White Bean Soup

June 2, 2017

The weather is turning warmer in fits and spurts here in Santa Fe as I write this in early-May.  I’m writing these posts a few weeks in advance due to upcoming travel.  Warm days and cold nights, alternating with cold days and colder nights make me think of soup.  Filling, warm, humble soup.

There are few soups that I like better than bean or lentil.

Although a ham bone is a classic way to start a bean soup, smoked turkey works well too.  I had a smoked turkey carcass in the freezer from a bird that I smoked a few months ago.  That and the combination of the cold weather made me think of making this classic American bean soup.  It made a really great dinner along with a platter of my grandmother’s potato cakes, the recipe for which will be appearing here in a few days.

This soup is assembled from very basic ingredients, many of which are almost always on hand.

With warm weather approaching, however, this will probably be the last time I serve such a hearty soup until autumn.

Which brings up an interesting topic: the effect weather has on our cooking and eating habits.  We tend to gravitate toward heartier, richer foods in the winter and lighter foods in warm weather.  Our caloric needs don’t really change appreciably from winter to summer so if we’re not gaining or losing weight, we’re probably eating about the same number of calories.  But it often doesn’t feel that way.

Eating seasonally is a good strategy for a number of reasons.  Locally grown, in-season, produce tastes better than produce shipped from far away.  Many fruits and vegetables start losing nutrients as soon as they are picked.  The shorter the time from farm field to table the more nutritious they are.

Did you ever think about what it takes to have “not from concentrate” orange juice available all year given that oranges are a seasonal crop?  Take a look here and here.  It will give you a sense of what is done to our industrialized food supply.  To be sure, we have ready access to more and cheaper food than has probably ever been the case in human history.  I’m not suggesting we abandon that, just that we become better informed consumers and make active choices about what we eat and why.

In addition to tasting better, and being more nutritious, eating seasonally brings back a sense of anticipation and, dare I say, romance, to eating.  Tomatoes are at their best in the summer so we eat lots of tomatoes then, for example.  Often times, lunch on Saturday in late summer will be thick slices of fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella cheese from The Old Windmill Dairy in Estancia, New Mexico, a few torn basil leaves from our garden, a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil along with some homemade bread to sop up all the juices.  Unless it’s from a can and going into something that’s cooked, you’ll rarely see a tomato in my kitchen the rest of the year.

The same sort of anticipation holds true with many other foods.  Some that come quickly to mind are zucchini blossoms (which I dip in batter and fry) and basil (which I turn into pesto and use to season quick-cooked tomato sauces all summer long but never use at other times of the year).

Seasonal eating isn’t limited to summer, however.  There are traditional winter crops and winter foods.  Cavolo nero, Tuscan kale, tastes better after a frost and is traditionally eaten in the late fall.  My mother-in-law pickles turnips each autumn which we eat in the winter made into a thick soup with cotechino, a Northern Italian sausage.

Traditionally, my mother-in-law’s pickled turnips would be made in the autumn.  That’s not only when the turnips are ready if you eat seasonally but that’s also when grapes are crushed and pressed for wine.  The turnips would be packed into a barrel with the solids left over from the grape pressing and allowed to ferment.  These days she makes a reasonable facsimile by simply pickling turnips in red wine vinegar though I keep hoping to find a winemaker in New Mexico who will sell me some crushed grapes to give the original recipe a try.

Red wine vinegar is always available, and mostly so are turnips.  Why don’t we make this at other times of the year?  Mostly it’s because of the association of pickled turnips (brovada) and cotechino with winter.  We try to maintain the seasonality even when we have the ability to circumvent it.  Doing that means there are always favorite foods to look forward to each season that we haven’t had in almost a year.

If it’s too warm where you live to have a hearty bowl of bean soup, tuck this recipe away for a few months and give it a try in the autumn.

