After the holidays, when the bitterness of winter sets in, I crave one dish above all others: soup. After a long day at work, while driving home in the silence of a frigid snowy evening, all I think about is putting on my flannel pj’s and curling up on the couch with a nice toasty bowl of soup. That first sip melts away the iciness of the day and warms my weary bones.
I love the versatility of soup, how it can be rich or light, brothy or creamy, delicate or robust. What I’ve discovered about soup is that it all depends on the recipe. Some are so simple they need only five ingredients and a 25-minute simmer. Others, if done properly, can take three to four days. But that’s just the beginning. There are winter soups, summer soups, chilled soups, soups rumored to cure hangovers or increase fertility, and, of course, soups that can help you shed those dreaded holiday pounds.
Above all, though, soup consistently seems to do one thing. It reminds us of home. I realized this while collecting the recipes in this month’s From Plate to Palate. All the contributors in their pieces this month mention, in some way, home—by name or concept. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Soup reminds us of our childhoods, our families. Many of the meals I remember from my childhood center around soup. I remember sharing a can of Campbell’s Bean and Bacon soup with my Grandfather when I was six; it was the only meal I ever ate alone with him. We didn’t talk, but we nodded and slurped our way through our bowls. From that moment on, I became a sucker for bean soups. And when my dad would come home, discouraged by the economy and with his construction business, the cupboards may have seemed bare, but there was always tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches to fill our tummies and soothe our worries.
Soups are hearty and homey.
To share their soup stories and recipes, I welcome several fantastic cooks. Rebecca Hart conquers a rogue and dishes out a lovely Mushroom and Hazelnut Soup. Karen Babine builds upon her mom’s Tomato Soup recipe and recreates the feeling of home. In her piece, Sarah Lenz shows us just how easy it is to home-make our own noodles for the ever-comforting Chicken Noodle Soup. Finally, Kathryn Miles recounts her family lineage and shares with us the melting pot of Peas in a Potla. May these recipes warm your winter days and fill them with the memories of home.
Rebecca Hart is an actor and musician and food enthusiast based in NYC. She co-writes the witty and hungry food/art/life blog "A Mouse Bouche: the Hart Sisters Eat Life" with her sister Megan Hart, also an actor. She is temporarily writing and eating in Washington DC while rehearsing a production of "Orestes" at the Folger Theatre. She is the lead singer & songwriter for the band Rebecca Hart & the Sexy Children.
a Fan Letter in Soup by Rebecca Hart
ALL ROADS LEAD TO CHASE
Whenever I try to pinpoint the moment I knew I wanted to write about food, there are many memories that spring to mind. Many of those walks down memory lane inevitably lead to one hardcover pastel doorway: the one on the front of Sarah Leah Chase's "Nantucket Open House Cookbook". My mother had it in her kitchen where I grew up, and the blue-and-pink cover came down from the shelf over and over, to make innovative yet totally doable recipes. (This was before the reign of Ina Garten, of course). Because I'd like this post to be shorter than War and Peace, I'll stop the history there and just say that it is now a staple in my kitchen too, and, yes, maybe because I'm an actor and maybe because I sometimes read cookbooks in bed to fall asleep and this one is particularly evocative in its descriptions, I MAY have committed some of the recipe introductions to memory. Maybe.
One such blurb is the heading for Chase's "Mushroom and Hazelnut Soup". Mind you, I've never made it or tasted it (until now). So it's definitely a testament to the power of a well-turned phrase that I have stopped on this page every time! To have an elaborate fantasy about what it must be like and when might be the right occasion for it. And is it because I love mushrooms, or hazelnuts, so much? No! That’s the thing! Mushrooms honestly don't taste like anything to me. (A good portobello is a different story, but this recipe calls for only ordinary white 'shrooms.) And my reaction to hazelnuts is usually, "Yes, you're very interesting. Now get out of my chocolate." So why the lust inspired by this recipe? Simply, this description:
CHASE GETS ME EVERY TIME
"An outrageous soup that is velvety rich and soothing. Serve it in precious portions to your most elegant and appreciative friends."
Seriously??? Come ON! Upon reading that, who among you doesn't A) want to run out and make a list of which friends are your "most elegant and appreciative", B) wonder just what size "precious portions" might be, and C) salivate just thinking about how "velvety rich" and "outrageous" a soup would have to be in order for the writer to basically write a cautionary note about portion control?
