I have ditched canned soups for good.
First off, I love making soup from scratch. There is something warm and comforting about having a big pot simmering on the stove, or knowing there some in the fridge that just needs to be heated and you’ve got instant comfort. I don’t think the can is an equal match – it is a poor substitute for something that can be so easily made fresh. Sure, opening a can is quick, but making this soup is as quick and easy as it gets. Maybe a few minutes more works, but the pay-off is light years ahead. No unpronounceable ingredients, not metallic aftertaste, no unnecessary added sodium. The slow-cooker and some ready prepared ingredients make it a snap to have fresh, flavorful soup with ingredients you chose, seasoned the way you like.
Tomato soup is my all-time favorite, perfect with a grilled cheese or crusty bread. If I am industrious, in the summer when tomatoes are fresh, I make lots of tomato soup base for the freezer. This is my winter version of that. Minutes to make and hugely adaptable. You can whip this up before you go to bed and have soup ready for the thermos or the fridge when you wake up. You can make it before you go to work while you are getting breakfast ready and dressed for the day, then have a warm bowl of soup waiting when you get home. I’ve listed some ideas on how to change up this recipe, but use your imagination to make the perfect soup for your family.
Simple Slow Cooker Tomato Soup
Make sure your vegetables and tomatoes have no added ingredients
¼ cup ( ½ stick) unsalted butter
1 (12-ounce) package frozen carrots, celery and onions (“mirepoix blend”), thawed and drained
2 teaspoons minced garlic (freshly minced or from a jar)
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 (32-ounce) box low-sodium chicken broth
5 sprigs fresh thyme
5 sprigs fresh oregano
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup heavy cream (optional)
Cut the butter into small pieces and place in the crock of a 7-quart slow cooker. Partially cover and leave for a few minutes to melt. Add the vegetables and garlic, stir to coat with the butter, cover the slow cooker and leave to soften, about 20 minutes.
Pour the tomatoes and broth into the slow cooker and stir to combine. Tie the sprigs of thyme and oregano together with kitchen twine to make a neat little bundle. It is okay if leaves come off, but you don’t want stems in your soup. Tuck the herb bundle into the soup, cover the slow cooker and cook for 5 – 6 hours on high, or 7 – 8 hours on low.
When ready to serve, fish out the herb bundle and discard. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup until smooth (you can also do it carefully in batches in a blender). Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you want a creamier soup, stir in the heavy cream and leave to warm through.
Serves 6 – 8
Add 1 Tablespoon curry powder to the vegetables, omit the herbs, and stir in ½ cup coconut milk instead of heavy cream
Add a small can of chopped green chiles to the vegetables, omit the herbs.
Stir in a can of rinsed and drained cannellini beans 20 minutes before the end of cooking time and warm through
Stir in some cooked pasta or rice at the end of cooking until warmed through
30 minutes before the cooking time ends, stir in some finely chopped spinach and cook until wilted and warmed through.
Add 2 Tablespoons vodka and replace the thyme and oregano with dill.
January 25 is Burns Night, which celebrates the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns. Suppers are held across Scotland and by many Scottish societies and clubs around the world. I was challenged by a friend some years ago to host a Burns Night supper and so I did. I put plaid fabric down the table as a runner and had florist make up arrangements of thistle and heather. I tied place cards to miniature bottles of Scotch with plaid ribbon and wore my Scottish family motto kilt pin and pendant (I outgrow the hereditary kilt as a child). I printed out the Burns blessing and forced the challenging friend to read it aloud. I may have even had a recording of bagpipes.
The only difficulty was coming up with a menu, as about the only ting I knew of as Scottish food was haggis, and I wasn’t going there. I made a Scottish dessert of oats and cream and raspberries called Cranachan, and beef tenderloin doused in Drambuie and Neeps and Tatties (turnips and potatoes). But the real culinary discovery was Cock-a-Leekie Soup. I can’t remember where I dug up the original recipe, but I have since made it my own, because it is so simple and warming. It is a unique twist on chicken noodle, full of gentle leek flavor and homey barley. So now, Burns Night or nay, I make Cock-a-Leekie for pure comfort. And I recommend you do to, because a big, steaming bowl will warm you inside and out. I may be crossing too many cultural lines here, but it is very good with a hunk of buttered Simple Soda Bread.
