Tuscan Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup and Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

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A year or so ago, I read an article by Amanda Hesser on the future of food writing. As someone (clearly) interested in putting my kitchen work into words, I soaked up every morsel of advice. Amongst the facts and figures, one idea stood out: Amanda suggested to, “never eat the same meal twice. If you want to be knowledgeable about food, you need to experience it yourself.” I could not agree more. Whether or not you are a professional or home cook, it’s easy to retreat to your old standby meals. Everyone has one or two up their sleeve, whether it’s an omelet or osso buco. We turn to them for comfort and familiarity. I challenge you this: once you get the hang of a particular dish or recipe, tweak it. Swap out chicken breast for thighs, trade the baby spinach for those long stalks of Swiss chard. It could be as minute as a drizzle of good olive oil, a splash of vinegar. You may be pleased what you discover when you go off course a bit.

Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup

This soup is one of my go-to meals, particularly as the weather grows colder. Each time it comes out a bit different  – I’ll try a new type of sausage, leafy green or herb combination. Each new version gives me a little more knowledge of flavor.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 bulk hot Italian sausage links, casing removed*
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 carrots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon each chopped fresh rosemary and thyme
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 bunch Lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
  • 2 cups cooked white beans (from a 15-ounce can or cooked from dry*)
  • Chili flakes
  • Olive oil, fresh grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper, for serving

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up any large chunks, until deep golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add onion and carrot to pot with sausage drippings. Saute for about 5-10 minutes, until soft and translucent. You may need to add a bit more oil. Add stock, herbs and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add kale and reduce to heat. Simmer on medium-low for about 10 minutes. Add beans and sausage and cook for a few minutes longer to heat through. Remove bay leaf. Taste and season with salt, pepper and chili flakes.

Garnish each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh black pepper.

Notes:

You may purchase bulk sausage in casing at the grocery meat counter or in a butcher shop. When I am in the neighborhood, I stock up at The Meat Hook in Brooklyn. I mean, come on, you have your choice of ‘Classy’ or ‘Trashy’.

Watermelon-Jalapeno Gazpacho with Lime Yogurt Crema

It’s currently 90 degrees in NYC. It’s so hot I actually look forward to riding on the air-conditioned subway. I saw an ad on the train the other day for Seamless that justified ordering takeout as an alternative to sweating it out in the kitchen. Fair enough, Seamless. I cook in hot kitchens on the reg for my personal chef clients. When I come home, the thought of cooking something (anything) for myself on the stove is just…no. I’ve been doing a lot of salads and far too many smoothies. But alas, (wo)man can not live on salad alone.

Let’s talk gazpacho. It’s soup, but it’s cold. It’s exotic (does Spain count as exotic?) It requires no cooking whatsoever.  Not convinced yet? Check out this beaut:

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That’s right, I went ahead and made this Spanish street food into a full-fledged first course. It’s as easy as making a smoothie, but it tastes kind of like a salad. #Winning

Watermelon-Jalapeno Gazpacho with Lime Yogurt Crema

Inspired by Relish by Daphne Oz

Makes about 10 cups

Ingredients

For Gazpacho:

  •  5 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped
  • 3 cups watermelon, chopped
  • 1/2 English cucumber, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • Handful fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Red wine vinegar, to taste
  • Kosher salt, to taste

For Lime Yogurt Crema:

  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Lime juice
  • Kosher salt

For serving:

  • Torn basil and mint (optional)
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. In a blender, combine the tomatoes, red onion, watermelon, cucumber jalepeno, garlic, lime juice and cilantro. Blend until smooth (you may need to do this in batches). Add red wine vinegar and salt, to taste. Chill for a few hours before serving.
  2. For the lime yogurt crema: stir together the yogurt, lime juice and a bit of salt to taste.
  3. Ladle cold soup into bowls (I like to freeze mine for extra refreshment!) Top with a dollop of crema, basil, mint and a drizzle of olive oil.

Smokey Tomato Soup with Manchego Grilled Cheese

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Grilled cheese and tomato soup is one of a handful of meals I have eaten my entire life, on a regular basis. It never disappoints. In fact, it has a way of always making things better. As a kid, Campbell’s (make with milk, of course) and a cheddar (or Kraft single) grilled cheese was one of my favorite wintertime lunches after coming in from the cold. One of my first meals in Astoria was a ‘fancy’ soup & sandwich at The Queens Kickshaw, a local restaurant that specializes in 3 of my favorite things: grilled cheese, craft beer and coffee.

To my delight, a new shop, Astoria Bier & Cheese, just opened down the street. Despite the dozens of specialty food stores in the neighborhood, it’s the first cheese shop. After trying a few different types, I chose a young Manchego. I wanted a Spanish cheese to play up the Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton) in the soup. It also needed to melt well, an essential for any grilled cheese sandwich.

