Chilled Corn and Basil Soup

Corn is good right now. No, I’m sorry. It’s actually great. This is not the time that you want to cream it or mix it with a ton of bacon. This is the time that you want it tos hine on its own. You want to enjoy the last, few, fleeting days of warmth and sunshine. You want a cool soup that isn’t overly heavy and you want the corn to be as sweet and buttery as possible without over seasoning it.

You want this soup.

Chilled Corn and Basil Soup

Ingredients:

4 ears corn, shucked off the cob like this

1 medium russet potato, peeled and sliced thinly

1 onion, diced

1 bunch of celery hearts, diced

4 carrots, peeled and diced

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large bunch basil, washed and chopped

Tabasco to taste

1 glug balsamic vinegar (maybe 2 tsp.)

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

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1. Saute the mirepoix (onions, celery, and onions) in the olive oil until the veggies are translucent. This should take about 7 minutes.

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2. Add the corn and all of the corn milk that is with it. Now it looks a horrible frozen mixed veg medley. But, I promise…it’s going to be better than good.

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4. When the corn starts to release its buttery, fragrant scent, add the potato and the stock. Then, cover and let it cook for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.

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5. Taste and add Tabasco, salt, and pepper. Let it cook for another 10 minutes, or until the bite of the Tabasco has worn off.

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6. Add the basil and vinegar and puree with a stick blender or blender.

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7. Chill overnight (VERY IMPORTANT to let flavors decelop), then taste for seasonings and serve.

I can’t believe summer is over. I’m just not ready to say goodbye to healthy, refreshing meals like this. Not ready to say farewell to sweet summer produce. This is a sweet, a little spicy, and incredibly satisfying with a dollop of goat cheese on top or a grilled cheese sandwich alongside. The basil is a really unexpected fresh, sharp addition that doesn’t overtake the sweet corn. Next soup on the blog will probably be pumpkin something, so make this while you can.

I know I will…as I sob into my sun lamp. Aah, winter, you are coming all too soon.

Creamy Moroccan Carrot Soup

I have been on a carrot streak lately.

Roasting them with hot chile paste. Shredding them into coleslaw mix. Dipping them into blue cheese dressing, au naturel.

And making them into this decidedly un-summery soup. It’s vegetarian and extremely easy to make – in an hour or so, you have a homemade, creamy, comforting soup with zam-pow punch that will knock you off your feet.

Creamy Moroccan Carrot Soup

2011-12-18 tsimis brisket liver hummus latkesIngredients:

1 lb. peeled and roughly chopped carrots (yes, I used the baby ones…it’s easy, so kill me.)

1 tbsp. veggie oil

1 onion, 1 garlic clove, 1 bunch celery, chopped

2 tsp. grated ginger, fresh or frozen but not dried

2 tsp-1 tbsp. harissa paste (no tomato in the mix)

2 good glugs of ketchup

2 tbsp. ras el hanout

6 cups chicken stock

cream, salt, and pepper to taste

cilantro to garnish

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1. Get those onions, garlic, and celery, in the olive oil over medium heat. Saute for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are softened and start to turn translucent.

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2. Add the carrots, the chicken stock, harissa paste, ras el hanout, and ketchup. Yes, ketchup. Trust me, it’s the secret star ingredient. Stir and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the carrots are soft. Check once, halfway through, to make sure that he veggies aren’t burning to the bottom of the pan.

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3. Using an immersion blender, bend the carrots when they are mushy and falling apart. Add some cream and taste for seasonings. I always add a lot of pepper and just a touch of salt.

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4. Garnish with cilantro and serve

This soup will cure what ails you. It takes ginger carrot soup to the next level. Ras el Hanout is a North African spice mixture that includes ginger, cumin, corinader, and many other spices. It’s floral, earthy, and fragrant. It is flavorful but not at all spicy – that’s where the harissa comes in. Just use a little because it’s quite potent! And the ketchup….oh, that’s the ticket. It provides a totally unidentifiable sweet, bright backnote. It’s sweet, bright, and brings  a whole new flavor dimension to the creamy soup. Don’t skimp on the cilantro at the end – I thought it was optional, but then I added it and was like – oh. Yeah. This is very important. Mhm.