In my mind I saw a small table of faceless Illuminati, eating a rich dark broth with teaspoons out of what looked like egg cups.
CHASE THE DREAM
The stars aligned. Lo these many years later, there was this issue about Soups, and I was invited to contribute. I made a weak/lame display of casting about for a good soup recipe to test/share, inviting friends' suggestions and gazing halfheartedly at supermarket shelves, when all the while I knew what I had to do. And so tonight (Monday) in order to tell the world about it by Tuesday (tomorrow), I found myself at Stop & Shop at 11PM, clutching a bag of hazelnuts, a box of plain white mushrooms, and a bottle of Marsala wine, with a manic gleam in my eye. Precious Portions by midnight!! Finally, they would be mine!! I had a perfect test audience - my college friend Z was in town staying with me. She is a performing artist who does mainly classical theatre AND a certified massage therapist. Literate, sensitive, discerning.. helLO? Elegant AND appreciative? I think so. Plus, unlike myself, she came equipped with a love of mushrooms AND "all things noisette", as she put it, already installed. Perfect.
ROUX THE DAY, SPEED THE CHASE (what?)
"Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux is light golden."
I don’t mind telling you this phrase struck a bit of fear into my heart. There are many Cooking Moments (making pie crust or soup stock) I've put off in my culinary life until it was simply no longer possible to avoid. Making a roux, until tonight, was one of them. It just sounded so French and complicated and likely to burn or inspire hooting laughter. But I have to say this was the best part of making this. Once I was over the initial weirdness ("I don’t get it! Is it a sauce, or a dough? Is it supposed to be liquid or roll around under my spoon like this?" (Answer = somewhere in between) and had gradually added the liquid to it, I watched in AMAZEMENT (I do not exaggerate) and wonder as, over the next 40 minutes of simmering, the liquid (chicken broth and marsala) burbled, expanded, and grew into a thick, serious, pale golden base that basically said "go ahead - hit me - I'm basically all you need." This is when cooking is just magic.
I used a leetle extra butter and a soupcon (now who sounds French??) more marsala than Chase calls for at the end, and it didn't hurt nobody.
FOOD PROCESSOR? GO CHASE YOURSELF
"Finely Chop the Mushrooms"
"Hazelnuts, Toasted and Lightly Ground"
I do not have a food processor or any way of 'finely' doing or 'grinding' anything... except my hips!! In a Victory dance! I discovered that just applying your chopping knife to those little filberts will do the job just fine. Have at it. (Don’t dance for real - you're holding a knife. Seriously.)
Full disclosure: I did forget to toast them, though, and you might wanna try it; I can see what she's driving at.
"Whisk the Egg Yolks and Light Cream together in a bowl. Whisk in 1 Cup of the hot soup, then gently whisk it back into the soup."
Honestly, I have no idea either. Just do it.
... And in the end, you get this:
CUTTING TO THE CHASE
This soup is ... nothing, NOTHING, like I imagined. Oh, it's delicious. Z got out of bed "just to taste it, I don’t want a whole thing" and then finished a whole mug before I could say "precious portions." And, ok, it's soothing, and certainly elegant, and if you like mushrooms and hazelnuts, it has both. But it's light, creamy, and subtle, not the "outrageous" flavor explosion I had come to both anticipate and fear. Life is funny. Heroes are fallible, adjectives sometimes miss their mark, a roux is neither a solid nor a liquid. Who knew. Here's what I think: for a lovely, elegant, White-Christmas, snowy little first course, look no further. In bowls, even. I think you can handle it.
RECIPE typed over, not from memory. From the Nantucket Open House Cookbook, Sarah Leah Chase
6 C Chicken Stock
5 tbsp sweet Marsala wine
7 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 unbleached all purpose flour
12 oz. white mushrooms cleaned
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 C milk
1/2 C hazelnuts, lightly toasted and finely ground
2 large egg yolks, room temp
1 C light cream
nutmeg, salt, pepper
1. Heat stock and 3 tbsp of wine in medium saucepan til quite hot
2. Meanwhile, melt 4 tbsp butter in heavy stockpot over med heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, til the roux is pale golden, 3 or 4 min. Gradually add the hot stock mixture, whisking til smooth. Heat to boiling. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 40 min.
3. Finely chop the mushrooms by hand or in a food processor fitted with steel blade. Toss with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Melt the remaining 3 tbsp butter in a skillet over med-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, until all moisture evaporates. Remove from heat.
