Soups & Salads
As all cooks know, there are those times when you just have to buckle down and get on with making do with what you happen to have on hand. This time of year that means getting creative with the heartier autumn vegetables varieties that are available in your local farmers markets. As it happens I put this salad together on the day of the November full moon so aptly named an Autumn Moon Salad.
Maybe I’m taking some artistic license here, but indulge me. The cool weather and a brilliant full moon shimmering in the crisp autumn sky somehow seemed in sync with the earthy flavors of gold potatoes tossed with deep green Brussels sprouts and kale leaves spiked with chilies and fresh herbs. There are those times in the kitchen when everything seemingly just comes together effortlessly.
Autumn Moon Salad serves 4 to 6
- 4 gold potatoes aka Yukon gold potatoes
- 1 pound young Brussels sprouts
- 2 large bunches kale or collard greens
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¾ cup sliced Spanish pickled red pimientos
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano ( marjoram or wild thyme)
- 2 teaspoons pepper corns, lightly toasted and coarsely crushed
- ½ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
- flaked sea salt
- Greek yogurt
- za’atar (optional) For more information about za’atar and substitutes (click here)
Peel the potatoes and cut into bite size pieces. Place them in a sauce pan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil and reduce the heat and simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender but not too soft. Transfer the potatoes to a colander, drain well, and set aside to cool.
Remove the outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts and discard. Then snap off a few layers of leaves and place them in a steamer basket. Divide the remaining more compact sprout heads into quarters lengthwise and place them on top of the sprout leaves in the steamer.
Cut the kale (or collard) leaves off the stems. Peel and thinly slice the stems and add them to the steamer basket. Using a very sharp knife, remove the central ribs of the leaves and discard. Slice the leaves in half and place them in the steamer basket.
Cover the steamer with the lid and place over medium heat. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and steam the contents until tender, but not limp. Then remove the steamer basket and set it aside to cool uncovered.
While the vegetables are steaming you can saute the onions and garlic. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil to a saute pan set over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onions and reduce the heat a little bit. Saute until the onions are softened. Add the garlic and saute another couple of minutes and then set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked potatoes, steamed sprouts and kale (or collards) and toss. Add the sauteed onions and garlic and gently toss to evenly coat the potatoes and vegetables with the onions and garlic. Then fold in the pimientos.
Drizzle the vinegar and remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over all and toss well. Scatter the oregano (marjoram or wild thyme), crushed pepper corns, ground red chile powder, and flaked sea salt over the surface. At this point I like to use my hands to combine the seasonings into the salad for a more even distribution without damaging the potatoes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
The salad is now ready to serve or it can be refrigerated for later use.
This salad is best served at near room temperature.
Place the salad in a shallow serving bowl or platter. Drizzle the surface with room temperature Greek yogurt and a good dusting of za.atar.
Dia de los Muertos and Halloween celebrations, albeit different, will both be in full swing next week on both sides of US Mexican border. I have many fond memories of Dia de los Muertos in Mexico as well as in the US sate of New Mexico. The custom of a gathering of family and friends to celebrate together with the spirits of the departed dates back to pre-Columbian cultures in Central America. Typically paths are lined with marigolds to guide the living and the departed to candle lit fiestas held in cemeteries where local foods abound, beer and tequila flows freely, and corridos ballads thread though the air until the wee hours of the morning.
For more on Dia de los Muertos and a recipe for a Mexican roasted Pumpkin Soup (click here).
This time of year is also chile harvest season and what better way to use freshly picked green chilies than in a hearty Sopa de Maiz y Chile Verde Con Pollo. Mexican in origin but also a classic in Northern New Mexico where the New Mexico chiles reign supreme. A perfect offering for a Dia de los Muertos supper!
In Mexico fresh green poblano chilies would be used for this soup. In New Mexico Roasted fresh green New Mexico chilies would be used. If neither are available where you live use fresh green jalapeños which, when flame roasted, have a wonderful full bodied flavor and robust heat.