And this soup altogether is very important for making my carrot obsession seem totally legit. Mhm.

Bikini Soup

Because, let’s get honest…it’s about T minus 3 days until we all step on the scale and release a collective scream. Don’t tell me I’m the only one who has been binging on holiday chocolates, greasy lo mein, and mulled wine.

Even if I am, just don’t TELL me I am, okay?

So here is a little recipe to help you through those first few days of dieting – those days when it seems like all you will ever be able to eat is kale and boiled chicken.

This is very healthy, very filling, and very appropriate for cold weather.

Obviously, it’s also very delicious.

So, from the lost blog transfer files, I give you:

Bikini Soup

Ingredients:

4 28 oz cans of peeled tomatoes with basil

2 cloves garlic, diced

1 32 oz box low sodium beef,chicken, or vegetable stock

hot sauce, to taste

1 bunch of carrots, peeled and chopped

2 onions, diced

1 bunch of basil leaves, cleaned

1 package of celery, chopped

1 tbsp. Italian seasoning

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper, to taste

cheese, Greek yogurt, scallions (optional)

1. Toss the onions, tomatoes, garlic, and chicken broth into a large pot.

2. Crush the tomatoes with your hand or a potato masher.  You don’t have to totally pulverize them, just rough them up a little bit. The hand is more fun and it’s better than therapy.

That’s what she said.

3. When the mixture boils, add the celery, onions, seasoning, and Worcestershire sauce. Continue to boil on medium high heat for about 40 minutes. 

 The onions should start to be turning translucent, the pot should be furiously bubbling, and the carrots should still be firm.

 4. Add the basil  and hot sauce and boil for about 20 more minutes or until the carrots are soft. Add the basil here to avoid overcooking it and making it stringy and dull tasting.

5. Puree with stick blender or blender until smooth. 

5. Taste for seasonings, add garnish, and serve. 

VOILA!  You have an oil free, butter free, gluten free meal that is(shockingly!) not taste free!!!   It is sweet from the tomatoes, fragrant from the basil, has that familiar, comforting taste of  the carrot, onion, celery trinity known as mirepoix.  It tastes pure, soothing, and hearty, and does not leave you feeling guilty or weighed down.

Jazz it up with extra hot sauce, yogurt, or more basil if you like it that way. However, I prefer it with just a dash of hot sauce, a green salad, and a perfect grilled cheese sandwich.  Grilled cheese sandwiches make you look good in bikinis too.

 Trust me – it’s my blog.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Well, it’s here.

Fall, that is.

Welcome to 5 pm sunsets, the sniffles, and pale skin.

Naw, I’m just complaining.

There are some things about the fall that are quite nice. Like, for example, this insanely easy and really quick-cooking soup.

Oh yeah, and even though you will be bundling up in layers for the next 9 months, this might as well be served in the summer.

Because it’s dairy free, gluten free, potentially vegan, and generally bikini-riffic.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

squash soup and mac cupcakesIngredients:

one 3 lb. butternut squash, cut into pieces

6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 large onion, chopped

1 bunch carrots, chopped

1 bunch celery, chopped

1 clove or 2 small cloves garlic, chopped

2 serrano chiles, chopped

2 tbsp. curry powder

2 tsp. each cumin and coriander

salt and pepper to taste

1 bunch clean cilantro leaves

2 tsp. olive oil
IMG_04121. Put the oil in a large stockpot over medium high heat. When it starts to sizzle, toss in the celery, carrots, onion, garlic, and chiles. Let them cook for about 12 minutes, or until the veggies are translucent. The won’t be soft yet – that’s ok!IMG_04192. Add the curry powder, cumin,a nd coriander. Your kitchen is going to smell like a Bollywood film; i.e. magical and tantalizing.
IMG_04223. Toss in the butternut squash and…IMG_0423the chicken stock! Now, let it simmer with the cover on for about 30 minutes. By the time you take the cover off, the vegetables should all be incredibly soft – the squash should really be falling apart.
IMG_04255. Blend with an immersion blender or in a food processor. Blend it well until the entire soup is thick and smooth, then taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly.