For the Broth:
1 whole chicken, giblets removed
1 celery stalk
1 small white onion
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
1 Tablespoons salt
For the Soup:
2 Tablespoons butter
½ cup pearled barley
Place all the broth ingredients into a large Dutch oven or stock pot and cover with 10 – 12 cups of water. Bring to a boil and skim off any scummy foam that rises. Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 4 hours. Taste the stock; it should be nice and rich. Simmer a bit longer if you’d prefer.
Strain the stock into a big bowl through a colander lined with damp cheesecloth or a tea towel. Pull out all the chicken meat and discard the skin, bones, fat and vegetables. Leave the broth to cool and settle, then skim off as much fat as possible. I generally make the stock a day before and leave it in the fridge overnight. It is then easy to remove the fat from the top of the stock. Refrigerate the meat also if you are leaving the soup overnight.
When ready to cook, place the barley in a bowl and cover with 1 cup of water. Leave to soak for at least an hour or until much of the water is absorbed. Quarter the leeks then cut into thin slivers. Place in a colander and rinse very well. Shred and chop about 2 cups of chicken meat. Remember, you’ll be eating this with a spoon so you want spoon-sized pieces.
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven and add the leeks. Cook the leeks over medium heat until they are soft and wilted, then add 8 cups of chicken stock. Add the soaked barley and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, then add the chopped chicken meat. Lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes until the barley is tender and toothsome.
Season with salt and serve nice and warm. You’ll have some extra broth and some extra chicken. Lucky you!
The Burns Blessing
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.
French bistro – that’s what this soup says to me. I have no idea if this is anyway something you would find on an authentic bistro menu, but the combination of classic vegetables and Calvados brandy just seems to me like something that would be served in a simple bistro, in a big bowl, with a sliced baguette on the table. Because I find this soup has that elusive French quality of being simple, but complex. Like Parisian ladies who wear simple trousers, a cashmere sweater and a jauntily tied scarf and look impeccably put together. Simple elements, but it never looks that chic on me. The ingredients for this soup are like that – few and not particularly exotic, but they come together to make something altogether enchanting. The creamy base, savory carrots, celery and green onions and the sweet-tart apples with that sharp hit of Calvados give this classic set of ingredients depth and richness.
You get the chance to practice some French cooking technique here. I really find the ingredients are best cut very small, called brunoise. Everything then fits in one spoonful and the soup keeps its delicate character. But okay, I use my handy vegetable chopper sometimes. A little patience with the knife work and everything comes together beautifully.
Chicken Apple Bisque
¼ cup butter
1 celery stick
1 bunch green onions (about 6), white and light green parts only
1 green apple, cored
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
3 cups chicken broth
¼ cup Calvados (apple brandy)
1 cup half and half
½ cup milk
1 cooked chicken breast
Finely dice the carrot, celery, green onion and apple (including peel). You want very small pieces, so exercise some patience. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat, then add the diced vegetables and apples and sauté until soft and tender. Sprinkle over the flour and stir until the vegetables are a thick paste and there is no flour visible. Add the nutmeg and salt, then pour in the broth and Calvados. Raise the heat to medium high and cook, stirring constantly, until the soup has thickened slightly. Add the half and half and mik, lower the heat to a simmer. Finely dice the chicken breast and add to the soup. Heat gently – do not boil – until the soup is armed through. Season to taste with salt.
You can cool the soup and refrigerate, covered, for several hours, then reheat gently, making sure it does not come to a boil.
