French Onion Soup

In case you’re already thinking about warding off the winter blues, I bring you the inimitable fragrant and hearty French onion soup. What could better warm your innards than a hot steaming crock of this soul warming ambrosia?  Just imagine the creamy melted cheese spilling over the rim of the crock, the crunchy round of French bread underneath and the oniony aroma filling your nostrils.

Now it’s only fair to tell you up front that it does take a bit of time to achieve this luscious result.  I obviously think it’s worth it.  If you want the real thing, prepare to spend a little time in the kitchen keeping an eye on it and stirring from time to time.  You can make other preparations at the same time, but don’t leave the kitchen for too long.

Ingredients

3 strips bacon

½ stick butter (4 oz.)

3 lbs. yellow onions, peeled and sliced thin

1 t salt*

½ t freshly ground black pepper

2 t sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T flour

4 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned*

4 cups water

1 cup dry white wine

½ cup Cognac or brandy

1 T balsamic vinegar

Sprig of fresh thyme

1 Mediterranean bay leaf

Sprig of parsley

1 t Worcestershire sauce

½ t hot pepper sauce

6 slices dry French baguette slices, toasted

1 lb. Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated

Procedure

In a large Dutch oven, sauté bacon over low heat until crisp.  Remove bacon strips and add butter to bacon fat.   Add the onions and cook slowly about 10 minutes.   Stir in the salt, pepper, and sugar and increase the heat to medium.  Stir mixture from time to time until the onions turn to a deep amber color, about 90 minutes. If they begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, stir in a little water or white wine. Add garlic.

Sprinkle on flour, stir and cook for 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and add stock, slowly stirring in the first 2 cups and then adding the rest of the stock and water.    Bring to a simmer and add wine, Cognac, and vinegar.  Tuck in thyme, bay leaf and parsley tied in a bouquet garni of washed cheesecloth.  Add Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce and simmer for 30 minutes

Remove bouquet garni and taste for seasoning.  Add salt if necessary.  Fill 6 ovenproof crocks, place toasted baguette slices on top and sprinkle generously with cheese.  Set crocks on a metal cookie sheet and place under broiler until cheese is melted.  Makes 6 servings.

*If using canned chicken broth, don’t add salt.

The Incomparable Victor Ribaudo Whets Your Appetite for More Cool Weather Soups

I love this time of year.  The brisk air hints at cozy evenings on the sofa, and something warm on the dinner table.  Like soup.

 

Lentil bean ham soup SHI Symbol blog, www.datingsymbol.com

Ham and Lentils with White Beans

Not the chilled gazpacho you enjoyed in July. I’m talking about the rich, gratifying warmth only a bowl of soup can bring as we enter the colder months. It’s amazing what a satisfying dinner soup can make, especially when served with crusty bread and a salad. Extremely nourishing. Economical, too. I just can’t say enough about it.

Chicken soup SHI Symbol blog, www.datingsymbol.com

Chicken Soup

Growing up, I was treated to an amazing variety of soups. That’s just it about soups. There’s almost no end to the array of recipes for them. Of course, a good chicken soup is always the perfect place to begin. Recipes vary, but they always start with a plump, fresh chicken. Then you build…carrots, onions, celery, potatoes. Almost always present in American versions, with noodles or rice, of course. Add dill and parsnips if you’re going for a Jewish take. And don’t forget to serve with matzo balls or kreplach. Feeling Italian? Add canned plum tomatoes, parsley and a chunk of parmesan rind (it won’t melt as you simmer…promise!) When serving, add some pastina (small pastas like ditalini are perfect) and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Really good for what ails you.

Pasta Fragiole SHI Symbol blog, www.datingsymbol.com

Pasta E Fagiole

Beef soup is outstanding, as well. I use short ribs. After enjoying the soup with noodles, I like to serve the ribs and potatoes (I leave them whole) with a side of salad. The meat falls off the bone and has an indescribable sweetness. A complete meal, for sure. You can also add barley to your beef soup, if you want something that really sticks to your ribs.

