Thursday, April 30, 2009

A faint sound

Limestone Coast, South Australia, south of Adelaide, at dusk, when the big red kangaroos appear as shadows along the sides of the road.

Federal, Wyoming, northwest of Cheyenne, either under the blackest sky punctured by millions of bright white stars, or under a blue sky arching over windswept high plains.

West coast of Sardinia, south of Alghero, on a road hugging a cliff that rises over the Mediterranean, a million shades of blue.

These three places have one thing in common: silence. A silence I've never heard anywhere else. A silence so complete that the slightest noise -- distant mooing, a train rumbling in its approach, a tiny bell on the collar of a goat, respectively -- becomes an indelible memory. There are many things I remember from each of the vacations that took me to these places, but rising to the top of the stack is an unearthly silence, broken in each place by a faint sound that captures the activity, movement and day-to-day life of the place. 

In the case of Sardinia, that tiny goat-bell came to epitomize the wonderful trip I took to visit Sister there in 1994. We had rented a Fiat Panda and were driving from Cagliari to Alghero.

Somewhere along that road we had to stop as an old man herded his goats across the thoroughfare, from the cliff-side of the road across to where his modest house sat. It was quiet. All we heard was that tinkling bell, tied around one of the goat's necks. It was late afternoon and Sister and I theorized that the man was eager to herd his goats back home so that he could go inside and enjoy whatever it was his wife had cooked for him that night.

Maybe she made him malloreddus. Maybe fregula. Maybe something with bottarga. Or some music bread. Sardinian cuisine is unique, informed by centuries of isolation, a shepherding culture that flourished inland despite a magnificent fish-rich island coastline (thousands of years of raids from outside civilizations will do that to a people) and ancient recipes that have not changed in generations and that reflect completely the Sardinian experience but only vaguely recall the mainland Italian one.

A flip through Efisio Farris' excellent book, Sweet Myrtle and Bitter Honey: The Mediterranean Flavors of Sardinia, will teach you all about Sardinian cuisine filtered through his own experience of family and hospitality. It's a charming book, full of charming recipes. Like "the pasta of the cattleman," found on page 134, a simple dish of penne, fresh tomatoes, fresh cheese and herbs.

The old Sardinian man with the goats was, by all empirical evidence, a goat herder, not a cattleman. But maybe his wife made him the pasta of the cattleman that night in 1994 anyway. I like to imagine she did.


Adapted slightly from Sweet Myrtle and Bitter Honey, by Efisio Farris

By way of context, Efisio has the following to say about the pasta of the cattleman: "Massaja vona si viet I' su pacu!" say the men of Sardinia: literally, "A capable woman is revealed when using very little." Growing up, we often did not have a lot, and with the men away for days at a time working, bartering, or tending to the fields, women ran every part of the home. They took care of the finances, watched over the children, cooked the meals, and everything in between. In other words, they did a lot with a little. Mannai Carta could make dinner with one egg and a little fresh cheese and make my grandfather happy. The cattleman's wife would do the same with his ingredients in this recipe, including making the fresh cheese from a bucket of milk he brought to her."

1 lb. penne pasta
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 Roma tomatoes, peeled, drained, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 T. fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Sea salt
6 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
3 sprigs basil, chopped

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden.

Add the tomatoes and parsley.

Add the cooked pasta and salt to taste and toss well.

Place the pasta in a serving bowl and toss with the fresh mozzarella and basil.

Makes 4 servings.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I'll shut up when I eat a piece

The past three days have been a very hot 85+ degrees. Late April in Northeast Ohio typically sees normal temperatures in the 60s, maybe low 70s. But nearly 90? Unseasonable. And a little unreasonable.

For as much as I was ready to be done with the frigid weather, this heat is too much too fast. I need a few of those perfect spring days where it's sunny and warm but not so hot that you and your mom and both of your dogs drag on a walk around the lake, wishing you were home so you could lay down on the cool tile floor in the laundry room. (Yes, I do that.) These are the kind of days when it's painful to turn on the oven. These are the kind of days when I wish the April Daring Bakers challenge was, like, a nice cool bowl of strawberries.