If you live in the US frozen flame roasted New Mexico green chilies are an alternative, though expensive. They are available online
As tempting as canned green chilies might be, I would suggest avoiding them. They are virtually tasteless.
Sopa de Maiz y chile Verde con Pollo ( Corn and Green Chile Chicken Soup) makes 2 ½ quarts
For the chicken: Ideally, cook the chicken the day before you plan to make the soup.
- 1 whole chicken
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 3 celery ribs, diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
Rinse the chicken and place it in a large stock pot. Add enough water to the pot to generously cover the chicken. Add the onions, garlic, celery, bay leaves, and black peppercorns.
Place the pot on the stove top over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to a low simmer and cook the chicken for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the chicken.
Remove the chicken from the pot and set both the chicken and the stock aside to cool.
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle pull the meat off the bones in generous chunks and place them in a bowl. Leaving the chicken in larger pieces will give the soup a more substantial profile and tenderer meat when reheated.
Toss all the bones into the stock pot and return the pot to the heat. Bring the contents to a low boil and cook until the stock is reduced by half.
Remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool for 20 minutes or so. Then strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a large container and set aside to cool to room temperature. Discard the bones and solids after straining the stock.
Once the stock is cooled, cover the container with the lid and refrigerate overnight.
The following morning skim off the fat that has solidified on the surface of the stock and save for another use or discard it.
For the soup:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 3 celery ribs, finely diced
- 1 head garlic, cloves separated, roasted in a dry skillet until lightly colored, skin removed, and minced
- 2 quarts prepared chicken stock
- 2 ears of corn, husks and silk removed, and grilled
- 4-5 fresh New Mexico green chilies ( or 3 large fresh green poblano chilies, or 6-8 fresh green jalapeno chilies) flame roasted, skin and seeds removed, and cut into thin strips and diced
- 2 cups home cooked white beans (or canned), drained
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crumbled
- ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves crumbled
- 1 ¾ teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
- 1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons minced parsley leaves
Place the olive oil and butter in a stock pot set over medium heat. Swirl the pan until the butter is melted and combined with the oil. Add the onions and celery and lower the heat to medium low and cook, stirring now and again until the onions and celery are very soft and translucent, about, 20 minutes.
Add the garlic and continue to cook another 5 minutes. Then add the stock. Once the stock begins to boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, adding the beans after 15 minutes. Be sure to stir from time to time so the beans do not stick to the bottom of the pot.
While the soup is simmering, grill the whole corn cobs over an open flame until the kernels are evenly colored and a deeper yellow. Then cut the kernels off the cob and set them aside in a bowl to use later.
Scrape the cobs with the back of a pairing knife to extract the corn milk from the cobs and transfer the scrapings to the simmering stock pot.
Likewise, while the soup continues to cook flame roast the chilies until the skins are evenly blistered. Transfer them to a bowl, seal with cling film, and let them sweat until cool enough to handle. Then slip off the blistered skin. Cut the chilies in half, remove the seeds and veins, slice into strips, and cut the strips into half inch pieces and set aside.
Once the ingredients in the stock pot are cooked remove the pot from the heat and cool for a few minutes. Then blend the contents of the pot with a hand held immersion blender until the mixture is smooth.
Return the pot to to the stove top set over medium heat and add the corn kernels, green chilies, oregano, marjoram, sage, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Stir and cook the soup for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently as the pureed beans would otherwise settle to the bottom of the pot and scorch.
Put the pulled boiled chicken in a pot with a cup or so of water and reheat until the chicken is hot.
Taste the soup broth and in the stock pot and add salt as needed. Stir in the parsley and cook another couple of minutes. Then add the hot pulled chicken to the pot and stir to combine. Bring to a low simmer just before you are ready to serve.