Cauliflower Cheese is a very popular dish in England, one of its comfort foods. Basically, it is cauliflower in a creamy cheese sauce. But the first time I heard of cauliflower cheese, on the set menu at a restaurant during a high-school summer in England, I was a little worried it was actually some kind of strange British cheese. I thought they might bring our some lumpy, bumpy, smelly cheese – an early on I always worried even the most innocuous sounding English food would contain unfamiliar animal parts. I have since learned not to fear British food, and the combination of cauliflower and cheese is a solid one. I love it in this creamy, simple soup.
This soup is hugely adaptable. I love the interesting touch of the curried crumbs (and it is a way to use some of the extra cauliflower), but the array of topping possibilities is endless. Try the crumbs with just salt and pepper, or any seasoning you prefer. Crispy pieces of bacon or pancetta, toasted croutons, a shower of chopped herbs, a drizzle of olive oil, chopped toasted walnuts or some extra shredded cheddar. Use your imagination and what you have to hand.
Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Curried Cauliflower Crumbs
2 leeks, white and lightest green parts (about 8 ounces)
¼ cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
6 – 7 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 pound cauliflower (about ½ head)
14 ounces white cheddar cheese, grated
For the Crumbs:
½ head cauliflower
2 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon curry powder
Slice the leeks into thin rings, then rinse well under cold running water. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, then add the leeks and cook until soft and wilted, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Sprinkle over the flour and cook until the flour is thoroughly combined with the leeks. Add the broth, cream and 2 cups of water. Stir until the soup begins to thicken, then add the nutmeg, bay leaves and thyme (I tie the sprigs together with a small piece of twine to make them easier to remove later). Bring the soup to a low bubble, but do not boil.
Cut the cauliflower into small pieces, removing any very hard center stem. Drop the pieces into the soup, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Let the soup simmer for 20 – 25 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or vary carefully in batches in a blender. When the soup is smooth, stir in the grated cheddar by handfuls, melting each handful before the adding the next one. Season well with salt. The salt can be cooled, covered and refrigerated at this point for several hours. Reheat gently; do not boil.
Serve sprinkled with the curried crumbs.
For the Crumbs:
Use a large knife to shave the knobbly top of the cauliflower to produce ½ cup of crumbs. Remove any larger pieces of stem. It should look like fine bread crumbs.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat, then add the cauliflower crumbs. Stir constantly until the crumbs are brown and toasted, Sprinkle over the curry powder and a pinch of salt and stir to coat. Toast a few seconds longer until brown and fragrant. Remove the crumbs to paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon.
Sprinkle the crumbs over the soup to serve.
Thanksgiving leftovers for me are generally of the sandwich variety. I love leftover turkey sandwiches. With cranberry sauce and a slice of dressing. I make extra dressing, bind it with eggs and cram it into a loaf pan. Baked off, it makes perfect slices to fit a sandwich. I even make some sweet-savory jams and chutneys during the summer for use on the post-Thanksgiving concoctions. My family gathers and plows through the leftovers in a laid-back feed, usually at someone else’s home (lucky me). After preparing the bulk of the Thanksgiving feast, I don’t usually have the energy to deal with another cooking project. Frankly, I don’t’ always have it in me to make stock from the turkey carcass. Mostly, it means more dirty dishes.
But last year, I put my mind to creating a hearty, warming meal using the leftover turkey with minimal work and lots of flavor. And this is my result. There are several ways to speed up this process. When you are chopping vegetables for the big meal, put some aside in a Ziploc in the fridge to use for this. Or buy a bag of frozen chopped mire-poix or soup starter when you do the big shop. I always overbuy on sage, the classic Thanksgiving herb, but use what you have on hand. I find quick-cooking wild rice easily, so look out for that and save yourself a step (though it is an easy one) of cooking the rice. I don’t always have eight cups of turkey stock leftover after I make gravy and dressing, so I make up the difference with boxed stock. Cream cheese adds a little body and tang to the final creamy product. The soup is lovely as is, but some toasted pieces of leftover dressing on top add a nice contrast.
