Saturday, September 24, 2011

Family Feast September 2011

September 17, 2011

Italian soft cheese, tomatoes, pistachios, olives


Confit Byaldi
Wilde Mushroom Risotto

Melon with Key Lime Gelatto

Cream of Cauliflower Soup

I have not intended this blog become a soup blog, but it seems to have done that lately.  Ah, well.  I love soup.  Often I will declare a week to be soup week, just so I can cook pots upon pots of soup and then tuck in with a good book, a good blanket, and a good spoon.  Given that it's fall now (happy late equinox), it's time to bring the comfort back to cooking.  The level of comfort that soup can bring is cliche, yes, but clear.

This little soup has the lovely taste of tarragon, an herb I do not use nearly enough, but every time that I do, I am delighted by its light and oh-so-French flavor.  Beyond flavor though, tarragon has a wonderful etymology.  Tarragon is also called dragon's wort.  What delight.  In fact, the name English Tarragon itself comes as a corruption of the French name for the herb Esdragon, which itself comes its Latin name Artemisia dracunculus.  This herb, like other Dragon herbs, got its name from its ability to reduce the swelling and pain in bites and stings--maybe not the bite or sting of a dragon, but close enough.  French tarragon (there is also a Russian tarragon that is not quite as tart) grows to about two feet tall and has long, narrow leaves (the edible part of the herb).  The roots also used to be used in curing toothaches.  And to boot, tarragon is closely related to wormwood, of Hamlet and Harry Potter fame.

Beyond the tarragon in this soup, you must also embrace the cauliflower.  I have always been a fan of this cousin of cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, and broccoli.  In fact, I remember being even only five or six and loving the slightly bitter, cruciferous vegetable.  Granted in my youth, my mother over boiled them and slathered them in cheese sauce (as any good Midwesterner will do), but I admit, if that's the gateway preparation to get kids to eat cauliflower, I say embrace it.  This recipe, however, does not require either over boiling or a suspect cheese sauce.  Instead, a simple parboiling and then pureeing with a potato and some cream (or milk if you prefer), and you have a lovely cream soup that will sustain you into the autumn.

P.S.  I have lost my camera.  All of my photos are iphone photos now.  I must remedy this soon.

One Year Ago: Masala Dosa

Cream of Cauliflower Soup
Adapted from  The Best Soups in the World

4-6 Servings

4 cups chicken broth
1 cauliflower, about 2 pounds, trimmed and broken into florets
1 small boiling potato, about 5 ounces, peeled and diced
2 tarragon sprigs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper (white is preferable)
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon

1.  In a large pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil over medium-high heat, then add the cauliflower and potato with the two sprigs of tarragon, cover, and cook until very tender, about 15 minutes.

2.  Transfer the vegetables to the blender, and blend until smooth.  Return the puree to the pot, add the cream and stir.  Add the curry powder, nutmeg, lemon juice, salt and pepper and heat over medium heat until hot.  Serve sprinkled with the chives and tarragon for garnish.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Oh, Andalusia.  How I would very much like to visit you.  You boast medieval Islamic palaces and sun-soaked beaches, bull fights and flamenco guitar, donkey sanctuaries and operas based off of your Sevillian barbers.

Birthplace of Pablo Picasso, homeland of Federico García Lorca, you have given the world great art.  Originator of jamón serrano and jamón ibérico, Andalusia, you know how to feed your people.  And most importantly, perhaps, you have given the world gazpacho.

That "liquid salad" that is perfect for a hot summer day, perfect for using up all of the bounty of the garden or the CSA box, gazpacho is light, filled with potassium, and depending on your levels of hot sauce, breaks a sweat on the brow.  Perfect for cooling off in a breeze.

Andalusia, you prompt us to pull out the perfectly ripe tomatoes, or even those that are just on their way to turning.  You encourage a liberal hand with the cucumber.  You say an unabashed yes to the raw onion and raw garlic, and you ask us to do the same.  You suggest some acidic additive--be it vinegar or lemon juice--and you propose that tomatoes are not complete unless paired with jalapenos or hot sauce.