Da Vinci Wedding Soup, SHI Symbol blog, www.datingsymbol.com

Da Vinci Wedding Soup

Vegetable soups really lend themselves to the economical chef. They’re also extremely nutritious. Varied, too. That’s to say that you can take almost any veggie combination and turn it into a satisfying bowl of steaming goodness. Start with a good minestrone, brimming with fresh peas, carrots, onions, beans, tomatoes, potatoes…you name it. Throw in a hand-full of pastina and you’ve got the consummate vegetable soup. I particularly like bean soups. From complex Cuban black bean to hearty Italian bean (pasta e fagioli) to smoky lentil or pea soups (the ham bone does the trick). All outstanding, I think. I also enjoy pureed soups. Potatoes and leaks form a good team in this arena. So do carrots and ginger. Add a touch of heavy cream if you’re daring enough. And speaking of cream, who doesn’t love a substantial bowl of New England clam chowder? I mean, really…does it get any better than that?

Tuscan bean soup SHI Symbol blog, www.datingsymbol.com

Tuscan Bean Soup

Now I couldn’t possibly mention every type of soup there is out there. I mean, I haven’t even touched upon Chinese wonton or Japanese miso. I just love them all. However, if I had to choose my all time favorite, I’d have to go with French onion soup. I’ve tasted so many – homemade as well as restaurant prepared. Some using roasted beef bones for the broth. Others depending on the caramelization of onions for the rich, brown color and depth of flavor. Doesn’t matter to me. They’re all exceptional. I believe the cheese is what really gets to me, though. Gooey, slightly browned. I especially love the bits that get stuck on the side of the crock. And what about the surprise within…a crusty (not so soggy, if it’s done correctly) piece of French bread. If that’s not a meal, I don’t know what is.

Chilly out tonight? Fill the pot with water or chicken stock and start simmering your own homemade soup. Plan ahead and shop for the ingredients. Or see what you have in the fridge and cupboard. Leftovers are allowed, you know. I mean, use the carcass of last night’s roasted chicken as a base, and create from there. So when the weather calls for soup, you’ll be prepared to answer with a wholesome bowl that will do you good. I think you’ll sleep better that night, too.

Victor Ribaudo

Photographer Bill Brady http://bit.ly/9wFYxm
Written by Victor Ribaudo http://theribaudogroup.com
Recipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin, https://sweetpaprika.wordpress.com
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell
Blog syndicated at the datingsymbol.com http://datingsymbol.com/


End of Summer Creamy Corn Chowder

Sex is good, but not as good as fresh, sweet corn. -~Garrison Keillor

Sweet, fresh corn is at its peak at the farmers markets.  Don’t miss this opportunity to create a creamy and flavorful corn chowder. 4 servings

Ingredients

1 T butter

1 oz. bacon (preferably a thick sliced chunk)

½ cup chopped carrot

½ cup chopped celery

½ cup chopped onion

3 ears of corn

4 cups milk

1 Turkish bay leaf

1 medium Yukon Gold potato cut into a small dice

1 t salt

1/8 t freshly ground black pepper

½ t chopped fresh thyme

1 plum tomato, seeds and pulp removed, cut in a small dice

1/4 cup water mixed with 3 T masa harina or corn meal

Directions

1. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add bacon. Fry about 4  minutes but don’t brown.

2. Add carrots, celery and onions.

3. Cut the kernels off the corn and put aside.  Cut the cobs in half and add to saucepan.

4. Add milk and bay leaf.  Bring to a simmer, cover pot and continue to cook at a bare simmer for 30 minutes.  Be careful not to scald milk in the bottom of the saucepan.

5. Discard cobs, bacon and bay leaf.

7. Add  potatoes, salt and pepper and simmer about 15 minutes until potatoes are tender.

8. Add corn kernels, thyme and tomato.  If chowder needs thickening, stir in a slurry of masa harina and water.

9. Simmer 5 minutes and serve.

Photographer Bill Brady http://bit.ly/9wFYxm

Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup (or red or orange . . . )

The perfect first course for a cool brisk autumn day is this golden savory roasted yellow pepper soup.  A light soup, yet bursting with the heady flavor of sun-ripened peppers, it’s quite easy to make.  The secret is the roasting of the peppers.  Bring them to a blackened char and soft interior in the oven and by no means dilute their flavor by taking the peel off under water.  A crusty ciabatta, delicate salad and grilled meat will add up to a wonderful meal.