Creamy Turkey and Wild Rice Chowder with Toasted Dressing Croutons
2 cups finely diced onion
1 cup finely diced carrot
1 cup finely diced celery
2 Tablespoons olive oil
8 cups turkey or chicken stock, or a combination
2 finely minced garlic cloves
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
1 yellow potato, finely diced
1 ½ cups quick-cooking wild rice, or 1 ½ cups wild rice cooked according to package instructions
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups diced cooked turkey
Sauté the onion, carrot and celery in a 5-quart Dutch oven in the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle over 1 Tablespoon of the sage and stir well. When the vegetables are soft, add ½ cup stock and cook until the liquid is evaporated. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minutes. Pour in the remaining stock and bring to a boil. Add the remaining sage and the potato, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and cook for 1o minutes until the potatoes are becoming tender. If using quick cooking wild rice, add it now, cover the pot and cook for a further 15 – 20 minutes until the rice is tender. Bring the soup to a low bubble (not boiling, but bubbling). Cut the cream cheese into small chunks and whisk a few at a time into the soup adding more as it melts. Don’t worry if it looks odd and separated at some point, just keep whisking away until the soup is smooth and creamy. Stir in the diced turkey (and cooked wild rice if that is what you are using) and cook, stirring, until heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Because of the potatoes and rice, you may need to be generous with the salt.
Serve immediately. Leftovers can be gently reheated until warm.
For the Croutons: Cut leftover dressing into cubes or rough pieces. Melt a Tablespoon of butter over medium high heat and toast the cubes until brown and crispy.
One of the great joys of my life in food is meeting other food writers in amazing places. This winter, I had the great pleasure of spending an amazing week at a writing workshop in Tepotzlan, Mexico at Cocinar Mexicano. Iconic food writer Betty Fussell lead a spectacular group of women through the birth of some great writing projects. Tepotzlan is nestled in the mountains of central Mexico and the stunning scenery lends a magical air. And it is the loudest place I have ever visited. I was there for the festival of the Three Kings, which went on for days, but there were several other festivals that week as well. Locals assured us that with the different barrio festivals, saints’ days and general holidays, there is pretty much a festival every week of the year. The sounds of bands playing in processions, cars honking in celebration, dogs barking with excitement, church bells pealing and intermittent bursts of fireworks makes the town a cacophonous but joyous place. The experience inspired me and opened my mind and really got my creative juices flowing.
Adding to the wall-to-wall inspiration was some of the best food I’ve had the pleasure to eat. The central market is bursting with chilies of every type, fresh and dried, and more varieties of corn than I can begin to list. Stallholders make and sell fresh tortillas made to order from that corn, filled with all manner of delicious things. I ate squash blossoms every day, sampled several delicious mole sauces, experienced huitlachoce, a rich, mushroomy corn fungus, in all manner of dishes and even crunched on some fried crickets. I learned to make tamales and tortillas myself, and reveled in devouring the results.
But I knew pozole was the dish I would try to re-create at home. I had a number of versions of this classic Mexican hominy soup, at the cooking school, the lovely hotel and in the market. Some were red with chiles, others were so rustic, the bones were still in the bowl. I had it with pork, chicken and a combination of the two. The prettiest and freshest version was served by the wonderful cooks at Cocinar Mexicano, a simple, rich, flavorful broth with tender meat and hominy , served with a beautiful array of toppings. And this dish is all about the toppings. Bright and colorful with different textures, they elevate this soup. This is interactive eating at its best. I had never had radishes as a soup garnish, but I am a convert and I promise the slight peppery crunch adds a wonderful touch.
Posole (Mexican Chicken and Hominy Soup)
When I make stock and want to include the meat in the finished dish, I use chicken pieces instead of a whole bird because you end up with more meat. You’ll have some leftover, which is never a bad thing.