4. Stir mushrooms into stock. Stir in milk and then hazelnuts over low heat.
5. Whisk egg yolks and light cream together in small bowl. Whisk in 1 cup of hot soup, then gently whisk it back to the soup. Do not let soup boil or it will curdle. Stir in remaining two tbsp marsala wine and season with nutmeg, salt, pepper. Serve hot.
Makes 6 to 8 small servings.
Karen Babine teaches composition at Bowling Green State University. Her essays have most recently appeared in Weber: The Contemporary West, River Teeth, Ascent, Fugue, and are forthcoming in North Dakota Quarterly.
For the Love of Summer Tomatoes
There’s an old joke in Minnesota about winter: it keeps the riffraff out. I love everything about winter: I love snow, I love cold (which is a completely different thing from being cold), I love sweaters and bundling up, I love SmartWool and Thinsulate, mugs of tea and hot chocolate. I like when the temperature gets to -40 and you can throw a cup of boiling water into the air and watch it poof and disappear before it hits the ground. I like the idea of winter too, things I can’t do because I’m gravitationally challenged: cross-country skiing (downhill skiing here is rare), snowmobiling, skating. And there’s a small window of temperature, scarcely above zero, when there’s nothing more wonderful in the world than standing outside and just breathing. Today, in Ohio, we’ve got snow. Lovely thick flakes that make me want to be outside and make snow angels. Of course, I’m to an age where any weather change makes my joints ache and if I got down to make an angel, I might not get back up. So I do the next best thing: I decide to christen the only thing I asked for Christmas, a Cuisinart immersion blender.
I also love everything about tomatoes. Fresh from the garden, sliced, sprinkled with salt and eaten before they lose the sun warmth. Tomatoes and basil and olive oil on crusty bread. Tomato soup, pasta and tomatoes, spaghetti and meatballs, tomato juice. In the last few days, I’ve used both tomatoes I canned and tomatoes I roasted and froze this fall and made two kinds of tomato soup (stay tuned for that), meatballs to make spaghetti and meatballs (with tomato sauce) to freeze for dinners. Part of my history as a farmer’s granddaughter is preserving food, so I’ve been canning tomatoes and applesauce for the last couple of years, nowhere near the amount of food my mother preserved when I was a kid. I need at least a bushel of tomatoes to get myself through the winter, I’ve learned. There’s just something about pulling summer foods out of the freezer or off the shelf to use in the dead of winter to save one’s sanity.
I’d been wanting my mother’s cream of tomato soup recipe for months before she sent it to me and the recipe she sent me had where she’d gotten it written at the top: “Laporte Home Ec, October 1984” and that brought back all those fuzzy pre-age-five memories that never get any clearer, winter memories of playing in the snow that was taller than I was. It was one of those winter soups that always made things a little bit warmer, simply because of the summer ingredients that we’d gardened and carefully preserved for an occasion just like this.
Mom’s original recipe (Laporte Home Ec, 1984):
1-22 oz can stewed tomatoes (Mom’s notes: “or 1 quart, home-canned”)
4 sprigs parsley
1 sm. onion, quartered
1 stalk celery
3 T flour
2 t brown sugar
1 t salt
½ t basil
1/8 t pepper
2 T butter
2 c. milk (Mom’s notes: “I used powdered milk, because it was what was on hand and it didn’t use up our ‘drinking milk.’”)
1. In blender, place tomatoes, parsley, onion, celery, flour, brown sugar, salt, basil, and pepper. Cover. Liquefy 3 seconds.
2. In a Dutch oven, slowly melt butter and gradually stir in tomato mixture. Cook till it comes to a boil and add milk. Heat gently.
My variation of Mom’s recipe:
1 qt home-canned tomatoes
8-10 roasted Roma tomatoes (mine were roasted with olive oil, basil, salt and pepper)
1 med onion, diced
1 stalk celery
1 clove garlic
3 T flour
2 t brown sugar
basil, rosemary, any herbs you like
4 t red wine vinegar
Summer came back in a rush as I pulled a quart of tomatoes I’d canned months ago off the pantry shelf in the back of my house. I hadn’t had a garden, but these had come from the Toledo Farmer’s Market, which was the next best thing. And I pulled a plastic bag of frozen roasted tomatoes out of the freezer as well. I took my onion and celery, diced them up, and tossed them into my Dutch oven with some olive oil to sweat. When they were soft and translucent, I added the garlic and put the roasted tomatoes in the pot. Then the quart of tomatoes, the flour, the brown sugar, the herbs, and the milk went into the pot. Feeling a little bit like a mad scientist, I took my new blender in hand and blended it smooth. To wake up the flavors a little bit, I added the red wine vinegar and the Tabasco. The Tabasco isn’t enough to make it spicy (at least not in the amount I used), but just enough to get your taste buds moving. As for any of the seasonings, it’s all to taste—add more or less, depending on what you like. I could have made a grilled cheese sandwich to go with it, but I didn’t want to spoil the mix of soup and snow and memory. When everything was right, I spooned the soup into a mug and curled up on the couch with it, watching the snow fall outside my window.
