Tag Archives: weeknight suppers

a bowl of beans

fava

There may be more written about Italian food than any other cuisine on earth. For this reason it is intimidating to write about one’s food experiences in Italy. Nonetheless, I just returned from Rome and also a village in Perugia called Montefalco, and about this I must write.

fennel scraps

One of our first meals in Rome wasn’t even in Rome. It was at the cafeteria at Ostia Antica, on a Sunday at noon, when we were suddenly ravening and miles away from anything else to eat. Ostia Antica is an abandoned Roman port city right outside of Rome. Unearthed in the late 19th century, it is hauntingly beautiful, elegant, and organized. So different from the hot chaos of the Roman streets, here weeds grew quietly up between the ancient paving stones, and ancient tablets marked graves and directions. The city had been immense, Rome’s first colony, when it found it needed a port. Imagine the chaos of boats, bringing hundreds of African animals each day, bound for death in the Colosseum. Other boats carried wheat from Egypt, and slaves. People lived on top of people. You can see the remains of enormous apartment buildings. At several points I thought, just the trash from the amount of food consumed in the city itself—it must have been daunting.

The place was more or less devoid of tourists, except for a gaggle of German high-schoolers who were clearly Latin students traveling with their teachers. It was a brilliantly sunny, cloudless April day, and hunger struck us quickly. As miserable as cafeterias at a tourist site can be, we dutifully trouped in to find something to eat. The format was tavola calda, meaning there were dishes piled with warm items to one side, and dishes piled with cold items to another. The food looked good.

carciofi

I selected a number of salads, including one of borlotti beans: celery, celery leaves, carrots, all doused in olive oil, perfectly salted. We sat outside in the chilly sunshine with our dishes, scooping up bites of frittata, or cheese, or beans. Clearly, I thought, there is a conjurer in the kitchen, cooking up an insurrection in this a cafeteria.

Every meal was wonderful, even sandwiches from a cart in the park. Eventually we did find a real conjurer, at an enoteca in Montefalco called l’Alchimista. It is almost tragic that this restaurant is so hard to find, perched in this little town made entirely of rock. It is absurd how good it is to consume the layers of crepes, besciamella, and mushrooms they call “lasagne,” and it is almost silly how you begin to covet each remaining bite of grilled quail, or beef.

giant meringues indeed

Since I returned, I’ve begun to replicate my favorites modestly, beginning with that bean salad. I cook a pound of Rancho Gordo borlottis, or Ojo de Cabra, or cranberry beans at the beginning of the week. Then each night I scoop some out and make a new salad. Cafeteria food.

A bowl of beans

  • 3 cups drained and rinsed cooked or canned beans (Borlottis, cranberry beans, or Ojo de Cabra work well)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and then sliced thinly with a mandoline or vegetable peeler
  • 1 stalk celery, strings removed, finely chopped, leaves included
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley (if you have it)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt (much less if using table salt)
  • freshly cracked pepper

1. Select a bowl that will hold all of the ingredients. Mix together all ingredients except for salt and pepper. Mix well. Taste and add fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt, and cracked pepper, as you feel necessary. Finish with another drizzle of olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

 

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orange + avocado salad

salad forever

I learned this salad about halfway through my college years. I lived in Cabot House at Harvard, where the residential quarters are divided into 12 houses, each with a professor in charge, and a number of graduate students and other scholars kicking around to keep an eye on the undergraduates. The professor in charge of our house was a faculty member who had a remarkable wife, a phenomenal cook, a brilliant host, and a lively spirit.

Though I had grown up in a house where we fed every soul who walked through the door, Emanuela taught me a lot about the military-drill precision involved in preparing for entertaining. While she had a genius for flavors, textures, and more than anything, technique, she also innately understood when things had to be ready and how to get them ready. Just as hordes of college students and faculty would push their way through the door, platters and bowls arranged themselves flawlessly on the table. There was never any stress involved; even though people overuse the word “effortless” in this sense, she really made it all seem effortless. Suddenly we would all be tamed, civilized. Perching on chairs, eating carefully, listening to the speaker who was invited, mulling the topic. Civilization.

platter

Civilization; that is what this salad represents, and it charmed me from the beginning. Before college, I had never eaten or prepared an avocado. And we certainly never used a knife to take the skin off of an orange, creating glistening, jewel-like slices. Emanuela would toss this with giant tubes of pasta for a salad, dousing it in just the right amount of olive oil. These days, I leave off the pasta and serve it on its own. I recently made it for a big party and loved the proportions of it on the platter. If you’d like to be the genius of your next party, give it a shot. It will all seem so effortless, and civilized.

gems

Orange + avocado salad

This is scaled for a big crowd on a huge platter. You can bring it all the way back to 1 avocado and 1 orange.