This soup is just what the doctor ordered on a chilly fall night. It’s sweet with butternut squash and carrots and zesty with the curry powder. It’s spicy, fragrant and incredibly complex – them mixture of sweet and spicy is an oldie but a goodie.  I served it with a chicken meatball cooked in coconut milk, but it’s just as good plain. It’s so thick and creamy that you will never believe that it isn’t loaded with fat and cream.

Although, let’s be honest, there will be more fat and cream to come.

Because that’s one of the GOOD things about the weather getting colder.

Naomi Pomeroy’s Asparagus Veloute with Chive Oil

This is the story of how I found out I am doing everything wrong when I make soup.

Earlier this year, I had the incredible opportunity to attend a class at the New York Culinary Experience. Put on by the International Culinary Center in NYC, it is a weekend intensive full of intimate classes with celebrity chefs like  Masaharu Morimoto, Jacques Torres, and Daniel Bouley. The event is chock full of classes, luxurious meals, and a goodie bag that is worth its weight in platinum.  Next year, I am seriously considering taking the whole (expensive, but  amazing) session.

But I digress.

I was privileged enough to attend the Rites of Spring class led by Naomi Pomeroy, of Top Chef and Beast fame. This chef is so gregarious, so down to earth, so passionate and educated and humble and sweet…well, she is my new girl crush.

Hell, she is my new crush, PERIOD. The perfect mix of charm and candicy, of business and whimsy…I can see why she is so successful – she is driven but not grating and genuinely loves to cook and talk about food.

And she really knows how to cook.

This is her recipe. It is – to put it simply – phenomenal. Don’t skimp on any steps or leave out any ingredients. This takes a while but it is so worth your time. The steps are labor intensive (and without pictures because many components were prepared ahead of time for students –  so sorry!!) and meticulous, but they result in an absolutely perfect dish.

Asparagus Veloute with Chive Oil

For Soup Base:

2 cups finely diced onions

2 cups cleaned, sliced leeks

3 cloves garlic, diced

5 oz butter

1 3/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1 cup water.

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 tbsp. creme fraiche

1. In a large stockpot, add the butter, onions, leeks, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-low heat until the veggies become translucent but not at ALL browned(maybe 15 minutes).

2. Add the garlic and water, then cook for another 20 minutes or until all the veggies are totally soft.

3. Puree in blender (or Vita Mix, by which Pomeroy swears) with the water, creme fraiche, and cream.

4. Set aside.

For Chive Oil:

6 bunches chives

1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil

1/2 tsp. vitamin c powder

1 tsp. salt

Large bowl of ice water

1. Drop the chives into boiling water, to which the salt and vitamin c powder has been added.

2. After 1 minute (in which time the chives have been blanched), remove them and “shock” them in the ice water to stop the cooking process and preserve the vibrant color.

3. Dry them thoroughly.

4. Place the chives and oil in a blender , going slowly at first then faster as the ingredients meld into one.

5. Once the ingredients are mixed, blend it for 2 minutes straight. Then, strain through a chinois or cheesecloth. Let it fall naturally without pressing it – it may take up to 2 hours.

6. Store in a squeeze bottle.

For Asparagus Spinach Puree:

2 cups washed fresh spinach

large bowl of ice water

2 tsp. vitamin c powder

Salt to taste

2 cups fresh asparagus, finely chopped

1. Boil some water and put enough salt in it to make it taste “like the ocean – salty” (directions straight from Pomeroy).

2. Add half of the vitamin c powder to the water, and put the spinach in it for about 30 seconds, just until it wilts.

3. Put the rest of the vitamin c powder in the ice water and move the spinach there to shock it. (save the boiling water and the ice water for the asparagus)

4. After it is cool enough to handle, dry the spinach well.

5. Add the asparagus until it is tender but not floppy – 3 minutes or so. Do NOT overcook or you will lose the color.

6. Shock it in the ice bath and then dry it.

7. Puree the asparagus and spinach in a blender.

For Soup 

Soup Base

Asparagus Spinach Puree

1 tbsp. creme fraiche

Salt and pepper, to taste

Chive Oil

Soup Base

 To pull the soup together:

1. Heat up the base slowly. Taste it to see if it needs salt or pepper.

2. When it is TOTALLY HOT, add the asparagus/spinach puree OFF THE HEAT. This preserves the vibrant green color.

3. Use an immersion blender to really froth everything up and make sure that it is perfectly blended.

4. Put in a bowl with…

creme fraiche

chive oil, and a bit of salt.