While it’s not necessarily traditional, it’s decidedly familiar. True comfort food after coming in from the city cold.

Smokey Tomato Soup

This is a slightly spicy, smokey version of tomato soup. It’s not super-smooth, but has a bit of texture. If you prefer, you can strain the finished soup through a fine-mesh sieve. A bit of cream at the end helps, too.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika or pimenton* (I used a combo of sweet and hot smoked paprika)
1 (14-ounce) can of San Marzano tomatoes (in juice)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon white granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock, veggie stock or water
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Cayenne, optional
Heavy cream, optional

  1. In a large, heavy pot, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onions and saute until transluscent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for about a minute, being careful not to burn. Add thyme and paprika. Stir to coat the onions.
  2. Add tomato paste and stir to coat the onions, increasing the heat a bit until some of the moisture has cooked off.  Stir in the the tomatoes, sugar and stock/water. Simmer for about 20 minutes, using a spoon to break up tomatoes. Remove the thyme. Let cool slightly before pureeing in a blender (you will probably have to do this in 2 batches). Be careful: take the plastic cap off the top and cover with a towel, allowing the steam to escape a bit. I prefer this method to a stick/immersion blender because it makes everything smoother.
  3. Transfer back to the soup pot and season with salt, pepper, cayenne and more smoked paprika, to taste. If you’d like a richer soup, you can add a couple tablespoons of cream.

-Recipe loosely adapted from A Cozy Kitchen

Manchego Grilled Cheese

Peasant-style bread (I used Bread Alone Whole-Wheat Sourdough)

Young manchego cheese, grated or thinly sliced

Butter

While this hardly needs explanation, here’s how I make grilled cheese:

Melt the butter in a skillet over low heat. Assemble your sandwich and place it in the pan.  Place a heavy skillet over the sandwich to weigh it down. Cook low and slow until sandwich is golden brown and crisp. Add a bit more butter to the pan when you flip the sandwich and cook the other side. Allow to ‘rest’ a bit before cutting.

*Smoked paprika is made with smoked peppers. The Spanish version is called pimenton. There is also a Hungarian version. It adds incredible depth and a subtle smokiness, reminiscent of the role bacon plays in a dish. You can find a couple different brands at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and specialty shops like EuroMarket in Astoria or Sahadi’s in Brooklyn.

Creamy Carrot-Ginger Soup

When you are surrounded by food all day, it’s sometimes hard to decide what to feed yourself. The food I prepare for my clients ers on the side of traditional: proteins, veggies, starches. There are a lot of requests for boneless skinless chicken breasts, quinoa and freezable meals. At the end of the day, the thought of turning on the stove, well, turns me off. I liken it to people who spend all day on a computer – you just want to do something (anything) else when you get home. This soup is the exception. I make this creamy (creamless) carrot-ginger for clients, in some shape or form, all the time. It can be made in advance and reheats well, so it’s perfect for dinner parties (or lazy Wednesdays on the couch). A few tips:

  • Don’t stress about chopping the onions and ginger perfectly. All of their imperfections will be forgiven once blended.
  • Depending on my mood, I add curry or garam masala – or not. It’s delicious either way.
  • This can be made entirely vegan by using vegetable stock or water and subbing the yogurt drizzle for my new favorite thing – cashew cream (as pictured above).
  • Yes, you can freeze this one.

Creamy Carrot-Ginger Soup

Makes about 8 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons oil (olive, grapeseed or my favorite coconut oil)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 2″ piece ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tsp. curry powder or garam masala (optional)
  • 1 large bunch carrots (about 7 medium-sized carrots), peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups or more vegetable stock (or chicken stock or water)
  • 1-2 cups coconut milk
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • For serving: plain yogurt (thinned with a little water) or cashew cream(optional)

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, ginger, curry powder (if using) and a large pinch of salt. Cook until onions are soft, about 5 minutes (you just want to sweat them, no color). Add carrots and cover with stock and/or water. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Simmer until carrots are very soft, about 30 minutes. Add 1 cup coconut milk. Let cool slightly. Puree in a blender, adding more coconut milk or stock to thin out. Season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper, for a little heat. Serve with a swirl of plain yogurt or cashew cream.

Summer Sweet Corn Soup

Corn is on its A-game right now. I can’t seem to get enough of it – on the cob, off the cob, in salads, sautéed and now, soup. This sweet corn soup enlists a really splendid method of boiling the cobs to make a flavorful stock. A quick trip in the blender and you’ve got a creamy soup (without the cream). I originally planned on serving this hot, but it was surprisingly good cold the next day.

