Wednesday, November 5, 2014

there is always soup.

I have been known to eat around the white & hairy bits on a nub of cheddar.  I dunk wilted greens in icy water after picking off brown spots, hoping for a spark of new life.  In the summertime, the raspberry devotee in me has become expert at fishing out that one, offending, collapsed and mushy berry which, if not stopped in its (rotting) tracks, will contaminate the rest of the tiny plastic box.  I suppose there's a good reason raspberries come in such small containers in the first place.

And there is always soup.

Cauliflower with its green leaves gone all bendy?  Carrots beginning to shrivel into themselves?  A red pepper with spots of soft black?  Sad droopy celery?

With a bit of stock, an onion or leek or (in desperate times) some scallions, and a twist of salt and pepper these sad characters can be, and have been, transformed into spicy, velvety, hearty soups.

In our house growing up, there was (and is) always soup to be had.  Mum's freezer is stocked with soups from bright carrot and cumin to celery with its curiously creamy consistency to vibrant broccoli-- all perfect accompaniments to a slice of brown bread with Irish butter.  Although Mum never explicitly instructed each of us in how to make a delicious bowl of soup, we learned from the best.

During lunchtime today, as I sat at my desk with a bowl of broccoli leek soup in front of me (from my own, less well-stocked freezer), I came across a recipe for chilaquiles from the New York Times embedded within an article about "aged" ingredients versus "spoiled" ones.  The recipe is a good way to use up old tortillas but besides that, the article extols the virtues of learning how to use ingredients that may be past their conventional prime.  And I got a thrill reading it!

I love wandering the aisles of Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, particularly on payday, and walking to the subway with a grocery bag full of exciting, tasty, wholesome ingredients for that recipe I've had my eye on for a fortnight.  But this year, Kevin and I decided to take the plunge and commit to a CSA subscription for the spring & summer.  Today is the last day, but we will be back to pick up another box next week when the fall season commences.  The CSA has been challenging, exciting, but frankly quite stressful for a person like me, who gets an insane level of satisfaction out of using every single last leek and zucchini before going out for more.

But the challenge of getting creative with those wilty Tuesday evening stragglers has not been the only benefit.  While feeding ourselves healthier, veggie-heavy meals, we have been supporting local farms and learning just how long zucchini season goes on.  Plus, one of the owners of the local beer and cheese shop where we collect our weekly box uttered an uncharacteristically familiar, "Oh, yeah, that's right," last week when we gave our names.

I'm getting off track here, but the point is that my cooking has become more resourceful and meaningful in the past few months.  I take such pleasure in standing over a pot of soup, or keeping a watchful eye on a chicken roasting in the oven, but knowing that the meal I make has equal parts taste (of course), nutrition, skills learned from my mother, and interactions with communities nearby have made time in the kitchen all the more valuable.

Now, what's for dinner tonight?

Broccoli and Leek Soup

1 lb broccoli florets (our CSA notes described them as 'young broccoli' and I was expecting broccolini but what we ended up with looked totally like regular broccoli to me)
1 large leek
3 scallions (or whatever other members of the onion family you might have lying around)
Olive oil
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
White pepper

Wash the leek really well and trim so the really yucky bits are gone.  Slice in half lengthwise and check to make sure all the sandy soil is washed away.  Chop into 1/2-inch pieces.  Chop up the usable parts of the scallions, which have undoubtedly been sitting in your fridge for far too long.

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add leek/scallion mixture and cook until the leeks start to get soft and fragrant.

Meanwhile, chop broccoli florets (loose bits AND stems) into small pieces.  When leek is almost totally soft, add broccoli and do your best to mix it all up.  Sautéeing the vegetables before adding stock is key in the patented Deirdre Method of soup creation.

When broccoli and leek is nicely mixed up and broccoli is turning more vibrantly green, add the stock.  I probably should have added a bit more, as mine didn't totally cover the veg and the resulting soup was quite thick.  So if you like thinner soup, add more liquid.

Cover and simmer until vegetables are soft, about 20-25 minutes.  Blend with an immersion blender (also crucial for soup making, just trust me on this one) to desired thickness.  I added a bit of milk in at the end to thin my soup out.  Season with salt and plenty of white pepper.

I had some stale bread on the counter which I tossed around in a pan with garlic and pecorino to make croutons, which, served on top of the soup, really elevated an otherwise "green" tasting bowl.  So much for my pre-holiday no-carb diet!