5. Serve.

This is absolutely a rite of spring. So fresh and grassy, with a hearty but not heavy or greasy taste. I have never made a soup like this. I have never slowly sauteed so many onions so they sweat and become sweet without caramelizing. I have never separately blanched spinach to preserve the beautiful green color of asparagus. I have never painstakingly let oil drip through a cheesecloth to add a sharp bite of chives to each spoonful of soup. I have never specially sought out creme fraiche for its smooth, silky texture. I have never used an immersion blender to froth a soup or vitamin c powder to keep some color or really salt each component. I have just been half  assing my soup.

But I won’t anymore, and neither will you. Because once you taste this soup, you can’t go back to  30 minute soup that you used to eat.

 

Bodega Potato Soup

I’m a lazy, lazy person.

I have admitted it here before, and I’m about to admit it again.

Though it might seem like I cook all the time, I really don’t. I love to go out to eat, and sometimes, I even love to go to the local corner deli and get a quick turkey sandwich and a bag of chips eat while watching the premiere of some horribly embarrassing tv show.

Don’t worry, I haven’t sunk so far as to start watching Buckwild.

One of the best items at any NYC corner deli is a stuffed baked potato. These are always huge and tasty, chock full of tender broccoli, salty bacon, and always loads of cheese. They usually warm it in the pizza oven, so the skin gets uber crispy while the insides stay creamy. And did I mention these are huge?

That’s where this recipe came from…a leftover over-stuffed twice baked potato. You can use, in its place, mashed potatoes, a frozen twice baked potato, or any cooked potato at all.

The only requirement is that you stay in your pajamas the entire time that you cook it.

It’s that kind of lazy recipe.

Bodega Potato Soup

Ingredients:

1 leftover stuffed baked potato/1 cooked twice baked potato/1 cup mashed potatoes

1 cup frozen cauliflower, microwaved until soft

2 tsp. butter

1/2 onion, diced

1/2 cup shredded cheese

assorted seasonings (cayenne pepper, cumin, bbq seasoning, etc…)

1/2 to 2/3 cup of milk (or to taste)

1. Melt the butter in a stockpot over high heat, and throw in the onion to get translucent. Sautee for about 10 minutes.

2. Add the milk and seasonings. Cayenne pepper is especially useful here, but adding things like curry, herbs de Provence, or dried thyme take the soup in any direction you like.

3. In a few minutes, the milk should be bubbling and starting to scald. Now…

4. Add the potato…

and the cauliflower. That should stop the milk from bubbling up so furiously. If it still bubbles like crazy, reduce the heat a bit.

5. Now stir in the cheese, and let the soup cook for about 5 minutes.

6. When everything is heated through and the taste is to your liking, puree in blender until smooth. You may need a bit more milk, since the soup will thicken up quite a bit (but not too much…the thickness is part of the whole deal!).

7. Top with a blanket of shredded cheese and serve.

I told you this was really easy. You don’t often think to use up leftovers – at least, I don’t – and this really uses a leftover potato to great effect. The soup is thick, creamy, and very flavorful. Whatever is mixed into the potato just enhances the soup with bits of broccoli or small shards of crunchy bacon. Don’t forget the seasonings – this is such a rich and milky soup that it needs a lot of flavor so it isn’t bland.

When done right, this should be a thick and cheesy bowl of comfort.

To be enjoyed while watching Buckwild.

Come on, you already knew I watched it.

Also:

 the winner of the cheese giveaway is :

True Random Number Generator

21Powered by RANDOM.ORG

 Sarah M. Shaker! Congratulations Sarah, I will contact you shortly to get you your prize!

Lasagna Soup

GAWD I love lasagna.

The meat. The cheese. The noodles. That steaming-hot-melting-beefy-saucy quality that just feels like a hug from your nonna.

What I don’t love is how long it takes to make.

That’s why I love this soup. It has everything that lasagna has in a slightly different form. It’s so easy to make, so warming on a cold night, and not NEARLY as heavy. It’s basically a  chicken soup flavored with Italian ingredients.