(If you want another awesome—awesome in a different way—tomato soup, check out Jamie Oliver’s Tomato Pappa, recipe here.I substituted my frozen oven roasted tomatoes for his fresh ones, added more garlic than he called for, used dried basil instead of fresh, used a quart of home canned tomatoes from this summer (and the corresponding equal in water), and used rosemary garlic bread instead of ciabatta. You can blend it up if you like, but I like it chunky.)
Sarah Lenz holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and a MA in Literature from Boise State University. She teaches English at the University of Findlay in Ohio. When not making noodles, she spends her time blogging at Prose and Potatoes and raising backyard chickens.
Her husband Kent Lenz photographed the sequence of pictures within the essay.
Chanticleer Noodle Soup
When I was growing up, one of my dad’s favorite hometown restaurants was the Chanticleer Drive-In. The Chanticleer was one of a handful of restaurants in Ord, Nebraska, a small rural town on the edge of the Sandhill Plains. Most people dined there for lack of a better choice. My family and I were no different except that we had ferreted out the Chanticleer’s best kept secret: homemade chicken noodle soup. The chicken noodle soup was chock full of goodies: huge chunks of white and dark chicken, carrots, celery, onions, and noodles so big they crowded out the broth. In fact, if I added a few crushed Saltines to my soup bowl, I ceased to have soup at all.
The Chanticleer Drive-In was a family-owned and family-friendly greasy spoon. It wasn’t a drive-in at all, but a regular diner, but that wasn’t the only thing curious about its name. While I’d like to believe that the Chanticleer’s name was homage to a heritage breed of chicken, perhaps the very chicken that contributed to the soup, this was not the case. The restaurant’s name was, in fact, derived from local high school’s mascot, a white plumed, robust and muscular rooster. The drive-in had hideous bright red indoor-outdoor carpet—again a tribute to the local high school’s team colors. The whole place reeked of grease. One glance at the eclectic menu explained why. Above the front counter, a large, plastic CocaCola-sponsored sign with snap-in letters spelled out the menu. The menu boasted all manner of breaded and deep fried delicacies—tater tots, curly fries, criss-cross potatoes, jalapeños, mushrooms, chicken strips. The Chanticleer also served chicken gizzards, deep fried until the breading was crunchy and the gizzard itself rubbery. Perhaps this item was name-appropriate as well. Perhaps it spoke to the tenacity of the high school football team. Surely the perseverance it took to chew and swallow such a thing could make linebackers tougher. The menu contained other items that were anomalies: pizza burgers, burritos, refried beans, and of course, chicken noodle soup.
Although she enjoyed the food, my mother hated going to this restaurant simply because the only restroom in the entire establishment was located behind the kitchen. If a patron wanted to wash their hands before they ate or answer nature’s call, they had to walk through the kitchen. This struck my mother as improper and awkward. She did have a point. It was embarrassing. Plus, the journey to the restroom was perilous with all that hot grease splashing around. I was always scared I was going to get in the way, cause an accident—or even worse—see something I wasn’t supposed to see, something that the county health inspector would red-flag for sure.
On numerous trips to the restroom, the only thing I ever saw of interest in that stuffy, grease-splattered kitchen was noodles. In the back prep area, past the fryers, I saw them. These noodles were glorious, a golden mixture of eggs and flour with a wholesome dusky, sunshine-like smell. The dough was hand-rolled and cut into fat little caterpillars of noodles, dusted with a healthy coat of flour, and then laid to dry. Slightly damp, curling noodles covered every available flat surface in the prep area, countertop after countertop, after countertop. This was the secret of chicken noodle soup.