  • 10 ripe Haas avocados
  • 10 juicy navel oranges
  • 1/4 of a red onion, finely chopped
  • extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt for sprinkling

1. Peel the avocados and cut into 6 to 8 lengthwise slices. Use a sharp knife to take the skin and pith off of the oranges. First, slice off each end, then set up on one of the flat ends and cut with the knife just under the pith, rotating the orange and removing skin and pitch in sections. Flip to the other flat end and remove remaining pith with your knife. Slice in half lengthwise and remove the center of the orange. Cut each orange into 8 or so slices. Place slices in a bowl as you go. Collect up all the juices from the cutting process and reserve.

2. Arrange orange and avocado slices in alternate on a large platter, in concentric circles or however you like. Drizzle all the juice from the orange over the platter, making sure avocados are covered. Sprinkle onion over, and drizzle olive oil over. Sprinkle with just a little Maldon salt or fleur de sel. Taste. Adjust seasoning. Serve.

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pollo marroquí

lemons perking up the kitchen

For a minute there, things were beginning to warm up in Connecticut. Last weekend, we went out to a lacrosse game and I actually got a sunburn on my face. Things were looking up. And then, just like that, the warm air retreated. But I find myself, in this situation, seeing the pantry staples in a new way. And while this recipe has a long list of ingredients, due to a riot of spices, the gist of it is quite short. Spices, onion, garlic, lemon, olives, chicken.

I named this Moroccan chicken, but in Spanish, because I imagine the dish as a cross between the two cultures. If you don’t have Aleppo pepper, use crushed red pepper, and if you don’t have za’atar, add a pinch of thyme, and just a few sesame seeds. I personally wouldn’t add a speck more cinnamon than 1/4 teaspoon, but you may like cumin more than I do. The paprika should be Spanish, but of course Hungarian will do. And I did not use smoked, because I wanted all the spices to harmonize. I had pitted green olives—just make sure they’re the Spanish kind, and not stuffed. You want the oily, vegetal quality of the olives from Spain without the overly salty brine.

simmering away

Handling the lemons as described is important. The zest, in great big strips, simmers away for the whole cooking time. The flesh of the lemon is sectioned out, and added just at the end, with the olives. The zest permeates the dish with lemon flavor and the juicy bites of lemon segments are a welcome awakening at the table.

The smell of this in the kitchen is pure heaven. And it is a weeknight supper to die for. Just before I started the chicken, I put on a pot of brown basmati rice, replacing half the water with chicken stock. With a salad and a big platter of fruit (if you like), you have supper. In my imagination, at least, this might be a fun dinner for kids to help out with, ransacking the spice drawer, scavenging the jars with the most alluring names. Imagining how warm it is in the places from which the spices came, and what it might be like to sail there, balancing on the foretop with their toes, squinting to fend off the sun. Of course that’s just for the kids. Grown-ups, we don’t need our imagination to survive the final days of winter.

ready to serve

Pollo marroquí

  • 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon za’atar
  • 3/4 cup pitted green olives
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 – 2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
  • about 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups chicken stock

1. Place a tiny bowl (such as a ramekin) and a small bowl (that will hold about 2 cups) on your work surface. Using a vegetable peeler, remove zest only from the entire lemon in thin strips. Place in the tiny bowl or ramekin. Add the garlic, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, Aleppo or crushed red pepper, ginger, and za’atar to the tiny bowl and set it aside.

2. Now place the small bowl (that will hold up to 2 cups) near your work surface. Take the peeled lemon and, using a very sharp paring knife, slice off both ends to create a flat end. Turn the lemon onto one end and use the knife to remove the pith, following carefully along the curve of the lemon, exposing the juicy pulp. Flip to the other end to finish removing any remaining pith. Then section out wedges of lemon pulp by running the knife just inside the membranes, removing the slice of pulp only and placing it in the small bowl. Squeeze any juice remaining in the membranes into the bowl with the pulp. Add the olives to the lemon pulp, and set aside.