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White Bean Soup
This white bean soup is easy to make and very nutritious. If you have the carcass of a smoked turkey or the bone from a baked ham, use my recipe for Roasted Turkey Broth, substituting the smoked turkey or ham bone, to make the broth for this soup. With a turkey carcass you definitely need to make broth otherwise you’d have lots of bones and bits in the final soup. While this isn’t the case with a large ham bone, I still prefer to make broth in advance so that I can skim off the fat. There is a link in the notes that follow this recipe to my recipe for Roasted Turkey Broth. Even if you don’t have a smoked turkey carcass or a ham bone you can make this soup. My supermarket sells various smoked turkey and pig parts. Just use them to make the broth. Be careful, though, as these products can be much smokier than a turkey or ham that was smoked to the right degree for eating. Failing all of that, use whatever broth you have on hand (or even water) to begin to cook the beans then add ¼ pound of chopped up bacon with the remaining ingredients.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
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Instructions
  1. Wash the beans. Cover with several inches of cold water. Refrigerate overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the beans.
  3. Combine the beans, broth, and bay leaf.
  4. Cover and bring to a boil.
  5. Cook, partially covered, at a medium boil for one hour, stirring occasionally.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients.
  7. Slice the carrots in quarters lengthwise.
  8. Cut the carrots crosswise into 1/4 inch pieces.
  9. Cut the celery into strips approximately the same size as the carrot strips.
  10. Cut the celery strips crosswise into 1/4 inch pieces.
  11. Dice the onion.
  12. Mince the garlic.
  13. Mince the parsley,
  14. Dig around in your freezer to find a Parmesan cheese rind that you froze with the intent of using in your next pot of soup.
  15. Ready a can of diced tomatoes.
  16. Combine all ingredients except the chopped ham or turkey with the partially cooked beans.
  17. Simmer, partially covered for another hour or two until beans are soft and vegetables are cooked. The cooking time will depend on the type of beans, their freshness, and your elevation.
  18. Adjust seasoning as needed while cooking.
  19. Add the chopped ham or smoked turkey during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
  20. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese, if you wish.
Recipe Notes

As good as this soup is when it is made, I prefer to let it cool then refrigerate it for at least a day before rewarming and serving.

To make the broth, substitute a ham bone or smoked turkey carcass (or other smoked meat) for the roasted turkey in my recipe for Roasted Turkey Broth.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Turkey Noodle Soup

May 24, 2017

Soup!

If my mother said she was making “soup” without any qualifiers, it meant her beef noodle soup.

She would cook a good-sized piece of beef in her soup pot along with large pieces of carrot, celery and potato till the meat was falling apart.

She would cook thin egg noodles separately.

To serve the soup, everyone would get a bowl of broth with pieces of carrot, celery and potato.  The large piece of beef would be in its own serving bowl and the noodles in another.

At the table, everyone added beef (shredding it with a serving fork) and noodles to their bowl of broth for the ultimate customization.

I haven’t had soup this way since my mother died.  I actually don’t ever remember being served soup in the same manner by anyone else, anywhere, ever.  If you’ve ever heard of, or had, soup being served this way, I’d really like to hear about it.

The other soup my mother made frequently was what is sometimes called “Italian Wedding Soup.”  It is a rich chicken broth with pieces of chicken, small meatballs, carrots, celery, pasta (typically, acini de pepe), and escarole.

Occasionally my mother would make Slovak Mushroom Soup, with dried mushrooms and potatoes, or Potato Soup with potatoes, milk and onions.  More often, however, we’d get these when visiting my grandparents.  Early on, my grandmother would make soup, but when she got older, Aunt Ann or Aunt Mary would make it and bring it to my grandparents’ house.

On a Sunday, when my father, his six brothers, and all of their spouses and children would visit my grandparents, a lot of soup could be consumed.  Mind you, there was no guarantee that there would be soup, but if there was, it needed to be an industrial quantity.

In the winter, my grandmother would keep the soup in a big pot in the root cellar in the basement.  It was the same root cellar where she would make sour cabbage but that was before I was born.  I know because my father and all of my uncles never tired of talking about my grandmother’s sour cabbage soup, or kissel.  They bemoaned the fact that nobody made it any longer.  I don’t have her recipe and while I can find recipes for soups that sound similar, none of them sounds exactly like the soup my father described.

Today’s soup, however, is not one that I grew up eating.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, my mother thought the carcass of a roasted turkey wasn’t intended to be reused.  I first had turkey noodle soup, made with roasted turkey leftovers, when I was in college.  The soup was made by Mary Lou d’Aquili, the wife of my college advisor and, many years later, the person with whom I went into psychiatric practice, Eugene d’Aquili.

Ever since then, I’ve turned the bones of most roasts into broth.

We have an array of fresh herbs year round thanks to the greenhouse.  I have totally given up dried bay leaves in favor of fresh ones.  They’re really easy to grow and the taste is incredible.  California bay leaves are stronger than Mediterranean bay leaves so if the balance of flavors in a dish is critical, and you’re using the former, opt for about half the amount called for in the recipe.  For most dishes, it’s not a critical distinction, however, and you can just substitute California for Mediterranean bay leaves.

Here’s a picture of our Bay Laurel plant, pruned down and ready to start its seasonal growth spurt.  In the fall I’ll harvest the leaves to make an Italian Bay Laurel Liqueur, Liquore al Lauro or Liquore Alloro.

The following recipe for Turkey Noodle Soup starts with the Roasted Turkey Broth I posted a few weeks ago.

