Friday, October 25, 2013

Wedding Soup: Or, What to Feed an Angry Pancreas

Recently, I got to take a field trip to the ER.

Now, it takes a fair bit of pain for me to concede defeat and even go to the normal doctor. And, to be honest, I was afraid I would get there and get a lecture on why women my age should not try to do P90X. And get laughed at. But, I have never managed to pull a muscle, not know it, then wake up 12 hours later in pain on the scale of childbirth (and I know from experience) and not be able to breathe. So, off to the ER at six am on a Sunday.

"Oh, my. Your pancreas is angry," said the ultrasound tech. "And look at all those gallstones."

The ER doctor put things in terms I understand clearly. "You should have surgery. Life's too short to go without truffled Gouda."

So surgery it is in a few weeks when my organs are not so worked up. In the meantime, I get to eat bland food and make surgery jokes with my family. My brother offered to take my gallstones for some odd reason. And, I had fun offering my kid the mutinous non-essential organ for show-and-tell once its out.

I also have been making soup. Soup that's good enough and comforting for even my most angry digestive organs.

Wedding Soup
For meatballs:
1 lb. ground veal, or ground turkey
1 lb. ground very lean beef or bison
1 lb. ground lean pork
2 tbs. basil
2 tbs. parsley
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesean (unless you can't eat cheese like me, then you can just wish it were in here)
1 egg
pinch of salt and couple turns on the pepper mill

Mix well. Roll into dime-sized balls, placing on tray. Imagine an Italian grandmother over your shoulder making you do them over if they exceed the size of a dime even a tiny bit.

For soup:
44 cups chicken stock
3 or 4 parmesean rinds, optional (I miss cheese)
2 small heads escarole, or 6 oz. spinach if you can't find escarole cleaned and chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
8 oz. Acini di Pepi pasta
½ cup grated parmesean, optional (did I mention how much I miss cheese?)

Heat stock until it boils. Add pinch of red pepper flakes. Drop in meatballs (carefully) a few at a time until all are added. Add parmesean rinds, and turn down heat to simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes. You will need to stir occasionally to prevent the cheese rinds from sticking. Add escarole and simmer for another 15 minutes. Add pasta and simmer again for 20 minutes. Sprinkle in parmesean and stir to blend.

A few notes. The reason this soup is called Wedding Soup, so I am told, is that the cost of using all the different meats meant it was only served on special occasions. Variations on this would be to also add two cups of cooked, shredded chicken AND/or drizzle in an egg mixed with the parmesean to add more body to the soup. The flavors of all the meats and the parmesean rinds make a rich and satisfying broth. Use good parmesean, you will be rewarded with great flavor. Save your rinds, you can use this trick to add flavor to any soup. Save them for when you can eat cheese.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Chilled Corn Soup with Crab: Goodbye Summer, It's Been Great

There's this wonderful few weeks of overlap where the biggest harvest of summer bounty mingles with the first apples and winter squashes of fall. For those of us with a full four seasons, we get a second planting of lettuces and greens, and we get a nice long goodbye to summer favorites with a few tomatoes lingering into October.

I love this time of year. When the change of seasons come, I welcome the new harvest. When winter comes, it may sound strange, but I also welcome the absence of abundance. We humans are funny creatures. It seems like we have to know absence to really be grateful for what we have. When spring greens show up, I am so excited for their fresh, bright flavor. I know, without winter, I wouldn't feel this so deeply.

All things have their place.

So, before the apple recipes and pumpkins arrive on my table (and they do), let's take a moment to say a loving goodbye to summer favorites.

I had a chilled corn soup at a new restaurant here in town, called Novel. The chef was the sous for Momofuku. Crazy to leave that for a relatively small Midwestern city, but we have an amazing food shed here that can draw chefs from afar, or bring them back home even from Europe.

This is not their recipe. This is me tasting their food and interpreting what I taste into a recipe of my own. I probably missed a few elements, but still landed in a place I am happy with. The crazy thing about this rich, creamy soup is that is has absolutely no dairy in it at all. It's guilt free. It is not effortless, however.

Okay, let's get started.

For the corn and stock:
6 ears of corn
2 bay leaves
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 ribs celery, chopped
6 cups water

For the soup:
Kernels from the six ears of corn
4 cups stock, reserve the other two cups in freezer for another use
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
white pepper to taste

Sriracha sauce
12 oz. cooked, chilled large lump crab meat (or claw meat)
2 small squares of nori (seaweed), sliced in thin ribbons
1 green jalapeño, seeded, and sliced very thin

Shuck the corn and blanch it for 2 minutes. Allow to cool. Using a chef's knife, slice the kernels and the corn "milk" onto a baking sheet. Do not throw away the corn cobs. Reserve the corn and any of the corn "milk," or liquid from the corn). Add the corn cobs to a stock pot with the other ingredients for the stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, covered for one and a half hours. Strain the solids.

Add the corn and its liquid to a blender along with stock. You need to do this in batches. Once the soup is pureed, use a chinois and press it with the pestle in a rolling motion around the sides of the sieve to get all the liquid. The soup will be creamy and rich from the corn without any added fats or cream. Season with salt and white pepper to taste, then chill.

To serve, portion about 3/4 of chilled soup per bowl, six bowls total. Place 2 oz. of crab in the center of each bowl. Make 3 dots of Sriracha at the edges of the bowl, alternating with 2 slices of jalapeño. Add a few slivers of nori. It's got a subtle fishy-seaweed scent to it, like the air at the beach.

Say a loving farewell to summer.