Summer Sweet Corn Soup

Ingredients

For the stock:

  • 4 or 5 ears corn
  • 1 small onion, quartered (or 1 leek stalk, cut into chunks)
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed lightly
  • Salt

For the soup:

  • 1 T. canola oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • Salt
  • Thinly sliced scallion (for garnish, optional)
Directions

1. To make the stock, cut the kernels from the corn and set aside. Combine the corn cobs, onion, carrot and garlic in a large pot. Add 2 quarts water and bring to a boil. Season with a little salt. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Strain and return to a boil. Transfer to a smaller pot when reduced to about 5 cups.

2. Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot. Add the onion and salt and cook until tender. Add the corn kernels and cook a few minutes. Add the corn stock. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.

3. Transfer 1/2 the soup to a blender or food processor (let cool!) Carefully blend until smooth. Return to the pot with the chunky soup, stir and bring to a boil. Adjust seasoning.

4. Serve hot or cold with a little scallion.

Recipe adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s Recipes for Health

Fresh Pea Soup with Mint

While it’s still pretty chilly here in New York, according to my calendar it is in fact spring. Peas and mint are a classic springtime combination. Why, just the other day I saw good ‘ol Trader Joe’s pawning off a package of minted peas in butter sauce right next to my fave shelled edamame. If TJ’s freezes it, you KNOW it’s a keeper.

This minted pureed pea soup is really delicious and is just a smidge more labor-intensive than boiling water. Creamy (yet creamless), this soup makes an easy spring starter or light lunch. Dust off your blender for this one!

Fresh Pea Soup with Mint

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp. butter or canola oil
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, small dice
  • 1 scallion (green onion), thinly sliced (plus more for garnish)
  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 1/2 cups freshly shelled peas OR 1 10-ounce package frozen peas
  • 1/3 cup mint, chopped
  • 1/2 lemon, juice only
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Heat the butter in a medium saucepan, add the onion and scallion and cook over medium-low heat until soft and translucent, about 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add chicken or vegetable stock, increase heat and bring to a boil.
  3. Add peas and cook until tender (3-5 minutes for fresh or 3 minutes for frozen)
  4. Turn off heat, add mint. Puree in batches in a blender or use an immersion blender. Blend for about 4 minutes until soup reaches a smooth consistency. Add a bit of stock or water if necessary to reach desired consistency. Return to stove and bring back to a simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Garnish with sliced scallions and a sprig of mint.

You say tomato…

        

It’s cold in New York. Like wear-a-ski-mask-in-midtown cold. Even though I grew up in the tundra that is Central New York, the wind tunnels of the city still chill me to the bone. Enter: soup. I have loved tomato soup since it was mm-mm good. On a cold winter’s day, nothing hits the spot like some Campbell’s and a grilled cheese. Except for this soup. Homemade tomato soup is a treat that is well worth the time and effort (while minimal, it’s still a bit more complicated than opening a can of condensed.) This recipe hails from Cooks Illustrated, the magazine that prides itself in testing and re-testing recipes to perfection. Made without cream, this version uses the old Italian addition of bread as a thickener. Pappa al pomodoro, a favorite from my Florentine cooking class, is basically this soup before it’s pureed.  The best part? It’s made with pantry staples available year-round.  

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup

  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 pinch hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3 large slices good-quality sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Freshly grated Parmesan (for topping)

Directions:

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering.
  2. Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Using a potato masher, mash until no pieces bigger than 2 inches remain.
  4. Stir in sugar and bread; bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely saturated and starts to break down, about 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf and discard.
  5. Transfer half of soup to a blender, add one tablespoon olive oil and process until soup is smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes (See notes). Transfer to a large bowl and repeat with remaining soup and oil. (Or use an immersion blender!)
  6. Rinse out Dutch oven and return soup to pot. Stir in  broth. Return soup to a boil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan.

Curried Cauliflower Soup with Toasted Pita Chips

I am back in the blogosphere and  back to the kitchen after a rather extended holiday hiatus.  While I am not one to make resolutions, I think I naturally eat healthier post-new year.  After weeks of holiday indulging, I found myself craving some good, hearty soup. I received a spankin’ new Cuisinart SmartStick immersion blender as an early birthday present, and I was eager to get it cranking. I wanted to experiment with cauliflower after last week’s White House garden Iron Chef episode. I tend to shy away from cauliflower, as I associate it with the mushy, dining hall version. But add some spices and the whir of a blender, and cauliflower becomes a velvety, creamy soup with an Indian flair.

Ingredients

Soup:

1 head cauliflower

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium potato, cut into small cubes

1 tsp. tumeric

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. coriander

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 quart vegetable stock 

salt and freshly ground black pepper

hot sauce (optional)

1 T. lemon or lime juice

1/2 tsp. sugar

Garnish (optional): chopped cilantro, chopped tomatoes

Pita Chips:

whole wheat pitas, cut into triangles

nonstick cooking spray

paprika

garlic powder

Directions:

Soup:

Remove the leaves and thick core from the cauliflower, coarsely chop, and reserve. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook until softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower, potato, stock, cumin, tumeric, coriander, cinnamon and hot sauce (if using) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the cauliflower is very soft and falling apart, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add  lemon or lime juice and sugar. Using a hand held immersion blender, puree the soup, or puree in small batches in a blender and return it to the pot.  Season, to taste, with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle with cilantro or tomatoes and serve with pita chips.