Except for the noodles, the other components of soup were basic. The chicken stock itself was made from Sysco chicken base or similar product. But the noodles transformed the soup. Because the noodles were hand rolled, they were thick and chunky—something you could really get your teeth around—and because they were fresh, they were incredibly flavorful, not just a backdrop for other flavors like commercial, machine-made noodles are.
The Chanticleer has long since closed its doors. It was a quick, but painful death when a McDonald’s came in across the street. Even so, I think longingly of the chicken noodle soup. Luckily, as long as I’m able to approximate those thick, hand-rolled noodles, the results are so similar to the Chanticleer’s that I’m satisfied. It turns out making your own noodles is not difficult, just time consuming. The time it takes to roll out the dough by hand becomes a sort of peaceful meditation, which call to mind the old-fashion quirks of an obsolete little diner.
This is more of a technique than a recipe, learned by touch, and by my mother’s coaching.
2 eggs, beaten (organic, free-range eggs preferred)
1 t. salt
1 cup (approximately) all purpose flour
Beat eggs and salt together. Gradually add flour until desired consistency is reached. After initial cup of flour is mixed in you may need to add additional flour until you have dough that is firm, but not tough. Try to approximate the consistency of Play-Doh.
Turn dough out onto countertop and knead for 1-2 minutes. If you wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour, the dough will be slightly easier to work with because the flour absorbs the liquid in the egg, but it's not necessary, and there is virtually no difference in the end product.
Roll dough out by hand with a rolling pin as thin as possible. The noodles will thicken as they cook. Dust both sides of dough generously with flour. Starting at the widest edge, fold rolled out dough loosely into thirds and cut in noodle-wide strips across the folds. Unfurl the long noodles from their fold and cut into smaller-length pieces. Leave to air dry for 2 to 3 hours. Add to your favorite chicken soup recipe. These noodles take longer than store-bought pasta to cook, but the end result is worth every extra minute.
is an award-winning writer, whose recent work has appeared in Best American Essays, Ecotone, Editor Unleashed, Terrain, and Reconstruction
. She is also the author of Adventures with Ari: A Puppy, a Leash, and Our Year Outdoors
(Skyhorse/W.W. Norton, 2009). Currently, Miles serves as director of the Environmental Writing program at Unity College and as editor of Hawk & Handsaw: The Journal of Creative Sustainability
. Her website is www.kathryn-miles.com
I’m trying to be you, curse this clumsy tongue.
An immigrant’s experience is almost always a fragmentary one. All that is new about an adopted country—the language, the landscape, the culture—creates a kind of impediment few entirely shake. Instead, many immigrants exist in a state of constant limbo, with one foot in their homeland; the other in their new place. What results is a kind of fusion existence, particularly when it comes to the culinary world. Mangoes don’t grow in Britain. It’s hard to find guajillo peppers in Stockholm. Few Canadian butchers keep shark fins on hand. So immigrant cooks, both professional and familial, learn to substitute.
I am the descendent of one such cook. Her given name as we knew it was Frances, which was probably anglicized from the original Franciska. When she married, she took my great-grandfather’s surname, Vicic, which had been shortened from the original—perhaps Vicicivic or Vicicovich—by an overworked customs official on Ellis Island.
Despite this change in moniker, Frances maintained a good bit of her Croatian culture, particularly when it came to food: egg noodles, stewed pig’s feet, sauerkraut, breads stuffed with nuts and cocoa. When she couldn’t find the ingredients she needed, she improvised. When no one could pronounce the names of dishes in their original language, she created pidgin versions easy for an American tongue.
Peas in a potla is one such recipe. The word potla appears in no Croatian dictionary. Maybe it was a corruption of the word posuda, or pot. Or the English word pottage. Then again, maybe it was her fusion of two languages or just something that sounded right to her.
Just like any melting pot—figurative or literal—peas in a potla lends itself to infinite variation. It is adaptable to different ingredients and tastes and can be made just about anywhere. The smoky, slightly sweet tomato base can embrace a whole host of additions. When combined well, these results can surprise, delight and, perhaps most importantly, remind you of home.
Peas in a Potla
2 slices bacon
1 medium yellow onion
3 cups diced tomato (or one 28 oz can)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup frozen green peas
1 Tbls sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop bacon and sauté over medium heat until it begins to brown. Add onion and cook until translucent, stirring often. Add remaining ingredients. All to simmer for 10 minutes. Accompany with sliced hard cheese and crusty bread. Serves 3-4.