But the April Daring Bakers challenge is a cheesecake. And though, in theory, one should never complain about cheesecake, here I sit in my sweltering kitchen, complaining. Feeding ice cubes to the dog. Waiting for the big hot roasting pan containing a boiling bain-marie and a cheesecake-filled springform pan to bake. Whining. I have a feeling, however, that I'll shut up when I eat a piece.

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. Though I am certain that Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake is totally delicious as is -- or else it would not be infamous -- I did take a few liberties with the recipe. Some dear friends from Australia will be arriving next week for a visit, stopping by my little town on their way from Vegas to NYC. And in late August, Mom and I will be traveling to Australia for a wonderful holiday that will include martinis on Greg and Kerrie's veranda and hike or two around Uluru. So, in honor of all this trans-Pacific motoring, I chose to flavor my cheesecake with one of Australia's finest biscuits: Arnott's Tim Tam.

Those of you who know the Tim Tam are no doubt smitten with it. Those of you who live in a country where you can't get Tim Tams are most likely even more obsessed with the chocolate treat: searching it out via online retailers, hoping that people bring you some when they visit from Australia, stalking Target when they carried a limited run of the biscuits awhile back. I have been meaning to incorporate the beloved Tim Tam into a cake for some time now; several months ago I scrawled Tim Tam cupcake??? in the margins of a notepad and have been contemplating it ever since. Given the fact that I do not wish for my hard-won Tim Tam stash to melt away in a kitchen whose ambient temperature currently approximates the surface of the sun*, today seems like the day.

*Yes yes I know I can turn on the air conditioning. But the air conditioner, for all its cooling power, ain't got nothin' on my range and her excessive BTUs.


Cheesecake adapted from Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake
Chocolate crust made from Smitten Kitchen's chocolate wafers, themselves an Alice Medrich confection

If you can't find Tim Tams -- or you wish to savor the one package you might have brought back with you from Australia instead of cutting it up for a cake -- you can of course omit them. But then it is not a Tim Tam cheesecake; it is a chocolate cheesecake. Which is still pretty amazing.

You could also substitute any cookie or candy which suits your fancy. You could even grind up more of the chocolate wafers used for the crust and decorate the sides and top of the cheesecake with them. Or you can eat the cheesecake out of the pan, with a spoon. You can do whatever you want.

Please note: this cheesecake must chill overnight before serving, so plan accordingly.

For the chocolate wafers, to be used for the crust:

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 c. plus 2 T. sugar
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. baking soda
14 T. (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
3 T. whole milk
1 t. pure vanilla extract

Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt and baking soda in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix thoroughly. Cut the butter into about 12 pieces and add them to the bowl. Pulse several times. Combine the milk and vanilla in a liquid measuring cup. With the processor running, add the milk mixture and continue to process until the mixture clumps around the blade or the side of the bowl. Transfer to the counter and knead a few times until the mixture comes together into a homogeneous dough.

Form the dough into a log about 14 inches long and 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in wax paper and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour or until needed.

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the log of dough into slices a scant 1/4-inch thick and place them one inch apart on Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake for 12 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking time. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheets for about 15 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely.

This recipe makes about 65 cookies; you'll need a little over half of them to make the 2 c. of chocolate wafer crumbs needed for the cheesecake crust. (To prep them for use in the cheesecake recipe, grind the cookies in a food processor until fine.)

For the cheesecake:


2 c. chocolate wafer crumbs (see recipe above)
4 T. unsalted butter, melted
2 T. sugar
1 t. pure vanilla extract


4 oz. dark chocolate, melted and cooled
3 8-oz. packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 c. sugar
3 large eggs
1 c. heavy cream
1 T. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 T. pure vanilla extract (or the innards of one vanilla bean, which I used because I like the word "innards" when applied to cheesecake)


About half of a 7-oz. package of Tim Tams, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, for the water bath.

Melt the dark chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Set aside and let cool.

In a medium bowl, mix together the crust ingredients and press into the bottom of a springform pan. (I used a 9-inch pan but a smaller one would work as well.)

Wrap the bottom of the pan securely with aluminum foil to prevent the water bath from infiltrating the pan while the cheesecake bakes. Chances are you will have some seepage, but the aluminum foil should help keep most of the water out.