Why don’t I just show you how to make it?

Lasagna Soup (adapted from here)

Ingredients:

4 cups chicken stock

1 lb. lean ground beef

1 28 oz. can peeled tomatoes

2 tbsp. italian seasoning

2 cloves garlic, diced

1 onion, diced

2 tsp. vegetable oil

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup breadcrumbs

1 tsp. sriracha

1 box noodles (any will do, but I like orzo or ditalini), cooked

salt and pepper to taste

Ricotta cheese to plate, room temperature

buffalo mozzarella to plate, room temperature

pecorino to plate

1. Sautee the onion, garlic, and Italian seasoning with the veggie oil in a large stockpot over medium heat for about 12 minutes, or until the veggies have turned translucent, but not browned or burned. In the meantime…

2. Combine the meat, mayo, and breadcrumbs in a bowl. Mix until combined but don’t overmix.

The reason that I don’t add seasonings or cheese here is because of the seasoned breadcrumbs. Those babies have a TON of salt, and I don’t want the soup to be over seasoned.

3. When the onions are browned, add the stock and entire contents of the peeled tomato can to the pot and bring it to a rolling boil.

4. Then, drop the meatballs in to let them cook. I like small balls, some people like large ones.

That’s what she said. 

Let the soup simmer, covered, until the meatballs are cooked through – about 15 minutes or so. Be sure to check them careful  because these are soft meatballs that easily fall apart. That’s why you don’t want to bring the soup to a full rolling boil while cooking them.

5. Add the  Sriracha. Trust me, the vinegayr taste disappears in the heat and you are left with a slight burn that works so well with Italian flavors – it’s one of my favorite new tricks! Let cook for a few minutes more and then taste for seasonings feel free to add salt or pepper if you need it.

6. You may need to skim some fat off of the top now. If you don’t have a fat separator (which I HIGHLY recommend buying) do it by ladling the very top layer of the soup into a glass and letting the fat come to the top, then spooning or pouring off the fat. Don’t skip this step, you don’t want a mouthful of grease.

 Finally, it’s time to plate! If your noodles aren’t freshly cooked, microwave them until they are quite warm, then…

7. Put some ricotta and mozzarella in the bottom of the soup bowl. How much is up to you – I always say the more the better.

8. Put the hot noodles on top…

then ladle some soup on top of that.

9. Top with the pecorino cheese and serve.

This isn’t the same as a brick of hearty lasagna, but in some ways, it’s even better. It’s lighter. It’s just as cheesy. The meat is softer and squishier, which I happen to love. And the flavor is spot on. The Sriracha adds a bit of heat and the herbed breadcrumbs carry the salt and aroma of Italian flavors all the way through the soup. The pasta adds the necessary starch, and though you could add tomato paste to thicken the soup, the contrast of the light broth with the juicy tomatoes and hearty meatballs is very satisfying. Be sure to let the soup sit for about 5 minutes before you serve it – that lets the ricotta and mozzarella warm, making the soup creamy and melty, stretching telephone wires of cheese from bowl to mouth. The pecorino is the final sharp touch to what might be the perfect bowl of soup.

I’m not giving up lasagna any time soon. But I might just be adding more soup into my repertoire.

Chicken and White Bean Southwestern Chili

Remember Beyond Bread? Well,they didn’t just serve sandwiches. They served the most delicious homemade soups that I had ever tasted in a casual restaurant. Creamy tomato soup, steaming with ribbons of fragrant basil. Baked potato soup loaded with sharp cheddar cheese and peppery hunks of soft potatoes. And green chile and corn chowder, teeming with piquant green chiles and tender shredded chicken.

This is my ode to that. It isn’t a chowder, but it takes the main elements of the dish – minus the corn(because summer corn was so sweet that I can’t bear to use canned corn yet) – and reworks them into a spicy, hearty chili. Don’t go easy on the seasonings here - you really want a riot of flavor in your mouth.

That’s what she said.

