Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Inventing a Soup

Sunday, December 28, 2008.
I know it’s just days past Christmas and how could I think about food?!? Well, first, I’m half-Italian by heritage, so that’s pretty much all we think and talk about. Second, I love to cook, bake, experiment, and create something from nothing – a point of pride at times, and at others, a necessity. But today, I’m mainly thinking that I have work hours on Monday, and if I don’t have things made and clearly labeled throughout the refrigerator and on the countertop for the days my husband is home, it will be determined that there is “no food in the house,” or “nothing to eat.” I don’t know why that is. My four-year-old daughter is off from pre-school this week as well, and believe me: I don’t want them subsisting on Cheerios, which is what would happen unless an elaborate spread is in plain view.

And anyway, I’m a circular junkie, and the Sunday paper brings a pile of them. I always seek out the ShopRite circular first, and today I need to stop there with my daughter in tow for milk and dry cat food. Maybe there’s something on sale that I could use, or that at least could give me an idea. Bingo: a 5-lb bag of Eastern potatoes is $1.29, limit one with PricePlus. We’re as good as there.

My daughter loves to help and I prefer to include her in the kitchen. She is very skilled already, and can be quite a taskmaster when I’m taking a shortcut, skipping a step or chopping versus mincing (i.e., I’m tired, but she can tell when I’m being lazy with the shallots. And she’ll holler at me for it!)

So, with the $1.29 bag of potatoes, basic pantry and fridge items and our homegrown zucchini [zucchetta trombolina, not the “usual” green summer squash – more on crops and gardening later] from the freezer, this is what we made:

2T unsalted butter plus 1T to 2T good olive oil
4 shallots, minced
6 medium to large potatoes, peeled and diced to ½”
Zucchini, quartered and chopped, about 3 cups
3C chicken broth (regular or low sodium canned is fine; stock may be too heavy for this)
3C water
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
2 eggs, beaten very well in a deep bowl
good handful of Italian parsley, chopped fine. Include some stems.
Juice of ½ a lemon

Over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil and sweat the shallots until they are golden and fragrant.

Add the potatoes and stir to coat. Agitating occasionally, cook for about 5 minutes to impart the sweet shallot flavor to the potatoes. Toss in about ½ t. sea salt and a dozen grinds from the peppermill. Cook for another few minutes, then add zucchini and half the parsley. Combine and cook for another few minutes.

Add broth then water, stir, bring to a simmer.

Once simmering, very slowly ladle a portion of broth into the eggs, whisking constantly [to temper them]. Add a second ladleful in a very slow stream to the eggs, whisking constantly. Add a third in the same fashion. Whisk this egg mixture slowly back into the pot, blending fully.

Stir in the lemon juice, cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are done.

Using a ladle, scoop out mostly potatoes and broth, enough to fill a blender. Puree on high, then return the pureed portion to the pot. The resulting soup will have texture and chunks, with much of the zucchini in tact. If desired, repeat to blend the entire pot. If you have an immersion blender, process to your desired consistency.

Add the remaining fresh parsley, then salt and pepper to taste. Finish with a pat of soft butter, stirring to combine all.

Serve topped with good Romano cheese finely grated on a microplane, or with a lemon wedge on the side and additional chopped fresh Italian parsley, depending on how your tastes run.

My husband liked it both ways: fresh and lemony, and salty and savory with the Romano. I floated a handful of drained, rinsed Cannelini beans on top for my daughter, who went heavy on the Romano, her favorite cheese. [More on her tastes later, too.] I rounded out their lunches with crusty, super-toasted semolina bread with my garlic confit [a future entry] and the option of a turkey sandwich.

The soup was good – not quite Vichyssoise, not quite Italian Wedding soup, but using some of the principals and some of the ingredients of both. Plus, it barely cost $1.50 to make, and I still have more than half of the potatoes left.

So, there it is, my first entry. This is who I am, and this is what I do, or at least part of it.