Combine the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Cream together until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, completely incorporating each egg before adding the next one. Scrape down the bowl in between each egg (or, if you have this awesome bowl-scraping paddle attachment, you don't have to worry about it). Add the heavy cream, lemon juice and vanilla and blend until smooth and creamy. Add the melted, cooled chocolate and mix to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring the air bubbles to the surface. Place the cheesecake in a larger pan (I use my roaster) and fill the larger pan with the boiling water to half-way up the sides of the cheesecake pan. Bake 45-55 minutes, until the perimeter of the cakes holds together but the center is still jiggly. You don't want the cake to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn off the oven and let the cheesecake rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This allows the cake to finish cooking and cool down gently enough that the top won't crack.

After one hour, remove the cheesecake from the oven, then remove it from the water bath. Remove the aluminum foil from the bottom of the pan. Allow the cheesecake to cool on the counter to room temperature, then place in the refrigerator and chill overnight.

Before serving, decorate the cheesecake with Tim Tams. You can, of course, decorate however you like. I roughly chopped a few Tim Tams and scattered them on top of the cake. You can chop them finer and press them into the sides of the cake, or you can decorate with whole Tim Tams. Whatever is your pleasure; have at it! A note: I place the Tim Tams in the freezer for about 20 minutes before cutting them with a serrated knife. This makes the chopping much easier.

Serves 10.

Friday, April 24, 2009

There is nothing better than a dog

Three years ago today, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Holly Berry gave birth to a precious, squirming litter of eight perfect puppies. They were teeny, and curly-haired, and pink-nosed and mischievous.

Our Jet was one of those eight.

We brought her home on a very rainy day in June. We put a tiny orange collar on her and she spent the majority of the trip home licking and pawing at my neck as I held her in my lap.

She romped around her new kitchen chasing a red rubber ball and a stuffed alligator, then promptly passed out, wedged up against a kitchen stool.

She knew, right away, that she was home.

Jet's first three years have been full of many amazing highs and a few terrible lows. But as with anything worth its salt, the lows make the highs that much better. We are lucky to share our lives with such an amazing, loving, trusting creature. We are grateful for the confluence of events that brought her to us. We are lucky to fall asleep every night with a snoring 95-pound Chessie shoving her paws in our faces as she stretches and rolls over. For there is nothing better than a dog.

Happy third birthday, girl! That's 21 in dog years. You are now old enough to drink; hold on while I crack open a nice cold doggie beer for you.


Adapted from The Good Food Cookbook for Dogs, by Donna Twichell Roberts

These treats are so good, even people like them. My nephews both ate one tonight, at Jet's birthday party. When Younger Nephew accidentally dropped his on the floor, he asked for another one. The birthday dog, for her part, was happy to share.

5 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. Grape-Nuts cereal
2 c. mashed bananas (about 4 or 5 bananas)
3/4 c. water
4 T. ground nutmeg
2 T. vegetable oil
2 T. honey

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly to combine. I find it's easiest to get in there with your hands to bring the mixture together. Also, it works well to turn the dough out of the bowl and mix it together on the counter, to make sure all the flour is well-incorporated. If the dough is sticky, feel free to add a little more flour. If it's too dry, add another mashed banana or a little bit of water.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough until it's about 1/4-inch thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut into bone shapes (or other desired shape). Re-roll the dough scraps and continue to cut until all the dough has been used.

Place the treats on an ungreased baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake for 35 minutes, then cool completely on the baking sheets.

Feed to your favorite doggies.

(Rosie is Jet's party guest.)

Makes about 5 dozen treats.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Also to do with the lentils

There are days, like today, when the sun is shining and the sky is an unbelievable shade of blue but the wind is blowing and the air is cold. Spring is trying its very hardest to make itself known, but winter is all, it's not your time yet, Spring, take your tulips and your maple buds and get out of here. Baseball is happening, and mulch is being spread on reawakening flower beds, but I had to wear my winter jacket today and as I write this my turtleneck is pulled up over my nose and that fleece blanket over there looks really good.

Know what else looks good?

Lentils. Cooked into a quick soup with cumin, coriander, spinach and a generous amount of bright lemon zest. Topped with a spoonful of Greek yogurt flecked with fresh cilantro. Accompanied by a thick slice of homemade wheat bread. Eaten as the sun sets over what is hopefully one of the last cold days of the season.