Chicken and White Bean Chile

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground chicken

1 can white beans, drained

1 cup chicken broth

1 4.5 oz. can diced green chiles

2 jalapenos, chopped

2 cloves garlic, diced

1/2 onion, diced

1 tbsp. each coriander and oregano

2 tbsp. cumin

1/2 tbsp. salt

pepper to taste

1 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup cleaned and chopped cilantro

garnishes (cheese, sour cream, scallions, etc)

1. Heat the butter in a high sided pan over medium high heat until it starts to melt.

2. Add the onion, garlic, and all spices.

When you combine them all, the onions should immediately start to small fragrant and spicy.

3. After about 10 minutes, when the onions are starting to become translucent, add the chicken.

 

Really mash it around in there, then let it cook for about 10 minutes, or till it is totally brown and the onions have turned soft.

4. Now, add the jalapenos,

the canned beans and chiles,

and the chicken broth.

5. Now, turn the heat on high and let the whole mixture boil away for about 20 minutes, or until the liquid has really reduced to almost nothing. Go back and stir every 5 minutes to make sure that the chicken does not burn on the bottom of the pan. If it looks like the sauce is not reducing, just let it keep boiling.

Eventually, the liquid will be almost totally gone, leaving the dish looking more like chili than soup.

6. Right before serving, throw in the cilantro.

7. Give it a stir…

assemble your fixins, and…

7. Serve.

This chili is better than the original dish that inspired it.  It is more robust, brighter, zestier. The chicken is juicy, the beans are creamy, and the chips jalapenos with the smoky canned chiles make for a great textural contrast. It is spicy, smoky, acidic, sour, and hearty. It is ideal with sour cream and cheddar cheese, and because it isn’t too heavy or salty, it lends itself well to second or third helpings.

Beyond Bread still has the best sandwiches on earth. But their soups might now have to be satisfied with second place.

 

Cassoulet

One of the best things about visiting France for the first time is realizing how wrong you are about so many things. They don’t hate Americans. They don’t all wear Chanel. And the don’t all smell like rotting brie cheese.

Well, some of them do, but 11 year old boys don’t like to shower in this country, either.

One of my favorite things about visiting France was realizing that not everyone eats tiny crudites, expensive champagne, and tasting menus every night. There is a whole world of rustic, hearty, rather inexpensive French food. Food that you eat with family, drinking table wine, laughing and dipping spoons into each others bowls until you rise from the table, bellies ready to burst and eyes ready to take a wonderful fat-and-carb induced slumber.

Cassoulet is such a dish. This rustic pork, duck, and bean stew is everything I don’t associate with Paris – heavy, overt in taste, somewhat clumsy in serving. And yet I love it.

Don’t leave anything out, especially duck. That is the only really expensive part  this dish, but it serves such a large amount of people that it is totally worth it. Use a wine that you love to drink, so you can drink it with the meal. I used a Tarquiet Chenin-Chardonnay. This wine has the dry, crisp notes of chenin blanc blended with some buttery, yeasty flavors of chardonnay. It really stands up well to the pork without overshadowing the other flavors.

Cassoulet (adapted from Saveur)

Ingredients:

60 oz. cannellini beans

2 onions, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

10 tbsp.  olive oil

5 cloves garlic, smashed

1 lb. pork shoulder

1⁄2 lb. pancetta, cubed

1 bunch thyme, tied with twine or thread

4 tbsp. dried oregano

2 bay leaves

3 cloves, tied in a cheesecloth, or 2 tsp. ground cloves

1 28 oz. can whole peeled or crushed canned tomatoes

1.5 cups white wine

4 cups chicken broth

4 confit duck legs

1 lb. ground pork

2 cups panko bread crumbs

4 tbsp. melted butter

3 tbsp. each salt and pepper, plus extra to taste

1. Put the ground pork, the pancetta, the onions, the garlic, and the carrots into a large dutch oven with the olive oil. Let it sautee and steam until the pork is totally cooked through, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 325F.

2. Strip the confited meat off of the bones, and take the skin off. The skin should come off easily. Save it and set it aside.

3. Add the meat to the dutch oven,and, meanwhile…

4. Cube the pork into 1 inch pieces or thereabouts (removing excess fat and saving for future use),

and then add it to the dutch oven.

5. Add the beans, stock, wine, and tomatoes…

then the spices and herbs. Bring it to a rolling boil over high heat.