3. In a large, shallow casserole or saute pan with a lid, heat olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add boneless, skinless thighs and move them carefully around the pan as you put them in, so that the chicken does not stick. Cook until light brown on one side, then carefully flip them over and cook the other side, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove chicken with tongs and set nearby on a plate. Place sliced onion in the pan, still over medium heat, and sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Saute for about 10 minutes, until onions are soft and golden brown. Add the spices and zest in the tiny bowl to the pan. Stir until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes, and add the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and return the chicken plus any accumulated juices to the pan. Stir, and add the lid. Turn heat all the way down and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked and tender. Flip chicken pieces about halfway through cooking.

4. Remove the lid from the pan and remove the chicken to a clean plate. (I flip the lid onto its handle—my Le Creuset braiser has a flat knob—and rest the chicken there.) Cook pan juices for 5 to 10 minutes at medium-high to reduce and thicken them. Then stir in the contents of the other bowl: lemon pulp, juice, and olives. Reduce heat to a low simmer, return chicken to pan, and simmer at lowest heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve chicken on rice or couscous with a big scoop of sauce from the pan.

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black bean, chorizo + kale soup

close up

Someday I will get organized and do a series of posts on how one pot of beans can feed you for an entire week. If you play your cards right, beans can be an essential part of a sound weeknight meal preparation strategy. Actually, if it is true that dilettantes talk strategy while professionals talk logistics, then having a good supply of perfectly cooked beans on hand is a professional-grade maneuver. Especially in winter when vegetables are in shortly supply, beans augment fresh vegetables—in this case, dark, leafy greens—and can be combined in any number of dishes throughout the week.

kale leaves

I cooked a pound of Rancho Gordo “Midnight Black” beans on a Sunday and we had tacos one night and this soup on another. On a third night I made a bean side dish with onions, garlic, and a few tomatoes. I used some of the ingredients I had around for the tacos—queso fresco, cilantro—to garnish this soup. These beans, and their broth, are out of this world. I wanted to make a soup to use up the bean juice; I couldn’t bear to imagine pouring it down the drain. I like to keep a few cut-up pieces of chorizo in the freezer for scrounge nights when I might have some beans and some other odds and ends around, but I need something to add flavor and protein to the dish. If you did not cook your own black beans, use canned ones, but rinse them first. This means you’ll have to add some extra stock to the pan. The black bean cooking liquid gives the soup a lot more body, however. If you’re using canned beans and extra stock, you may want to run an immersion blender in the soup for a few seconds just to create a little more thickness. Because beans (and also chicken stock, if you’re using store-bought) have wildly varying levels of saltiness, be sure to taste the soup in its final simmer to determine whether you need to add salt to balance it out at the end.

Be careful; this soup comes together super fast. Supper might even be ready before you’re hungry.

bowl of soup

Black bean, chorizo + kale soup

  • 1 link fresh chorizo sausage (1/3 lb)
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 Tb olive oil
  • 1/2 large bunch of lacinato or regular kale (6 ounces), sliced into a chiffonade
  • 3 cups black beans plus 2 cups of their cooking liquid (I use Rancho Gordo “Midnight Black” beans)
  • 1 cup chicken stock (if using canned beans, increase to 2 to 3 cups and rinse and drain beans)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • crumbled queso fresco (optional)
  • chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

1. In your favorite heavy soup pot, crumble the chorizo and cook until browned and no longer pink. Add onion and garlic, and add a little olive oil if needed to saute these with the chorizo. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Add the rest of the olive oil and crushed red pepper, cook for 1 more minute, and add kale. Saute for 3 minutes.

2. Add beans and 3 cups of liquid (either 2 cups of bean cooking liquid, if you cooked your own dried beans, or use 2 additional cups of chicken stock) and salt. Stir and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. (This depends entirely on whether your beans were already salted.) Dish into warm bowls and garnish as you wish.

 

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roasted sweet potatoes + brussels sprouts w salmon

IMG_2852

As we accelerate towards the vernal equinox (can’t believe I just typed that), the situation at the farmers’ market becomes more extreme. We can still find winter squash, which have been stored for a while and are still tasty, and sweet potatoes, which are even sweeter now than they were at Thanksgiving. Beyond this, it’s slim pickins. This past Saturday, though, I witnessed what I consider to be the very earliest sign of spring at the market: eggs. We are entering what some farmers and folklorists call the “egg moon,” the moon cycle before Easter when the hens start to lay again in earnest. There is more sunlight each day, and while we silly humans continue to bask in misery when we see the dirty snow on the ground, grimacing at our friends’ Facebook postings from tropical locations (enough, already!), the hens are keeping their beady little eyes on the ball. The ball, that is, that hangs in the sky during the days, the days that are inching longer, and longer still. There are worlds of wisdom in our feathery friends.