3 bone-in, skin on chicken breasts
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
3 ounces salt pork
1 large white onion, cut in half
3 celery sticks, cut in half
2 carrots, cut in half
1 jalapeno pepper
1 red pepper, like Fresno
1 head garlic, cloves separated
7 – 8 stems cilantro
2 limes, cut in half
1 (30-ounce) can white hominy
Finely diced radishes
Finely diced red onion (I soak the diced onions in water about 30 minutes to take away the bite)
Crumbled queso fresco cheese
Crispy fried tortilla strips or crushed chips
Place the chicken pieces, pork and vegetables, cilantro and lime in a large (at least 7-quart) Dutch oven or stock pot. Add 12 cups of water. Bring almost to a boil over high heat, turn down to low, cover the pot and simmer for 4 – 6 hours, until you have a nice, rich stock.
Line a large colander with cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl. Remove the chicken pieces to another bowl or plate, then carefully strain the stock through the colander. Let the stock cool, then skim the fat from the top. I always refrigerate the stock, then simply remove the solidified fat from the top of the liquid.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones, removing any fat or gristle as you go. Shred the chicken into thick strands.
You can make the stock up to two days ahead. Place the chicken meat in a ziptop bag, cover the stock and keep in the fridge.
When ready to serve, transfer the stock to a large pot and bring to a simmer. Rinse the hominy thoroughly and drain. Add to the simmering stock, cover and cook for 30 minutes until the hominy is tender. Add about 4 cups of shredded chicken and simmer until heated through.
Spoon the soup into large bowls, making sure there is plenty of hominy and chicken in each bowl.
Serve with the beautiful array of toppings for everyone to add as they please.
Red Beans and Rice are a classic of the Louisiana cooking canon. And I assume every Louisiana cook has there own version that they would assert constitutes the only way to properly make the dish. And I’ll tell you, the same can be said of me. No, I am not from Louisiana and I don’t have roots there, but I love the food and I cook my own version of red beans and rice – the way I like. So I’ve been reluctant to share the recipe, because I may be brought to task for not cooking them in the traditional way. But as I see it, that’s kind of the point of a country, homey comforting dish. You do what you like, with out the constraints of technique or the weight of history. But with Mardi Gras on the doorstep, I thought I’d better share the dish I make most often from my Louisiana repertoire.
My red beans are full of flavor, and full of delicious pork. I cook the beans with lots of flavorful additions, then use that cooking liquid in rich sauce. I like a little creaminess in my red beans, the rice just soaks it up so well. And underlying everything is the beautiful trinity of Louisiana cooking, celery, onion and green pepper. This makes a big ol’ pot, and I like more red beans than rice, so cook a little extra rice if you are so inclined. Make a batch of King Cake Bars and you’ve got a Mardi Gras party!
Tasso is a spiced, smoked Cajun style pork. If you can’t find tasso at a specialty market, use a piece of smoked ham or a ham hock and some creole seasoning. If you can’t find Andouille, use any smoked sausage like kielbasa.
Red Beans and Rice My Way
1 pound red beans or kidney beans
3 stalks celery
1 large yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
6 ounces tasso or smoked ham or ham hock plus 2 teaspoons creole seasoning
1 green bell pepper
14 ounces Andouille sausage
4 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
salt to taste
1 ½ cups long grain white rice
3 ½ cups water
hot sauce for serving
For the Red Beans:
Sort through the beans, picking out any debris or broken beans. Rinse well then place in a bowl and cover with water by about 3 inches. Soak overnight.
Drain and rinse the soaked beans and place in a large pot. Add the carrot, broken in two, one celery stick, also broken and half of the onion. Cut through the circumference of the onion and put the root end in the pot, it will hold together better. Add the garlic, bay leaves and tasso. Cover with 10 cups of cold water, bring to a boil, skim off any scum that rises, reduce the heat and cover the pot. Cook until the beans are tender, about 1 – 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally.
While the beans are cooking, finely dice the remaining onion half, 2 stalks of celery and the green pepper. Cut the Andouille into bite-sized pieces.