- dried red chile rajas (strips)
- tostada corn chips
- sour cream
- lime wedges
To make the dried red chile rajas, place 8 dried red chilies in a dry skillet set over medium low heat. Using a metal spatula, press the chilies
against the bottom of the skillet briefly then flip them and repeat, then promptly remove them from the skillet to a cutting board.
While they are still warm and pliable, cut the chilies in to very thin strips lengthwise. Then halve the strips crosswise. Heat a little olive oil in a small pan and briefly fry the rajas and set them aside to cool.
Ladle the soup into shallow soup bowls, mounding the chicken in the center. Stick several tostatda chips around the chicken. Add a dollop of sour cream in the center and scatter the red chile rajas over the sour cream. Serve with fresh lime wedges placed on the table.
With autumn’s arrival thoughts of what to cook naturally veer towards warming heartier fare with richer earthier flavors that lift the spirit and warm the cockles as temperatures wane. Soup, soup, and more soups is what fall cooking is all about. Fortunately locally grown late summer and fall vegetables are available until the first deep frost. So, as the old saying goes, best to make hay while the sun shines. Cook up plenty of beautiful healthy and hearty fall soups to serve as main courses throughout fall and make more to freeze that will surely brightening up meals when the winter months drag on.
Over centuries frugal rural Italian cooks relied entirely on locally grown produce as the main staple in their diets. Cooking methods for making deeply flavored foods out of readily available local ingredients evolved into what contemporary Italians now call cucina povre. Rustic vegetable based soups like minestrone and ribollita, as well as vegetable stews have became Italian classics.
In fact Minestrone dates back to the Romans although the popularized canned variety we are all familiar with worldwide has little semblance to what you will find coming out of rural Italian kitchens even today. Minestrone is a vegetable soup that includes a variety of seasonal vegetables and usually includes pasta or rice and sometimes meats.
Much less well known is Ribollita, a thick, rustic, infinity healthy, and abundantly flavorsome Tuscan vegetable soup that is much more to my liking. Ribolitta begins with a sofritto (battuto) of finely diced onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and chopped parsley that is slowly braised in olive oil until the vegetables are very soft and deeply flavorful. Tomatoes and cooked beans are then added, along with liquid to cover, and cooked for another half hour or so. Then, traditionally, cavolo nero (black kale) is added along with herbs and seasonings and simmered. Finally torn day old bread is added to the soup and cooked until softened. Serving ribollita Tuscan style with a flourish of fruity extra virgin olive oil is pure perfection.
Cavolo nero may be hard to find, but not to worry. A deep green kale or a combination of kale and spinach will do just fine.
Ribollita serves 6 to 8
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups finely diced onions
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 ¾ cups finely diced celery
- 1 ½ cups finely diced carrots
- 1 cup loosely packed chopped Italian parsley leaves
- 8 canned whole imported Italian tomatoes , juice drained and reserved for another use
- 1 can/240g imported Italian cannelini or borlotti beans with their liquid
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 4 big bunches cavolo nero or kale, center ribs and stems removed, leaves chopped
- spinach leaves, chopped (optional)
- 1 1/2 cup diced zucchini (optional)
- 4 thick slices day old country bread, torn into bits
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon of pure ground red chile powder (optional)
- extra virgin olive oil to finish
Equipment: A Dutch oven with a lid or a deep wide pan with lid.
Prepare all your vegetables before you begin cooking.
Place the pan on the stove top over medium low flame. Add the olive oil to the pan and when hot add the onions and stir to coat them with the oil. Cook for several minutes until the onions are translucent. Then stir in the garlic, celery, carrots, and parsley. Stir to evenly coat the ingredients with oil and reduce the heat to low. Partially cover the pan with the lid and braise for 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low if the ingredients are browning to much. They can be lightly colored but you want to avoid any scorched flavor.