IMG_2828

Take heart, gentle reader! We have only a few weeks to go before little greens and pussy willows make their way to the market. Meanwhile, grab yourself some sweet potatoes—or winter squash—and roast them up. Soon enough you’ll be waxing sentimental about the root vegetables of winter, and how you miss them at times in the glorious summer. Sweet potatoes are not the favorite vegetable of my beloved, but my roots include a tribe of sweet potato-growing farmers in southern Maryland. And I love sweet potatoes. Brilliantly, you can cut them into small fry-shaped batons, and toss them in smoked paprika, salt, and olive oil for a delicious treat. You can do the same with little, teeny Brussels sprouts. You can roast these and then at the end add a nice piece of salmon and have yourself a decent meal.

You can scale this recipe up for a family-sized meal that’s fast to throw together and tasty, too. And use the time you saved to dream of what you can make next week with eggs, and soon, with garlic scapes, and spinach, and a handful of tender and early herbs.

IMG_2834

Roasted sweet potatoes + brussels sprouts w salmon

Recipe below will feed 2 people; double or triple it to feed more, and use multiple baking sheets

  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled, cut into 1/4″ x 1/4″ fries the length of the potato
  • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 1/4 of a large red onion, sliced into thin rings
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, plus a little extra for the fish
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 salmon filets, 4 ounces each
  • lemon wedges, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato fries and half of the onion slices with half the olive oil, half the paprika, and half the salt. Spread evenly on baking sheet, making sure fries aren’t touching each other. Then, in the same bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with half of the onion slices and the rest of the olive oil, paprika, and salt. Spread on the other half of the baking sheet.

2. Place baking sheet in hot oven and bake for 20 minutes, removing once to turn fries and toss sprouts. Remove from oven and make sure that sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts are mostly cooked. Make space in the middle of the baking sheet and add the fillets, skin side down. Sprinkle a little smoked paprika on top of fish. Return to oven for 10-15 minutes, until fish is cooked. Remove from oven and serve promptly, spritzing with lemon juice if desired.

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borlotti beans w fennel + tomato

The beans and legumes are having a heyday here in our kitchen, even more than usual. With a recent shipment of beans from Rancho Gordo, we are on a bit of a tear. Borlottis, a type of cranberry bean, are a particular favorite, and if you have just two people in your family, you can cook a one-pound bag on Sunday and eat them all week. In fact, we made this dish with fennel and tomato in the same week that we made this other dish that involved serving the Borlotti beans over bread cubes toasted in olive oil, with just a little frizzled sage on top. They don’t need much adornment to really sing.

fenouil

Combining the Borlotti beans—you can use any cooked cranberry bean—with a lot of fennel, kale, and tomatoes seems less like a bean dish and more like a winter vegetable dish. For the first time in weeks, I felt like I had eaten vegetables in the way I feel I’ve eaten vegetables in the summer. It feels totally reckless to have so much fresh stuff in the pot, but really these are winter produce staples. The fennel mellows and loses its licorice-y taste, leaving behind a complicated sweetness. The kale is earthy and the tomatoes provide their characteristic acidity, which balances the dish. It is a bonus that if your beans are already cooked, this takes only a few minutes to get to the table.

beans and such

I based this concoction on a recipe in Paula Wolfert’s amazing book, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, which my sister bought me for Christmas. The book is marvelous, and I was enchanted by a recipe for black-eyed peas with fennel and tomatoes that Wolfert said was from Crete. That was enough to sell me on it. A little bit of Crete in my kitchen? In February? Yes, please.

Borlotti beans w fennel + tomato

Adapted from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert

  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 4 to 6 large kale leaves, ribs removed and cut into a fine chiffonnade
  • 3/4 cup plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups cooked Borlotti beans, or other cranberry type bean (about 14 oz)

1. Warm onion, fennel, and olive oil over medium heat. Toss and cook for about 15 minutes, until vegetables are pale gold in color. About halfway through, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and toss to continue cooking.

2. Then add kale and toss for a few moments. Add tomatoes and water and bring to a simmer. Stir and add cooked beans. Simmer for about 15 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Taste for seasoning, and add a bit more salt as needed. Serve warm.