Pita Chips:

Preheat broiler or toaster oven. Arrange pita triangles on a foil-lined baking sheet that has been coated with non-stick spray. Lightly spray the triangles and sprinkle with paprika, garlic powder and a bit of salt and pepper. Broil until crispy.

Yellow Split Pea Soup with Autumn Squash and Kale

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Another Sunday, another soup. After Mo sent me a slew of pumpkin and squash recipes from Cookstr, I knew I had to make this dish. I have wanted to try my hand at split pea soup and this recipe fit the bill. Lots of seasonal veggies? Check. Ease of preparation? Check. Vegetarian? Check. Inexpensive? Check. In fact, like last week’s pasta and my lentil soup, this dish clocks in at around $5 for a HUGE pot. Looks like I’m giving another blog a run for its money.

 

This recipe is extremely versatile. Don’t like squash? Try diced potatoes (cooking time may vary.) Forgot the fresh rosemary? A pinch of dried also works. The kale can be substituted for spinach or chard, or left out altogether.

 

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups dried yellow split peas

1 fresh rosemary sprig, 4 inches long

1 tsp. dried thyme

4 cups vegetable broth, plus more for thinning

salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces hard shelled squash, such as kabocha or butternut, in 1/3 inch dice (about 2 cups)

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and diced

1/3 pound kale or green chard, ribs removed (about 1 large bunch)

A few drops hot sauce (optional)

 

Directions

 

Heat olive oil in a large pot over moderate heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is soft and sweet, about 10 minutes. Add split peas, rosemary sprig, thyme and 4 cups broth and 4 cups water.

Bring to a simmer, cover and adjust heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until split peas are completely soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Taste often and remove rosemary sprig when rosemary flavor is strong enough. (It should be subtle.)

Season soup with salt and pepper.

Stir in squash, tomatoes and hot sauce, if using. Stack kale leaves a few at a time and slice into ribbons about ¼ inch wide. Stir them into the soup, cover and cook until squash and kale are tender, about 20 minutes.

If soup is a little thick, thin with vegetable broth.

Taste and adjust seasoning before serving.

Note: Like all soups based on legumes, this one thickens considerably as it cools. If you make it ahead, you will need to thin it with a mixture of broth and water in equal amounts.

-Adapted from Fresh from the Farmers’ Market by Janet Fletcher

Italian Lentil Soup

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The season has changed and with it, the menu. After a raucous weekend at my alma mater, all I wanted was to recover with a steaming bowl of soup. Lentil soup is great to make in a pinch, because most of the ingredients ar.e pantry staples.  Thanks to their high protein content, lentils make a substantial soup that is a meal in itself. There is a lot of flexibility with this recipe. You can use any kind of vegetables you have on hand – red or green bell peppers, zucchini and celery would all be good additions. While it’s not necessary, I added whole wheat orzo to the broth, but ditalini, macaroni or even alphabets (!) would work. I used spinach in place of the Swiss Chard, but any type of green would be suitable (right now Kale is particularly good.) I skipped the bouquet garni (it was a rough weekend) and used a pinch of thyme and parsley instead. Added bonus – this recipe is CHEAP. A 1 lb. bag of lentils are less than $2, running the entire recipe about $5!

This recipe makes a large pot of soup and reheats well. To glam it up, serve with toasted pita wedges and a simple green salad.

Lentil Minestrone With Green

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

Salt to taste

1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with liquid

1 pound lentils (brown or beluga), washed and picked over

2 1/2 quarts water

A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf, 2 sprigs each thyme and parsley, and a Parmesan rind OR 1 tsp. each thyme and parsley

1/2 pound Swiss chard, mustard greens or kale, stemmed, washed in two changes of water, and roughly chopped (about 6 cups)

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup elbow macaroni or other soup pasta (optional)

Freshly grated Parmesan for serving (optional)

1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat, and add the onion and carrot. Cook, stirring, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add half the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir together for a minute, just until the garlic is fragrant, and add the tomatoes and their liquid. Turn up the heat slightly and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the lentils, water and bouquet garni, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add the remaining garlic, salt to taste and add the greens. Continue to simmer, covered, for another 15 minutes. Add freshly ground pepper, taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in the pasta, and continue to simmer until the pasta is tender, five to 10 minutes. Remove the bouquet garni and serve, passing grated Parmesan at the table.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Advance preparation: The soup can be made up to a day or two ahead of time, but do not add the pasta until you are ready to serve. Reheat and add as directed.

-Recipe courtesy of  NY Times