6. Set it to cook in the oven, covered. Do not disturb for 3 hours.

7. In the meantime, put the reserved confit skin in a skilled over medium low heat. Let it cook for about 40 minutes, or…

until you have this. Crisped duck skin, a pool of gorgeous duck fat, and an incredible smell wafting through your kitchen.

8. Chop up the skin…

and mix the skin and butter with your panko bread crumbs.

9. By now your stew should be pretty much cooked. Taste it. Does it need more salt, more spice from the cloves? Does it need more acidity from wine? Adjust it as you see fit, and have a bite of the pork to make sure that it is extremely tender. It should be so delicious that you literally start drooling immediately. If you do…

Add the breadcrumbs to the top…

and bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is browned and fragrant.

10. When the juices start to bubble through the top of the breadcrumbs, the cassoulet is done.

11. Serve, mes petits, serve.

There is nothing cool or reserved about this dish. It is entirely out loud and unapologetic. Porky and sweet and tart and rich and savory. Creamy beans, tender pork, crisped bits of pancetta. Juicy tomatoes, the gentle spice of cloves, and the crispy, butter breadcrumbs.

Serve this with the leftover wine, or any other spirit that suits your fancy.  Eat it with a a light salad and top off the meal with some buttery shortbread cookies and coffee.

Or, just plan to finish off the cassoulet instead of dessert.

Eating like Paul Bunyon – betcha didn’t know France had it in her.

*The wine was provided to me as a sample. I was not required to use or write about it, and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Pasta e Fagioli

One of my favorite childhood memories is of being sick. Not really sick, mind you – not sick enough to vomit or have a headache. Just sick enough to lay in my parents’ bed all day and watch reruns of I Dream of Jeannie while everyone at school was working on long division.

My favorite thing to eat on those days was Progresso’s Pasta e Fagioli soup. I remember carefully bringing the steaming broth to my mouth, inhaling the sweet tomatoes and delightfully squishy pasta. I always shook the green can of Parmesan cheese into the bowl so that a thin layer of white covered the top, adding a salty (and-now that I know what real Parmesan cheese tastes like-somewhat dusty) taste to the soup.

This is a dramatic upgrade on that classic. It takes only about 45 minutes to make, but the addition of pancetta, mushrooms, and a heavy hit of cayenne pepper create a complex, multilayered soup that is a real showstopper. It is thicker heartier than the original, so increase the stock if you want a thinner soup. Also, be sure to use a very large stockpot, since the pasta in the soup swells and increases in volume.

Pasta e Fagioli

Ingredients:

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

4 cups chicken stock

4 oz. pancetta, diced

1 onion, diced

1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, diced

1 tbsp. dried oregano

cayenne pepper to taste (I use about 2 tsp.)

2 cups ditalini or tubetti pasta

1 can cannellini beans

1 cup mushrooms, cleaned and sliced or quartered

1/3 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

1 large handful basil, chiffonaded

1. Sautee the pancetta in a large stockpot over medium high heat, until it is translucent and has rendered some of its fat.

2. Add the onions, garlic, oregano, cayenne, and mushrooms. Let sautee for about 20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft, the pancetta is entirely crispy, and the onions are fragrant.

The mushrooms will release a lot of juice in the first 10 minutes, and most of it should evaporate by the time you are done with this step.

3. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then add the ditalini. This pasta should take about 10 minutes to cook. As it cooks, it releases starches and the soup will thicken dramatically.

4. Add the beans and cheese, and stir to heat through

5. Taste for seasonings, top with basil, and serve.

This soup is even better than my childhood favorite. The tomatoes have a sweet, concentrated flavor and the beans add a creamy component. The pancetta is salty, the mushrooms are meaty and savory, and the oregano adds an earthy, grounded note. The pasta should be cooked until it is al dente, not falling apart, and the trick of seasoning with cheese instead of salt means that the soup is not overwhelmed by sodium. The cheese melts and becomes crispy in some places, stringy in others. The cayenne adds a heat that is reminiscent of fra diavolo, and the basil is a fresh crowning touch. The soup is even better the second day and may need some water or stock added when it is reheated.

Still best enjoyed while watching I Dream of Jeannie reruns.