixed greens salad tossed with julienned fennel, blood orange segments, and toasted walnuts rounded out the meal. Both the food and the book selection—All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr—got good reviews!
This delicious tomato soup, vibrantly scented with garlic and unexpectedly with a hint of bracing orange, is a snap to assemble and takes less than half an hour to simmer atop the stove. Although it is pureed, the texture of this rustic soup is still slightly chunky, adding to its charm. You can make this dish several days in advance and reheat it. For the bruschette, toast the baguette slices several hours ahead, then spread them with Gorgonzola and pop them in the oven at serving time. Continue reading
At the end of last week we had planned to meet a good friend at a new bistro in Paris. But the tragic events that unfolded between Wednesday and Friday were so unsettling that we all agreed a casual dinner at home was a better idea. When I suggested that we gather for a simple soup and salad supper at our small apartment, our pal was on board immediately and offered to bring dessert.
For the main course, I had in mind a rustic soup prepared by sautéing chopped fennel, onion, and carrots and then simmering those vegetables along with white beans in stock. Short on time, I opted for canned beans, rinsing and draining them well before stirring them into the pot, and was delighted with the results. For extra flavor some chopped fresh rosemary and dry white wine balanced the flavors nicely, while crispy julienned prosciutto and golden homemade croutons made fine garnishes. Continue reading
This fall has seen the coincidental publication of my Sunday Casseroles and When Paris Went Dark—The City of Light During the German Occupation, my husband’s new book. As a consequence, the past two months have been a blur of travel for us. I’ve been to Maine, Boston, and Ohio for book events, and tagged along with my spouse to New York, Washington, and Connecticut for his talks and signings. This chaotic schedule has meant that I’ve had to cook smart, and make plenty of dishes in advance. Soups, it turns out, have been my salvation since they are so easy to do ahead. One of my favorites has been a comforting Italian –style “zuppa“ of tomatoes, fennel, and sausage.
This hearty soup is made by sautéing slices of sweet, fennel-scented Italian sausage along with leeks and then gently simmering the duo in chicken stock and tomatoes. Simple seasonings of basil, red pepper flakes, and garlic round out the robust flavors, while a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano provides a fitting garnish.
Almost a year ago while visiting my good friend and long-time assistant, Emily Bell, in Columbus, Ohio, I fell hard for a delicious soup she served me. On a cold November night, she sat a shallow bowl in front of me with a mound of brown rice in the middle and a beautiful rust-hued broth with chopped greens and beans ladled over it. A basket of cornbread set near by. One spoonful and I was begging for the recipe.
I couldn’t put my finger on all the flavors, so my host willingly shared the recipe. She had sautéed diced smoked sausage along with onions, carrots, and celery. Next, diced potatoes and minced garlic were added to the soup pot and finally the big flavor makers—chopped collards and kale plus black-eyed peas and field peas. Chicken broth and a can of tomatoes with their juices were the braising liquids for this mélange, which needed to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.
I can’t remember a year when the tomato crops have been better. Heirlooms in myriad varieties, red, yellow and orange cherry and grape tomatoes, as well as field tomatoes (or what I call just plain old summer tomatoes) are having a heyday in western New England this summer. They started appearing in August and are still going strong—so strong that I have been using them creatively week after week in recipes like the simple BLT Soup featured here.
After making countless BLT sandwiches, I decided to try the popular trio in a soup and loved the results. Nothing could have been easier. After frying a few bacon slices until crisp, I used a small amount of the drippings to sauté chopped onion, garlic, and fresh tomatoes, and then simmered this mélange in chicken stock and fresh orange juice. Seasonings of basil and cayenne pepper rounded out the flavors. When done, the soup was pureed to a crimson smoothness.
I’ve often told my students that I could easily become a vegetarian if I lived in India. I love the way that country’s cooks turn humble ingredients like okra, potatoes, eggplant, spinach, and much more into irresistible temptations. They season vegetables with fragrant spices, combine them with cheeses like paneer, or enrich them with cream, to ensure that they are packed with flavor.
So, I was intrigued while in Paris this January by an article that I spotted in a popular French magazine on Indian dishes made with dahl. The story included basic directions for using red lentils in soups, stews, and side dishes. I tucked the article into my suitcase, and once home, tried some of the recipes. Over the past month I’ve made the red lentil stew with winter squash and cauliflower at least a half dozen times, tweaking it at each try. Continue reading
After three blissful weeks in Paris where the thermometer rarely registered out of the 40s, we returned to blizzard conditions in New England and temperatures so cold (try minus 5 as a low and 12 as a high) that we haven’t ventured far from the warmth of our home. Although the Artic blast has prevented us from walking for exercise, it hasn’t diminished our appetites. In fact, the weather has made us ravenous, especially for comfort food.
On my first trip to the grocery, I picked up all the makings for the ultimate cold weather dish—soupe à l’oignon gratinée. This particular recipe, the pièce de résistance of a recent cooking class called Midnight in Paris, is based loosely on the first onion soup I ever made from Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume I. The main difference is that I suggest using a quickly made short-cut beef stock, or, when rushed, opting for quality purchased stock. Continue reading
Although my mother served countless vegetables at her table, she never cooked cauliflower. She would coat eggplant or okra in cornmeal, then fry it until golden and crisp, or cook turnips greens or lady peas slowly with bits of bacon for extra flavor. Never, though, did she turn to this member of the cruciferous family for inspiration. I, on the other hand, continue to marvel at the inventive ways a cook can use this assertive vegetable. I’ve sautéed the florets with leeks and mushrooms as a topping for buttered pasta, incorporated them into creamy gratins sprinkled with cheese, and featured them often in soups.
The latter is by far my favorite way to use this extra healthy vegetable that belongs to a food group that includes broccoli, kale, collard greens, and cabbage. Among my creations there has been a curried cauliflower potage, another topped with Gruyère and crushed hazelnuts, and my recent spicy cauliflower soup with crispy chorizo, which you’ll find in this post. Continue reading
About a year ago my book club decided to change its monthly meetings from Sunday afternoons to Thursday evenings. With the change came the suggestion that the usual appetizers and sweets that each host served be replaced with a soup and salad supper. I don’t know whether it was the new time or the menu, but ever since we switched to the current format, attendance has soared!
Goat Cheeses, Figs, and Rosemary Crackers
September is my month to host, and last night I welcomed everyone to my home. Since our book selection was Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz, I planned a menu that I thought would be worthy of this culinary icon.
For openers I arranged French goat cheeses on a wicker tray along with fresh figs. The soupe du jour was a hearty New England scallop and corn chowder garnished with fresh chives from my book Sunday Soup. A salad of heirloom tomatoes and arugula tossed in a sherry vinaigrette was a colorful accompaniment while individual crème brûlées topped with almond and pistachio brittle made a sweet ending.
According to the calendar, spring officially arrived several weeks ago, but you’d never know it from our weather here in New England. Yes, we had a few days where the temperature actually reached into the fifties, but mostly it’s been damp and cold, and no one is rushing to put away their winter gear.
Even though it’s still hovering in the low forties outside, I’m tired of winter cooking and ready to spring forward in my kitchen. This week, for instance, I made an ethereally smooth asparagus and leek soup, lightened it with lemon-scented crème fraîche, then added a sprinkle of snipped chives.
The soup turned out to be ideal for this transitional time of the year. Continue reading