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Turkey Noodle Soup
Save the bones, skin and shreds of meat from a roast turkey to make broth for soup. You can freeze the bones and make the broth later. You can also make the broth and freeze for future use. What you don’t want to do is to freeze the turkey noodle soup. I prefer not to freeze the soup, as the vegetables become too soft. If you must, however, freeze it before adding the noodles and peas. I keep a container of Parmesan cheese rinds in the freezer so that I always have them available to add to soup or other dishes to amplify the savoriness.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Bring the broth to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, slice the carrots.
  3. Slice the celery.
  4. Dice the onions.
  5. Mince the garlic.
  6. Dig a Parmesan cheese rind out of your freezer.
  7. To the broth, add sliced celery, carrots, onions, minced garlic, bay leaf, marjoram, cheese rind, and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Return to a low boil and cook, partially covered for 30 minutes.
  9. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  10. Add cooked turkey and tomato paste. Cook at a low boil for another 15 minutes.
  11. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference then add an additional ½ teaspoon of salt. (Remember, you’re about to add unseasoned peas and noodles.)
  12. Add the noodles. Bring to a boil.
  13. Add the peas. Boil gently till noodles are done.
  14. When noodles are cooked, taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in chopped parsley.
  15. Serve immediately.
  16. Pass grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese at the table.
Recipe Notes

Here is the recipe for Roasted Turkey Broth.  You should have 3 quarts of broth.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Slovak Caraway Soup

April 26, 2017

Growing up with an ethnically Italian mother and an ethnically Slovak father, we mostly ate Italian food with Slovak food appearing on the table every week or two.  On Sundays we usually went to visit my father’s parents and got a bit more Slovak food.

There were some classic American dishes that appeared on our table, too.  But, honestly, not that often.  The only thing my mother made that I didn’t like was hamburgers.  Well, that and liver.

But even my mother didn’t like liver.  She made it because my father liked it.  There was never the expectation that anyone else would eat it.

When she made liver…and that process involved running from the living room, through the dining room, to the kitchen to turn the liver as it sautéed and then running back to the living room to avoid the smell…she always made something else for the rest of us.  Well, that wasn’t so unusual either.  Remember…Southern Italian mother…food is important…everyone needs to eat.  There were nights when she would make one meal for my father, one for my sister, and one for me.  She would eat one of the three.

We always ate dinner together as a family and, despite the comment above, we usually at the same meal.  Sometimes, though, we each got individually catered food.

But back to hamburgers for a moment.  My mother was a great cook.  I know she used really good beef for her hamburgers.  She usually picked out a whole cut and had the butcher grind it.  She never bought ground beef that I recall.  I still follow the basic blueprint of her hamburger recipe today and enjoy it.  So, I can’t really tell you why I thought her hamburgers were awful.  But I did.

Soup was a big deal in our house.  My father really liked soup.  Interestingly, I don’t remember having Caraway Soup more than a few times while growing up.  I do know, however, that while I was in college I got the recipe from my mother after it appeared on our table one day.  It seemed like a revelation.

It has been a regular on my table ever since.

Print Recipe
Slovak Caraway Soup
This is a light, refreshing soup based on a vegetable broth for which the ingredients are almost always on hand. I like serving it as a first course though it works equally well for lunch or as a light supper. Grating the vegetables on the large holes of a box grater was one of my mother’s tricks. It makes fast work of prep and the small pieces quickly flavor the broth.
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Cuisine Slovak
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine Slovak
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
  1. Shred the carrots on the teardrop holes of a box grater.
  2. Shred the celery on the teardrop holes of a box grater.
  3. Thinly slice half an onion.
  4. Combine carrots, celery, sliced onion, 2 teaspoons of salt, ½ teaspoon of black pepper and 2 quarts of water in a stock pot. Cover. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Add the caraway seeds. Cover and simmer another 25 minutes.
  6. Strain the broth. Discard the solids.
  7. Return the broth to the stock pot. The soup can be made several hours ahead to this point.
  8. When your ready to finish the soup, return the broth to a bare simmer.
  9. In a heavy-bottomed stock pot large enough to hold the soup, sauté the minced onion in butter until soft but not brown, about 3-4 minutes.
  10. Add the flour to the sautéed onions and cook until lightly colored, about 2 minutes, stirring almost constantly.
  11. Stir the hot broth into the onion-flour mixture a ladleful at a time, stirring well while adding the broth to avoid lumps.
  12. After about one-third of the broth has been added, the remainder can be added all at once.
  13. Bring to a boil and boil gently for 1-2 minutes to thicken. Adjust salt and pepper.
  14. While the soup is boiling, beat the eggs with 1/3 cup of water. Season the eggs with salt.
  15. While constantly whisking the stock, drizzle in the eggs to create shreds of egg.
  16. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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