OK, Husband just covered my legs with the fleece blanket. I feel much better already.

It has to do with the blanket, yes, but it also has to do with the lentils.


Adapted from Modern Classics Book 1, by Donna Hay

3 T. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 t. cumin
1 1/2 t. coriander
1 1/2 c. lentils
3 c. vegetable stock
4 c. water
1 T. finely-grated lemon zest, or more, should you wish
6 oz. fresh spinach, roughly chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly-cracked black pepper, to taste
1/2 c. Greek yogurt
2 T. fresh cilantro, chopped

Place the olive oil, onion, shallot, cumin and coriander in a large pot and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the onions are well-browned, about 10 minutes.

Add the lentils, stock, water and lemon zest and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the lentils are soft. At this point, if you would like a thicker soup, puree half of the soup with an immersion or regular blender. Return the pureed soup to the pot, then add the spinach and cook a few minutes more. (You can omit the pureeing if you wish.)

Season with salt and pepper to taste, then ladle into mugs or bowls. Mix together the yogurt and cilantro; spoon the yogurt over the soup, crawl under your fleece blanket and enjoy.

P.S. Here is something yummy to do with the leftover Greek yogurt you just bought.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

As the old saying goes

Sometimes, don't you just ask yourself, when was the last time I made a Kazakh pastry?

Or is it only me?

It's probably only me. Well, me, those of Kazakh descent, those currently living in Kazakhstan, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. 

Those of Kazakh descent and those currently living there probably make pastries with relative frequency. Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid -- world travelers, culinary historians and authors of such temptingly gorgeous books as Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia and Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World -- have made Kazakh pastries at least a few times, given the recipe's inclusion in their baking book. And as for me: I made Kazakh pastries last night. With Jeffrey and Naomi's help. You know, because just as the old saying goes, when life gives you lazy Monday nights, make Kazakh pastries.

These little fried and steamed sweets are filled with a delicious compote of dried apricots and lemon layered on a spoonful of chopped almonds. They possess a lovely texture somewhere between crispy and doughy, maybe like a sugary and chewy potsticker. They seem like they come from somewhere very far away. This might be because "Kazakh" is in their title, or maybe because their fruit and nut filling seems so very ancient, but who knows. I just let my mind wander while I eat them, perhaps to Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan's capital, or perhaps to the northern slopes of the Tian Shan Mountains, where delicious apples grow. (Thank you, Mr. Alford and Ms. Duguid, for offering up a little geographical context as a prelude to the list of ingredients.) That's the beauty of a good recipe: it's able to take you very far away indeed, to a time passed or a place remote, like an independent central Asian republic that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

But back to my kitchen. Last night, when Husband saw the cookbook open to the page with the Kazakh pastries, this is what he said:

Husband, whining (facetiously): "Kazakh pastries, AGAIN???"

It's totally only me. 


Adapted from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

I made these pastries smaller than the recipe method suggests, simply because I had a heck of a time rolling out the dough to a very very thin 16 inches square. I figure the smaller pastry tastes just as delicious. Additionally, the recipe states that the dough should be gathered only part-way over the filling, leaving a small opening in the center. I found this challenging at the frying step, as the filling wanted to ooze out into the pan. So I covered the filling all the way and found that they fried up beautifully.

Oh, and by the way, the apricot compote would be fantastic over ice cream with a sprinkling of toasted almonds.

For the pastries:

1 c. all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 t. baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
4 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
Scant 1/2 c. lukewarm water
About 1/4 c. chopped almonds
1 recipe dried apricot compote (recipe follows)
Vegetable oil for shallow frying

For the dried apricot compote:

1 c. dried unsulfured apricots, coarsely chopped
A 1-inch strip of lemon zest
2 c. water
1 c. sugar

First, make the compote. Place the apricots, lemon zest and water in a non-reactive heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, then lower the heat and simmer very gently for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat; set aside. You can make the compote ahead of time and store in a well-covered container in the refrigerator or freezer. It will keep well for several months.

While the compote is simmering, make the pastry dough. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor. Process while you add the butter and then just enough water to form a dough (I used less than the called-for 1/2 c. water). Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 3 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour (the longer rest makes the dough easier to roll out). 