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smoky glazed pork chops w crunchy almond crumble

My favorite thing to do to dress up a dish is to fry up some bread crumbs (I make them in the food processor as bread gets stale, and simply add them to a bag I keep in the freezer) and sprinkle them on top. Of whatever.

I love my ruts, and prefer to stay in them for as long as possible. But this particular rut has deepened, and broadened, to include some chopped almonds with the bread crumbs. If there is one thing that is as delicious as fried bread crumbs, it is fried almonds. They add more crunch and richness than the bread crumbs alone, and also taste delicious on everything.

almonds

Pork chops for dinner in this house are a common occurrence as well. It was only a matter of a few days before I recognized the unhatched potential of the crumb/almond mixture combined with the usual pork chop. Punched up with a slightly sweet, spicy, and smoky pan sauce, and we had a dish evocative of smoked and sugared almonds, with routine weeknight potential.

The big problem here is that the crunchy topping is a delicious snack. I always taste-test it when it is done frying, to make sure I have put enough salt in it. This is a terrible mistake, because I pinch up little bites of it while the chops cook, crunching away until there is barely enough left for supper. I suggest giving it to someone you trust, who will hide it from you until the time comes to heap a few spoonfuls on top of each pork chop. There; I can’t be held responsible when your family is having plain old pork chops once again for supper.

Smoky glazed pork chops w crunchy almond crumble

Serves 4

  • 4 large boneless center-cut pork chops
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
  • 1/2 cup fresh coarse bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon Maldon or kosher sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup

1. In a small bowl, combine smoked paprika and kosher salt. Dry pork chops with a paper towel and rub them evenly with the paprika-salt mixture. (You can set chops aside at this point in the refrigerator for up to one day.) In a large, nonstick skillet, warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering and add chops. Cook on first side until dark brown, then flip them carefully and brown the second side. Reduce heat to medium and add a lid or cover, and cook until internal temperature of pork chops reaches 150 F.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, warm the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until very hot. Add almonds and fry, stirring constantly, until toasted. Add bread crumbs and crushed red pepper, and continue stirring until they are toasted as well. Remove from heat and add Maldon salt or kosher salt and stir. Set aside until chops are cooked.

3. Remove lid from pork chops when they are cooked through, and drizzle with maple syrup. Flip chops and stir syrup into the pan liquid. Increase heat to medium-high and reduce sauce, turning chops regularly. To serve, place on chop on each plate and drizzle with one-quarter of pan sauce. Then scoop one-quarter cup of almond crumble topping onto the top of the chop and serve.

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split pea soup

I was serious when I said frugal was the watchword for January. And maybe February, too. I make no promises.

I read Joan Acocella’s review of two books about St. Francis of Assisi on the train on the way into New York earlier this month. I’m not going to lie: there is something about this guy that really appeals to me.

I don’t think he ate split pea soup, probably. But I think he would say we are on the right trail. Except that split pea soup is so delicious. I can’t understand how, when it only uses water, instead of broth. And split peas, well, they are so homely. But there is something delicious going on here. For me, the key is for the soup not to be too thick and pasty. As it simmers, I add splashes of boiling water as necessary to keep the consistency, well, soupy—instead of pasty. Maybe you like a much thicker split pea soup, so by all means adjust to your tastes, and then think about the possible connection between the frugal and the sublime.

Split pea soup

  • 16 oz dried split peas
  • 7 cups boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 large carrots, trimmed and peeled, sliced
  • 4 stalks celery, trimmed, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp crushed pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1. In a very large bowl, combine split peas and boiling water. Allow to sit and soak for 1 hour.

2. In a large soup pot, combine chopped onion, carrots, celery, and garlic with olive oil. Heat over medium-high heat. When mixture becomes fragrant, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until vegetables are soft and onion is translucent and turning golden, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add crushed red pepper, thyme, and salt. Add soaked split peas and all the soaking water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Bubbles should break the surface of the pot every few seconds. Cook for 1 to 1 and a half hours and then taste to see if peas are cooked and soft, and break up easily. Add a little salt if necessary. If peas aren’t done yet, cook for another 30 minutes or as needed until peas are fully cooked. Throughout the cooking, if the mixture becomes thick instead of soupy, add splashes of boiling water to the pot as needed.

3. When soup is cooked, remove from heat. Use an immersion blender to carefully blend it into a puree. Add a bit of boiling water if soup is too thick. Alternatively you can blend it in batches in a regular blender, being cautious to vent the top slightly, while still allowing no soup to spatter or escape.