So in honor of you, Andalusia, some Lorca and a recipe for gazpacho (from our French culinary hero, Jacques Pepin).  May all young girls with pretty faces, particularly my pre-teen niece whose birthday is just around the corner, spend their time picking olives with the gray arm of the wind wrapped around their waists: far more gratifying in the long run, perhaps, than running off with the Cordoban and Sevillian and Grenadan boys.

Arbolé, arbolé,
           by  Federico García Lorca, translated by William Logan
Tree, tree
dry and green.

The girl with the pretty face 
is out picking olives. 
The wind, playboy of towers, 
grabs her around the waist. 
Four riders passed by
on Andalusian ponies, 
with blue and green jackets 
and big, dark capes. 
"Come to Cordoba, muchacha." 
The girl won't listen to them. 
Three young bullfighters passed, 
slender in the waist, 
with jackets the color of oranges 
and swords of ancient silver. 
"Come to Sevilla, muchacha." 
The girl won't listen to them. 
When the afternoon had turned
dark brown, with scattered light, 
a young man passed by, wearing 
roses and myrtle of the moon. 
"Come to Granada, muchacha." 
And the girl won't listen to him. 
The girl with the pretty face
keeps on picking olives 
with the grey arm of the wind 
wrapped around her waist.
Tree, tree
dry and green.

Arbolé, arbolé,
seco y verdí.

La niña del bello rostro 
está cogiendo aceituna. 
El viento, galán de torres, 
la prende por la cintura. 
Pasaron cuatro jinetes 
sobre jacas andaluzas,
con trajes de azul y verde, 
con largas capas oscuras. 
"Vente a Córdoba, muchacha." 
La niña no los escucha.
Pasaron tres torerillos
delgaditos de cintura, 
con trajes color naranja 
y espadas de plata antigua. 
"Vente a Córdoba, muchacha." 
La niña no los escucha. 
Cuando la tarde se puso
morada, con lux difusa, 
pasó un joven que llevaba 
rosas y mirtos de luna. 
"Vente a Granada, muchacha." 
Y la niña no lo escucha.
La niña del bello rostro 
sigue cogiendo aceituna, 
con el brazo gris del viento 
ceñido por la cintura. 
Arbolé, arbolé.
Seco y verdé.


4-6 Servings

2 large cucumbers, peeled and seeded
3 medium tomatoes
1 medium red onion
1 medium green pepper, seeded
2 slices bread, preferably day old or a little stale, torn into 1 inch pieces
3 cloves garlic
1/2 small jalapeno pepper, seeded (if desired)
1 small piece fresh ginger, about 1/2 inch, peeled
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup cold water
1 1/2 cups unsalted tomato juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt

1.  Cut enough of the cucumbers and tomatoes into 1/2 inch dice to have about 2/3 cup of each.  Cut enough onion and green pepper into a 1/4 inch dice to have 1/3 cup of each.  Set aside as garnishes.

2.  Place the remainder of the cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, and green pepper in the bowl of a food processor or blender along with the bread, garlic, jalapeno pepper, ginger, black pepper, and water.  Blend until smooth, then add the tomato juice, vinegar, oil, hot sauce, and salt.  Blend again, just until the mixture is smooth.

3.  Refrigerate until time to serve.  To serve, ladle into bowl and sprinkle some of the reserved garnishes on top.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Mussel Soup with Cranberry Beans, Celery, and Basil

To many the mussel doesn't seem adventurous.  However, to this Midwest-raised woman, any seafood beyond the bluegill and the catfish was adventurous.  My father, however, taught me how to expand my culinary horizons.

My parents divorced when I was still young, only seven or eight years old.  While such an event is often traumatic for children, it was a bonanza for me.  It meant three hours in the car with my father as a captive audience every other week.  It meant a stepsister, who taught me how to shuffle cards so they made a satisfying fluttering sound.  It meant trips to the top of the Sears Tower where I felt small and insignificant and wobbly and but also a little sick to my stomach from vertigo.  And sometimes, during those weekends, it meant a trip to a family-owned pizza joint, name of which escapes me, near the Fox River that served your standard fare of pizza, but also offered octopus and squid as topping options.  My brother, sister, stepmother, and stepsister all turned their noses up, but my father and I would order a pizza laden with little rounds of octopus and squid tentacles, and I would relish being the only other person who liked the chewy texture of cephalopods.  He taught me to order with some abandon from a menu, even if you're in a landlocked state.