When the beans are tender, place a colander over a large bowl and drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid. Discard the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves and garlic and set the tasso aside. Wipe out the cooking pot and return it to the heat. Melt the butter over low heat, then add the onion, celery and bell pepper. Cook until the vegetables begin to soften, cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are completely soft. Sprinkle over the flour and stir until it is absorbed into the vegetables. Stir in the Creole seasoning. Pour in 3 cups of reserved cooking liquid from the beans. Stir until the sauce has thickened, about 4 minutes, then add the andouille and stir to coat. Return the beans to the sauce and stir gently to coat. Dice the tasso into small pieces and add to the pot, stirring gently again. Simmer over low heat until everything is warmed through, making sure the sausage is cooked through.
For the Rice:
When ready to serve, cook the rice. Stir the rice into the water in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil and boil until almost all the water is absorbed and little air bubbles form in the rice, about 10 – 12 minutes, stirring a few times to prevent sticking. Remove from the heat and tightly cover the pan. Set aside for 15 minutes, then fluff with a fork before serving.
Spoon the rice into nice, big bowls and scoop the red beans over. Serve with some hot sauce on the table.
Serves 6 – 8
Sometimes, good recipes don’t make good photos. They are just hard to make pretty. This is one of those recipes. I have tried for a while now to photograph this soup, to make it look like a magazine spread, to make it so perfect, your mouth-waters just looking at it. But I can’t. My meager skills are not up to it. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a delicious recipe – I assure you it is – just that its humble whole is not picture-perfect. But get past the simple surface and you will find a hearty, comforting soup perfect for chilly winter evenings, nights in front of the fire, or a hearty meal for football fans. Garlicky kielbasa, creamy gouda and fresh dill jazz up a simple potato chowder, the perfect hearty meal with a big chunk of warm, crusty bread.
Potato Kielbasa Chowder with Gouda and Dill
1 pound kielbasa
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill, plus more for topping
1 teaspoon mustard powder
6 cups chicken broth
3 medium red-skinned potatoes
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups grated Gouda cheese, plus more for topping
Cut the kielbasa into small cubes and place in a Dutch oven with the olive oil. Remember, you’ll be eating this with a spoon, so size the kielbasa pieces accordingly. Sauté over high heat until the kielbasa begins to brown. Finely chop the onion and add to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and golden and the kielbasa is nicely browned. Add the minced garlic, the dill and the mustard powder and cook for two minutes more. Stir in the chicken broth, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pot, and bring to a boil.
While the soup is heating, cut the potato into bite-sized cubes. When the soup is boiling, add the potatoes, lower the heat to medium-low and cover the pot. Cook for 15- 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Cut the cream cheese into eight even cubes, increase the heat to medium high and stir in cubes of cream cheese, one at a time, stirring until each one is melted before adding the next. At times the soup may look curdled, but it will melt evenly with gentle stirring. Don’t knock it around too much or the potatoes will disintegrate. Stir in the grated Gouda a handful at a time until it is melted.
Serve immediately, with a little chopped dill and grated Gouda sprinkled on top.
Serves 4 – 6
I think the chilly winter is a great time to host a real, grown-up dinner party. The holidays are over, school is back in session, everyone has had a chance to take a breath, and frankly, the social scene is a little slow. During the holidays, I see virtually everyone I know, at parties and celebrations, but generally only briefly, for a quick catch-up and greeting. There are just so many people to and so many places, it’s hard to spend any meaningful time with any one person. I also do a lot of cooking, but it’s on demand, as it were, I’m assigned cookies for one party, appetizers for another, the traditional Christmas breakfast. I love it, but I don’t always get to exercise my creativity. So as January progresses, it’s nice to gather friends together, set the table and get in the kitchen for a session of cooking by choice.
Pear and stilton is a classic pairing, the sweet, juicy pears and the tangy, rich, salty cheese complement each other perfectly. This soup is a unique way to recreate the classic. It’s silky and rich, a sweet backdrop with a sharp note. For an elegant multi-course meal, this is the perfect opener. But it works equally well as a casual meal, served with a plank of hearty bread, or maybe a salty ham sandwich.
