I’m (again) taking a bit of a break today, so this week’s menu not only isn’t a complete menu, it’s a clips show: some of my favorites from the past 15 months of The Weekly Menu.
This time, because it already feels like winter and we’re on the cusp of actual winter (does three weeks count as on the cusp?) it’s soups.
I know that’s exciting, and I can make it even more exciting: THERE IS NO TURKEY SOUP IN THIS NEWSLETTER. I thought about it. I might even include a new turkey soup idea in a future newsletter. But if you’re like me, you’ve had more than enough turkey in the past say, month, to last you at least through the end of the year.
Without further ado: Soups.
Cauliflower Soup with Pickled Fruit and Nuts
Late season produce means brassicas. There are three different varieties in this week’s menu – but this one, cauliflower is one of the most versatile. You can roast it, boil it, even something that people incorrectly and heretically refer to as cauliflower rice.
It’s not rice.
In this case, blended with butter and a quick vegetable stock, it makes a smooth, simple, but intensely flavorful soup. I top it with a sweet and sour mix of pickled nuts, fruits, and the stems of the cauliflower for contrast and crunch.
Serves 4 as an appetizer course or two as a main
45 minutes, 15 minutes active
1 small head of cauliflower (approx. 1 lbs)
4 tbsp butter
2 ribs celery
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 small white onion
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp kosher salt plus additional salt to taste
Trim the stem and roots and half the onion.
Make a light vegetable stock: Place the onion, thyme, bay leaf, and celery in a pot with 2 ½ cups of cold water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil.
Trim the cauliflower, removing any green parts, (reserve the stems for the garnish) and cut into approx. 2-inch pieces.
Add to the salted water and cook until very tender – approximately 30 minutes.
Drain the cauliflower discarding the water, and transfer to the container of a high-speed blender.
Add butter, and 1 cup of the light vegetable stock.
Process until very smooth.
Return to a pan on the stove. Add additional stock until your desired texture is achieved. Season with salt and add 1 tsp finely ground white pepper.
To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with pickled fruit mixture and herbs/brussels sprouts leaves.
Pickled Fruit Garnish
¼ cup pistachios
¼ cup dried cherries
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
¼ cup water
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
Julienne the cauliflower stems and add to a non-reactive bowl with the salt and sugar. Allow to sit 15 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and allow to rest at room temp for one hour. Drain liquid before using.
Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
This was hands down the rainy-day favorite in my house growing up. Grilled cheese (always American cheese) and tomato soup from a can. We’d sit, staring out into the grey day that meant we were stuck inside, dunking chunks of toasted bread laden with gooey processed cheese into hot soup. And for a moment, it was okay that it was raining, and we were all stuck inside.
It’s still a rainy-day favorite at our house, but the way I make it has changed a bit. I bake most of my own bread – not because I’m trying to be a fancy smarty pants or whatever – but because I find it to be an incredibly satisfying and kind of even a little meditative process. Plus, in the end, there’s good bread. I make the soup from scratch too, not so much because I have anything against the canned soup as because, well, I never thought to buy the canned soup and one day I thought “Hey, I can make that.” And now, I make it from scratch a lot. Always for lunch, almost always when it’s cold and grey, or rainy, or on a day when you just need that little bit of comfort to help you through your day.
Makes 1 large loaf
400 g AP flour (plus more for bench flour)
200 g whole milk
25 g neutral oil (corn, canola, soy)
25 g granulated sugar
10 g kosher salt
7 g instant yeast
Slightly warm the milk (I microwave it on high for 45 seconds).
Add the milk, sugar, and yeast to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Add the oil and flour, then the salt and knead for 5 minutes or until a smooth dough has formed.
Allow to rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled in size.
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Flatten and roll the dough to form into a loaf, and transfer to a greased loaf pan.
Allow to proof in a warm place until the dough has reached the top of the pan.
Score a long cut into the top of the dough and bake until golden brown. Allow to cool completely.
Really Good Grilled Cheese
Makes 4 sandwiches.
8 slices White Sandwich Bread
2 cups shredded Cabot sharp white cheddar cheese
4 tbsp good mayonnaise such as Dukes (I know this sounds nuts, but trust me)
Sandwich ½ cup of shredded cheese between two slices of bread. Generously spread the outside of the slices with mayonnaise. The mayo serves in place of oil or butter.
Cook over medium heat until the bread is well browned and the cheese completely melted.
Cream of Tomato Soup
3 cups light chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp AP Flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1 clove garlic (opt)
If using the garlic, peel, trim, and mince or microplane it.
Melt 2 tbsp butter in a heavy bottomed soup pan over medium heat.
Add 2 tbsp flour and cook until well combined and any raw flour smell disappears.
If you’re using the garlic, add it now and cook for 1 minute.
Add stock and bring to a simmer.
Whisk in 4 tbsp tomato paste.
Cook 5 minutes.
Stir in cream.
Add salt and taste for seasoning.
I like to top this with a healthy dose of fresh ground pepper, but you do your thing, ok?
Provençal Garlic Soup (Soupe à l’ail)
This soup is basically nothing more than garlic, wine, and chicken stock, which both sounds like a joke about French cooking that someone named Nigel St. John Wallowthorp-Gathers III might make at his club if he existed, but also something that might be … well, not that good. The thing is, this soup is great. Slowly simmering the garlic cloves in wine and chicken stock changes their nature entirely, slowly replacing the harsh raw taste with a rich sweetness.
This recipe uses a liaison – egg yolks tempered with hot liquid and then whisked back into the main body of the soup. If you haven’t used it before, it can be a little intimidating - une liaison dangereuse if you will – but the result is an incredibly silky soup that’s just made for mopping up with good crusty bread. Nigel St. John Wallowthorp-Gathers III would approve. If he was real.