When the compote is done and the dough has rested, proceed with pastry assembly. Place a small bowl of water near your work surface. Lightly flour a large baking sheet. Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Work with 1 piece at a time, keeping the others covered with the plastic wrap. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out as thin as possible, to about 8 inches square. Cut into 4 pieces. The dough pieces do not have to be tidy squares; this pastry is rustic and you will be gathering up the edges around the filling.

Place about 1/2 teaspoon chopped almonds on the center of each square and top it with a generous tablespoon of the compote.

Wet your fingertips with water and use them to moisten the edges of the dough. Lift the edges of the dough up over the filling, pleating it in large folds and making a round-ish pastry. Set aside on the floured baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.

In a large heavy skillet heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add only as many pastries to the skillet as will fit without crowding. Fry until dark golden brown, about 3 minutes. Turn them over and fry on the other side to the same color, about 2 minutes. While they cook, place a cupful of hot water and a lid for the skillet by the stove.

When the pastries are brown, pour in enough water to coat the bottom of the skillet. Put on the lid and let steam for 20-30 seconds. Remove the lid, transfer the pastries to a plate and sprinkle with sugar. Repeat with the remaining pastries, adding oil as necessary before frying each batch.

Serve the pastries warm or at room temperature, with hot tea. Or with a gin and tonic, which is what Husband drank with his.

Makes 16 pastries. Note: the pastries can be frozen, cooked or uncooked. Defrost before cooking or reheating. To reheat cooked pastries, brush with a little melted butter and place on a baking sheet in an oven heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat for 5-7 minutes, or until warmed through. Or you can just heat them up in the toaster oven, no melted butter required. And if I do say so myself: the reheated pastries are almost better than the freshly fried and steamed ones. The sprinkling of sugar crisps into the most amazing exterior, a wonderful textural foil to the molten apricot. Excuse me while I go reheat another one.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Enough chickpea love

I have written here before of the glory that is pasta e ceci, the hearty chickpea and pasta dish that is part entree, part soup, all delicious. Tonight, as a pot of pasta e ceci simmers away on the stove, it looks like I am going to write about it again.

It's not that I wish to repeat myself. It's not that I've run out of recipes. It's just that I've found an alternate recipe for pasta e ceci, one of my very favorite dishes.  It's just that I had to try it, if for no other reason than to compare it to the recipe I normally use. It's just that pasta e ceci is so good, it deserves two separate blog posts. I mean, it deserves a lot more than that, like maybe a medal or something, but blog posts I have to spare. 

Pasta e ceci is the essence of tomatoes and chickpeas, slowly simmered for hours to deepen their humble flavors. Both recipes I've found thus far for the dish come from trusted Italian gastronomic experts: the recipe I featured about a year ago came from Giuliano Bugialli and calls for tagliatelle (or similar long pasta) and tomato paste. The recipe I feature tonight is from Paolo Petroni, the Florentine culinary aficionado whose walnut sauce graced my Fiestaware dinner plates last week. Instead of Giuliano's tomato paste and tagliatelle, Paolo instead relies on whole fresh or canned tomatoes and suggests "short pasta" to complete the dish. He also purees about half of the soup -- before adding the pasta -- which makes for a thicker, richer finished product. What both men have in common is fresh rosemary, a heavy hand of freshly-cracked black pepper and, naturally, no small measure of chickpeas. 

And as for whose pasta e ceci is better -- Giuliano Bugialli's or Paolo Petroni's -- allow me to sit upon the fence. I see no reason to take sides. There is enough chickpea love to go around.


Adapted from The Complete Book of Florentine Cooking, by Paolo Petroni

This recipe calls for dried chickpeas, which have to be soaked overnight. If you wish to use canned chickpeas, drain and rinse them, then combine with 4 c. of water and pick up the recipe at the step where the olive oil, rosemary, garlic and tomatoes are added. (You will only have to cook it for about 1/2 hour, instead of the 2 hours called for with dried chickpeas. Make sure to try a few to make sure they're cooked through but not mushy.)

Paolo states quite emphatically that this dish should be served "hot or lukewarm with some olive oil and preferably without cheese." If that is how Paolo wishes to roll, so be it. But I'll tell you what: I cannot restrain myself when it comes to pecorino. So I sprinkle some on my soup before serving. But ultimately, I leave this momentous decision to your wise judgement.