Pear and Stilton Soup
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only
3 celery stalks
¼ cup butter
6 ripe green pears, such as Comice
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
10 ounces Stilton
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, and then into thin half-moons. Separate them with your fingers and place them in a colander. Run lots of cold water over the leeks, tossing to make sure they are all cleaned. Chop the celery into small pieces. Melt the butter in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the leeks, with some water clinging to them, and the celery. Stir to coat well in the butter, Cover the pot and cook the vegetables until they are very soft and tender, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently, and if the leeks are in danger of browning, add ¼ cup of water and continue cooking. Do not let the vegetables brown.
While the vegetables are cooking, core the pears, but do not peel, and cut them into small chunks. When the vegetables are soft, add the pears to the pot and stir to mix everything together. Cover the pot and let the pears simmer, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and have released their juices, about 15 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
Let the soup cool for a few minutes, puree it in batches in the carafe of a blender. Be careful with hot liquids; fill the carafe half full, vent the top and hold it down with a tea towel. Puree the soup as smoothly as you can. Pour each batch through a wire mesh sieve set over a bowl. Press the soup through the sieve with a spatula. In the end, you may have some pulp left behind, but very little. This step creates a smooth, silky texture that makes the soup so elegant.
Rinse out the soup pot and return to the stove. Pour the soup back in and bring it up to a gentle simmer. Whisk in the cream. Set aside a little bit of Stilton to top the bowls of soup, crumble the rest and whisk it bit by bit into the simmering soup until it is all melted and smooth.
Serve the soup with the toasted walnuts and a little crumbled Stilton on top.
I spend most of my time in the kitchen. It’s my favorite space in this house, a house my father has always called a kitchen with a bedroom attached. It’s a large, open space, with a fully fitted kitchen, lots of counter space and a den attached where I do most of my work on the computer. The den opens on to a sunroom with huge windows so the light pours in. That’s where I take most of my pictures. The space is perfect for me. One of the many benefits of living in the kitchen is the wonderful scents that permeate the space. I never miss out on the fragrant bread baking, the sweet cookie smell, the rich stew braising. I love to write a recipe while its aromas waft over me. And I snuggle up on the couch with a good book and a delicious smell.
My favorite kitchen fragrances are bacon cooking and onions caramelizing, so you can imagine how much I love this soup. It fills my house with the aromas of warmth and comfort and fully follows through on the promise. This soup has the feel of a Spanish version of French Onion, rich, sweet onions made smoky with bacon and smoked paprika, and rich with tomatoes. I particularly love the soup accompanied by a Fontina Cheese Toastie or two.
Smoky Bacon and Onion Soup
1 ½ pounds sweet yellow onion (about 2 large)
5 strips smoked bacon
2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram leaves
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
6 cups chicken broth
Slice the onions into very thin half-moons using a mandolin. I you do not have a mandolin, shred the onions in the food processor using the grating blade. And of course, you can go carefully with a sharp knife. You want nice, thin threads.
Cut the bacon into small pieces and fry in a 5-quart Dutch oven until the bacon is crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon pieces to paper towels to drain. Turn off the heat and let the bacon grease cool for several minutes, then add the butter and let it melt. Turn the heat back to medium and add the onions. Stir to coat the onions completely in the bacon fat and butter, then cover the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and golden brown. Do not let the onions burn or turn dark brown. They need to cook gently to a caramelized softness. When the onions are soft, stir in the marjoram and continue cooking, covered, until the onions are evenly golden. Stir in the paprika and cook for five more minutes, making sure the onions don’t scorch.
Add the crushed tomatoes and stir, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add half of the cooked bacon and cook until heated through. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes.
Taste for salt and pepper and add as needed. Just before serving, stir in the remaining bacon pieces.
Makes 4 big bowls