Mussels, of course, are not cephalopods, but they are from the same class Mollusca.  And boy, can they be tasty.  Europeans are more enamoured of our bivalve friends than Americans are.  But I say, let's bring more of these blue-shelled friends into our diet. When you buy mussels, choose those that have tightly closed shells and are not broken.  Also avoid the mussels that are heavy, which means they're full of sand, or that are loose when shaken, which means that mussel is long dead.  Smaller mussels are more tender than their larger counterparts, and all mussels should be used within a day (or two on the outside) of their purchase. 

Cranberry beans are these beautiful beans with large, knobby beige pods splotched with red.  The beans themselves are cream with red streaks and have a nutty flavor.  During one summer in Italy, we saw that farmers market boats sold them along the canals of Venice.  Should you be lucky enough to find them at your farmers market, snap them up.  Or better yet, grow your own if you can.  With fresh beans, you can skip all the hassles of reconstituting them, but with dried beans you guarantee that you can make this little soup all year long.

Photo of the Rialto vegetable offerings from one of my mothers-in-law.  Seriously, worth the 4.50 euros per pound.

For many of you, the mussel is not an adventure.  The cranberry bean is abundant and already a staple in your diet.  But for this Midwesterner, this soup feels decadent, delightful.  It feels like Europe (cranberry beans) and the West Coast (abundant seafood) and Illinois (adventurous eating with my father) all rolled into one.  It is a surprisingly good, hearty and not at all fishy soup. Perfect as we finish off summer and enter into fall.

One Year Ago: Crusty Baked Tamal

Mussel Soup with Cranberry Beans, Celery, and Basil
Adapted from  Marcella Cucina

4-6 Servings

2/3 cup dried cranberry beans
3 pounds mussels
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 up canned Italian plum tomatoes with their juice
chopped fresh or dried chile pepper or to taste
1 loosely packed cup chopped celery leaves or celery
Salt and pepper
12 large basil leaves, cut into very narrow strips

1.  Reconstitute the cranberry beans by covering them with lukewarm water and soaking them overnight or no less than 6 hours before cooking them.  Drain.  Put the beans in a saucepan with enough water to cover by at least 2 inches.  Cover the pot and simmer over medium low heat until the beans are tender, about 50-60 minutes.

2.  Soak the mussels in several changes of cold water, scrubbing them vigorously each time with a stiff brush.  Cut off any protruding whiskery tuft.  Discard any mussels that do not clamp shut.  Put the mussels in a large saute pan in a single layer (if all of the mussels do not fit, steam them in batches).  Cover the pan and turn to high heat.  As soon as the shells open, transfer them to a bowl and set aside, pouring over them any liquid they may have shed.  Discard any mussels that do not open.

3.  When the mussels are cool enough to handle, detach the meat, discarding the shells.  Work over a bowl so as to catch any liquid from the mussels.  When you have shelled them all, put the mussel meat in a separate bowl and pour any retained liquid over the meat, being very careful not to pour with it any sand that has collected at the bottom of the bowl.

4.   In a large saucepan (large enough to contain all of the beans and mussels later), put in the olive oil and chopped onion.  Without covering the pot, cook the onion over high heat, stirring from time to time, until it becomes colored a deep gold.  Add the garlic, taking care not to let its color become darker than pale gold.

5.  Add tomatoes with their juice and cook over high heat for 10 minutes.  Add the chile pepper and the chopped celery leaves and/or celery and cook for 2-3 more minutes.  Add the mussel meat and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Strain the mussel liquid one last time and add it to the mixture.

6.  Drain the cooked beans, but save their liquid, and add them to the pot.  Turn them over with the other ingredients for 2-3 minutes. 

7.  Add enough of the beans' cooking liquid to achieve a soupy, but not too runny, consistency.  Stir well, turn the heat down to low, taste and correct for salt, add liberal grindings of pepper, and simmer gently for 10 minutes.  Just before serving, stir in the shredded basil.