7 oz. (1 c.) dried chickpeas
1 t. baking soda
3 T. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 spring of rosemary, leaves removed
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
About 3 c. canned peeled tomatoes, crushed with your hand
1/2 lb. short pasta (such as penne)
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly-cracked black pepper, to taste
Pecorino cheese, to garnish 

In a large bowl, combine the chickpeas and baking soda. Cover with cold water by a few inches and soak overnight.

The next day, drain the chickpeas. Place the chickpeas in a large pot with 6 c. of water and a few pinches of salt. Cook over medium heat until the chickpeas are yielding but not mushy, about 20 minutes. 

Add the olive oil, rosemary, garlic and tomatoes. Stir to combine and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

When the chickpeas are well-cooked, remove about half of the mixture and puree with an immersion blender or regular blender. Return the puree to the pot and add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes if you're using penne. If the soup begins to stick to the bottom of the pot, add water as needed and stir through. Add salt and pepper to taste; the soup should be quite thick.

As Paolo says, serve hot or lukewarm with some olive oil and preferably without cheese. As Dianne says, serve hot or lukewarm with some olive oil and preferably with some cheese. Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano, as is your wont.

Makes 4 servings.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

If that's not love

This one time, several years ago, before I was married, before I was even engaged, when I lived on the second floor of a lovely 1878 Italianate home that had gorgeous curvy woodwork and a single delicate pink tulip that would bloom every spring through a gray gravel walkway, I made potato-leek soup. I served it to Husband (then Boyfriend). He has talked about it ever since.

When I mentioned to him today that I was going to make potato-leek soup for dinner he said, totally predictably, "Ooh I love that." He is a good and supportive man because honestly, when I made this soup years ago I thought it was gummy, a little like leek-scented library paste. But he still liked it. I realized my error right away: pureeing the potatoes with an immersion blender. Normally, my immersion blender is my bestie. I should craft some sort of holster so I can have it on my hip, at the ready, whenever there is pureeing to be done. But pureeing potatoes with an immersion blender? Bad idea. Unless you are trying to hang wallpaper and are in need of adhesive.

Remember what I said up there about Husband being a good and supportive man? He came to my (and, really, his own) gummy-potato rescue when he bought me a food mill and a ricer the following Christmas, during which time he happened to be unemployed. Yes, Husband shelled out some of his diminishing cash to outfit me with several alternate methods for pureeing food. If that's not love, I do not know what is.

This soup is a lovely shade of spring green, creamy with fluffy riced potatoes and a little sharp with leeks. It is rich, and verdant, and filling. What it is not: gummy. You live, you learn, you get a ricer, you marry the man who bought you the ricer, your potato soup improves drastically.



3 lbs. baking potatoes (about 4 large potatoes), peeled and cut into large chunks
1/4 c. + 2 T. olive oil
2 lbs. leeks, tops removed, halved and sliced
1/4 of a medium onion, chopped
3 ribs celery (with leafy tops), chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
1 t. freshly-cracked black pepper
1 bay leaf
2 t. dried thyme
32 oz. chicken stock
2 c. water
1 c. heavy cream

Place the potatoes and a pinch of salt in a large pot of cold water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until they yield easily to a fork. Drain, then run through a ricer directly into the dry cooking pot. (If you don't have a ricer, return the drained potatoes to the cooking pot and mash with a potato masher.) Set aside.

While the potatoes are cooking, place the olive oil, leeks, onion, celery, carrot, salt, pepper, bay leaf and thyme in a large pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the chicken stock and water. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to low and cook, partially covered, for about 15 minutes. Fish out the bay leaf. Puree the soup using an immersion blender. (You can also do this in batches in a regular blender, but the immersion blender is so much easier; really, go out and buy yourself one. You can get them at Target.)

Add the riced potatoes to the pureed soup and stir to combine. Taste, and adjust for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary (potatoes take a lot of salt). Add the heavy cream and stir through. Cook for about 5 more minutes, then serve. Garnish with a sprig of parsley or a few crisp croutons or even some crème fraîche, if you wish.

Makes about 12 servings.