4. Serve in heated bowls. If you aren’t feeling as ascetic as St. Francis, serve with these biscuits.

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rye drop biscuits

Oh, how I hate to go to the store in this wintry weather.

This tells you that I’m ridiculously lazy, since there is a lovely co-op only two blocks from my house. But January is a month in which I rely more than usual on my pantry, and rarely have a nice fresh loaf of bread in the house, in spite of the temptations routinely proffered by our talented neighborhood bakers. I make regular runs for aromatics (leeks, shallots, onions, garlic) and citrus (oranges, lemons, limes), but I mostly stock up at the weekly winter markets and hope for inspiration to strike each evening when I survey my kitchen in the dark hours after work.

biscuits on a tray

Often in these cases I resort to soup or beans, and the best way to provide these dishes some comfort is with a nice quick bread. Quick breads are breads leavened with baking powder or soda, rather than yeast, and include biscuits, cornbreads, soda breads, scones, and farls. Once my soup or stew is gurgling away on the simmering burner, I will often whisk together flour with a leavener or two and salt, fold in some melted butter and cream or buttermilk, and make some nice buttery breads to go with the supper. The trick to this recipe, and others in my repertoire, is one that I learned from Cooks Illustrated a long time ago: melt the butter and let it stand for a few minutes. Then pour it straight into the ice-cold buttermilk or milk. It curdles into small particles when it hits the cold liquid, which creates the same effect as cutting or rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients, but with none of the work. Perfect for someone too lazy to even walk two blocks to the co-op for a fresh loaf.

biscuit on a plate

For this batch, I used half-and-half mixed with lemon juice to sour it, which makes a rich and fluffy biscuit. You could use buttermilk for a less fatty version and omit the lemon juice. Or, you could whisk some plain nonfat yogurt into your milk or half-and-half as well. There is more than one way to skin this cat. Enjoy experimenting with it.

Rye drop biscuits

Makes 6 to 8 biscuits.

  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons or 1/2 cup) of butter
  • 1 cup dark rye flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 cup of half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or grease lightly with butter or shortening. Melt butter gently in the microwave (at 50% power) or on top of the stove just until barely melted. (I turn it off before it melts entirely and whisk to get the remaining solid butter to melt.) Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes.

2. In a 2-cup measure, combine half-and-half with the lemon juice. Stir with a fork. It will curdle. Pour in cooled butter. Stir again with a fork.

3. Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour in the butter mixture and use a rubber spatula to mix into a large mass. Using a metal spoon, drop mixture into 6 or 8 large, craggy biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Pop biscuits into the oven and bake for about 15 to 16 minutes, until golden brown on top and bottom. Serve immediately, while piping hot.

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balsamic + honey glazed brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts are our bread and butter around here this time of year. We probably eat them three or four times each week. Sometimes I roast them in the oven, and sometimes I roast them in a pan on top of the stove. Reflecting on this vacillation, I can divine no method to my choices. I think in this I am completely mercurial; sometimes I feel like preheating the oven to 425 F, and sometimes I don’t. Maybe it has to do with whether there is something else already in the oven, though not always. Either way, the sprouts are delicious, and deserve a spot on our plates regularly in the winter.

These are of the pan-roasted variety. The key here is for the first sear to let the pan be nice and hot, and let the sprouts rest with their cut sides on the cooking surface much longer than you would find natural or sensible. Then you pop the lid on the pan to steam the sprouts until they are just cooked through. In the end, much depends on the acidity of your balsamic. I have had balsamics that range widely in their balance of sweet and tangy. Taste, taste, several times before you serve. I always think this recipe will yield leftovers with just the two of us. About this I have always been wrong.

Balsamic + honey glazed brussels sprouts

Enough for 2 to 4

  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 1.5 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and washed, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • kosher salt or fleur de sel
  • freshly cracked black pepper

1. In a large nonstick skilled, warm the olive oil and shallots over medium-high heat. Cook until shallots are fragrant and browning. Add sprouts and work your way around the pan flipping them so they are cut side down. When cut side has browned well, begin to stir the pan, modulating the heat as necessary, for about 5 minutes. Crack some pepper over the sprouts. Then place a lid over the pan and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. (If your sprouts were enormous, it may take longer to mostly cook them through in this step.)

2. Meanwhile, whisk together the honey and balsamic. Remove the lid of the pan and pour in the honey and balsamic mixture. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until sprouts are glazed and have absorbed the sauce. Sprinkle with salt and taste. Add more vinegar or honey as needed, and serve.

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