4 cups rich chicken stock
20 cloves peeled garlic, whole
1/2 cup white wine
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 sprig thyme
2 egg yolks
1 tsp salt
salt and pepper to taste
Using a small paring knife, trim just the root end off of each garlic clove.
In a soup pot, bring the stock to a low simmer, add wine, salt and the sprig of thyme, then add the garlic. Bring to a boil and reduce to a low simmer.
Cook covered at a very low temp for 1-2 hours, adding water if necessary.
Remove the thyme and discard.
Transfer the contents of the pot to the container of a blender and process until very smooth. Return to the pan and return to a very low simmer.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth.
While whisking vigorously, carefully ladle small portions (1/4 cup at a time) of the soup into the bowl.
If the egg appears to scramble, you’ll need to start again with fresh yolks.
Once you’ve created a smooth even liquid, reverse the process, whisking the egg and stock mixture back into the soup pot.
Return to a low simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes.
Off the heat, and just before serving, whisk in 1 tbsp of cold or room temperature butter.
Taste for salt and pepper and serve sprinkled with fresh herbs and fried garlic chips.
White Bean Soup with Kale
My memories of bean soup aren’t good. Let me explain. My alma mater’s hippie-packed cafeteria made some real horror-show attempts to provide vegetable protein to a student body with a large percentage of vegetarians. Most were downright awful. Some were worse than that, and don’t even ask me about the “Lentil Loaf” they served. There’s a reason I often ate three kinds of potatoes in one day. Now, both being older, fancier, and free of the constraints of tray based meal choices, I really enjoy bean soups. This dish, a simplified take on the classic Ribollita, has become a staple in our kitchen – sometimes spiked with sausage, sometimes with tomato added, sometimes made with leftover roast chicken. It’s satisfying, warming, and frozen and reheated ends up as a lot of fall/winter lunches.
3 hours plus overnight soak, 30 minutes active
1 cup dry small white beans
½ tsp baking soda
4 cups water
1 tsp Kosher salt
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 bunch Cavolo Nero (aka Dino Kale or Lacinato Kale)
¼ cup loosely packed celery leaves
4 cloves garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flake
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 small bough fresh basil
1 bay leaf
Salt and black pepper to taste
Soak the beans overnight in 4 cups of water with ½ tsp of baking soda and 1 tsp salt. This will soften the skins and improve the texture of the soup.
Peel, trim, and mince the garlic.
Mince the celery leaves.
Add the olive oil to a heavy bottomed, lidded pot over medium heat.
Add the celery leaves, garlic, and 1 tsp red pepper flake.
Sauté until the leaves are dark, the oil is slightly red, and the garlic is soft, but do not brown the garlic.
Drain the beans and add to the pot along with the chicken stock.
Using a short length of string, tie the herbs and bay leaf into a bouquet garni. You can simply add them all to the pot but tying them up makes it much easier to fish out later. Add this to the pot.
Bring the pot to a low simmer and cook 1-2 hours, or until the beans are soft.
Separately, blanch the kale for 30 seconds in vigorously salted water, the shock in ice water. Drain he kale and squeeze out as much water as possible. Blanching is optional, but it will help keep the kale’s color and flavor.
Chop the kale into 1-inch pieces and stir into the soup.
Simmer for 30 minutes.
Serve with chili oil and a sprinkling of fresh parsley or celery leaves.
To make chili oil, add 1 tbsp red chili flake to ¼ cup of oil and gently heat for 15 minutes or until the oil is red and fragrant. Strain, and use as a garnish.
Butternut Squash Bisque
Butternut squash is something, unfortunately, I’ve gotten a bit tired of these days. It’s on too many menus this time of year: squash ravioli, squash soup, squash cheesecake, squash beer … probably. You can’t avoid it. But it’s a classic for a reason. It’s … well, it’s good. It’s sweet and when cooked well, smooth and luscious in texture. It’s a good canvas for a lot of flavors. In this soup, I try to keep it very simple. The squash is roasted unadorned, then pureed with onions, butter, and one of my favorites – Chinese five spice powder. The five spice is like a more sophisticated “pumpkin spice” or baking spice, and while different blends have different ingredients and proportions, the base is cinnamon, pepper, and star anise – all of which add piquant depth to the caramel sweetness of the roasted squash. Chicken stock and cream finish the soup and make for a luscious bowl that’s a perfect start to a festive meal.
1 medium butternut squash
1 qt chicken stock or vegetable stock
4 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup cream plus 4 tbsp for garnish
1 clove garlic
1 medium white or yellow onion
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder plus more for garnish
1 tsp kosher salt plus more to taste
½ tsp white pepper
Preheat your oven to 350° F.
Split the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place cut side down on a sheet pan lined with a silicon mat.
Roast until the squash is fully cooked and softening, and the skin is beginning to brown.
Remove from the oven and let cool.
Remove and discard the skin.
Cut the squash into 2 inch chunks.
Peel, trim, and coarsely chop 1 medium onion.
Peel, trim, and mince the garlic.
In a large pan over medium heat, melt 4 tbsp of unsalted butter.
Add the chopped onion and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and five spice powder and cook for 1 minute.
Add the chicken stock, salt, and peeled squash chunks to the onion and spice mixture.
Bring to a simmer.
Cook for 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Transfer all contents (squash and chicken stock mixture) to the container of a high-speed mixer. Process until very smooth.
All of the preceding steps can be done a day in advance.
To finish, bring the pureed soup to a low simmer.
Stir in ½ cup of heavy cream.
Add white pepper, and taste for seasoning – adding more salt to taste.
To serve, ladle into bowls and drizzle with cream. Sprinkle additional five spice powder on top.