Once the vegetables are softened add the drained tomatoes to the pan, breaking them up with a wooden spoon while stirring them into the vegetable mixture. Then stir in the beans and their liquid. Add enough water to the pan to just cover all the ingredients. Stir in the bay leaves, marjoram, and thyme. Partially cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes, Stirring every 10 minutes.
Remove the lid from the pan and add the chopped cavolo nero leaves, kale leaves, or a combination of kale and spinach leaves, as well as the zucchini if using. Fold into the mixture evenly and then tuck the torn bread down into the broth. Season with salt, pepper, and red chile (it using) to taste. Add enough water to just cover the mixture. Partially cover the pan and cook for another 20 to 25 minutes or until the leaves are very tender.
Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste. The soup should be very thick with just enough liquid to engulf the vegetables without drowning them in liquid when serving.
Ribollita may be served at once or ideally cooled and then refrigerated until the next day. This allows the flavors of the soup to fully develop.
Reheat the ribollita slowly along with a little added water if needed. Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil around the edges of the ribollita and serve!
Melissa Clarke’s article, An Accidentally Creamier Fluffier Potato Salad in the NY Times last month, as always, captures Melisa’s delightfully playful ways in the kitchen that can turn what might be considered mistakenly over cooked potatoes for a potato salad into a mistake worth repeating. Her purposely soft cooked starchy potatoes folded together with a mildly rich dressing makes the case for a fluffier potato salad that is truly carving worthy.
Keep in mind the secret to success here is to gently simmer your potatoes until they are as soft as they can possibly be without falling apart.
The recipe that follows differs from Melissa’s but uses the same soft cooked potato method. Once the potatoes are drained and cooled for 10 minutes, they can then be gently folded together with sauteed onions, pancetta, garlic, and celery. The salad is then dressed with a subtly rich mayonnaise and Greek yogurt dressing and served while still warm! This has been a steadfast tried and true method I have followed for years and remains my favorite way to make potato salad not matter what ingredients you are using!
A Craving Worthy Soft & Billowy Potato Salad Serves 6
- 2.2 pounds/ 1 kilo gold potatoes, peeled
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 oz /57 grams pancetta, thinly sliced and diced
- ½ cup finely diced onion
- 1 plump garlic clove, peeled and minced
- ½ cup finely diced young celery
- ¾ cup mayonnaise (Hellmann’s)
- 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt + more to taste
- 1/3 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon chipotle chile powder or red chile powder (optional)
- 1/3 cup finely sliced Italian parsley leaves
- assortment of salad leaves and greens
- smoked flaked sea salt (Maldon) for finishing
- fresh parsley leaves for garnish
Peel the potatoes and cut them into ¾ inch cubes. Place in a large sauce pan and cover with water. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in some salt and simmer the potatoes until they are very soft and tender but still just holding their shape. Test by inserting a knife blade into a potato which should slip easily into the flesh. Once perfectly cooked, drain the potatoes in a colander and set aside to cool briefly. Then transfer potatoes to a large bowl and set aside.
While the potatoes are simmering, heat the olive oil in a medium size saute pan set over medium low heat. When hot add the pancetta and gently cook several minutes without browning. Add the onions, season with some sea salt and pepper , and continue sauteing until the onions are soft without browning. Add the garlic and celery and season with chipotle powder or chile powder if using. Saute 1 minute more and remove the pan from the heat.
Using a silicone spoon, distribute the warm pancetta onion mixture over the potatoes and gently fold the mixture into the potatoes. Then scatter the parsley over the top.
In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, and Dijon mustard and stir until well combined and smooth. Then spoon the dressing over the potatoes and fold in until evenly distributed. Taste and season with more salt if needed. You will notice the dressing will cling nicely to the soft starchy potatoes which gives this potato salad its soft billowy texture so do not be tempted to over mix.
Arrange a bed of assorted salad leaves and greens on each individual serving plate and place the potato salad centered into the leaves. Garnish with parsley leaves and scatter some smoked flaked sea salt over the potatoes and serve.