Ingredients

6 medium sweet yellow peppers

2 T unsalted butter

2 medium yellow onions, cut into a small dice

1 t salt (1/2 if using salted chicken broth)

¼ t white pepper

1 t freshly roasted and ground cumin

2 cloves garlic, mashed and chopped

2 T flour

4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable)

2 cups whole milk

Crème fraiche and roasted red pepper powder for garnish

Procedure

1. Rinse and dry peppers and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet.  Roast in a 400 degree oven until blackened, turning from time to time.

2. Remove from oven and place in a bowl covered with plastic wrap while proceeding with recipe.

3. Melt butter in a large pot and add onions, salt, pepper and cumin and cook until translucent.

4. Add garlic and continue to cook until fragrant. Sprinkle on flour, stirring and cooking for two minutes.  Stir in chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

5. Pull the skins off the peppers (not under the faucet) and discard seeds, membrane and stem.

6. Roughly chop peppers and add to pot.  Simmer 10 minutes.

7. Stir in milk.

8. Puree in food processor.  Pour back in pot and heat gently.

9. Serve in heated soup plates with a garnish of crème fraiche and a light sprinkle of roasted red pepper powder.  Serve 5 – 6.

Peppers, Food and Wine Section, Dating Symbol blog

Victor Talks Peppers

Being raised in a strong tradition of Southern Italian cuisine, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the most creative uses of nature’s simplest ingredients.  Peppers were most assuredly one of them.  Green and red bell peppers, slender fryers – both hot and sweet – pepperoncini, you name it.  They all made an appearance on my mother’s dinner table in the most luscious ways imaginable.

green peppers, food and wine section, Dating Symbol blog

Where to start?  Well, one of my favorites was stuffed peppers.  Mom actually had two versions in her culinary repertoire.  When using sweet, red bell peppers she would stuff them with a mixture of ground beef, onions, garlic, parsley, Parmigiano and rice.  Covered with a bit of marinara (simple red sauce) they were popped into the oven until tender.  Really nice.  My favorites, though, were the long fryers.  She’d split them in half and stuff them with a mixture of breadcrumb, garlic, parsley, Parmigiano, anchovies and olive oil.  They were then baked until the breadcrumb was nicely browned.  I ate copious amounts.  Still do.
Orange Peppers, Food and Wine Section, DAting symbol blog

Another favorite growing up was what my mother’s mother called giambotta.   Most definitely a peasant dish, this is a simple stew of red and green bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and potatoes which is served as a side dish.  I’ve actually called it dinner, with lots of crusty bread and a good Chianti.  Another one of Nonna’s best dishes were roasted red peppers.  She would char them whole on the stove top burner.  When they were done, they went into a paper bag to steam off the blackened skin.  Then they were seeded, sliced and dressed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and parsley.  Simple, yes.  Exquisite, most certainly.
Sausage and Roasted Roasted Peppers, Food and Wine Section, DAting Symbol blog

Of course, no Southern Italian summer menu would be complete without the addition of sausage and peppers.  There are so many ways to prepare this.  My preferred method is to grill the sausage, cut them into bite size pieces and keep warm.  I then sauté red or green peppers with lots of onions and garlic until tender, and combine the sausage into the mixture.  At this point, you may add some tomato sauce and bake for a while – as the Neapolitans are wont to do.  I keep it simple and serve as is.  Nothing like it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Enough with the Italian stuff.  Yes, it’s true.  Italians don’t own peppers!  And, being the consummate foodie, I enjoy them in any cuisine.  Asian, for instance.  What would a good stir fry be without the addition of peppers?  Latino cuisine as well.  I mean, without peppers a good sofrito wouldn’t be very good at all.  And I don’t know where Mexican cooking would be without the pepper – especially chiles.  But we’ll explore that in another blog.  Even our own American fare makes use of sweet peppers.  We include them in our salads, stews and good old fashioned home fries.  We even add them to omelets for color and depth of flavor.  As for pepper soup?  Why not!  Try Phyllis’ recipe above.  It’s a winner.
Master Choice Ribs, Food and Wine Section, Dating Symbol blog

So what is it about the pepper that makes it so coveted by so many lovers of the culinary arts?  When working with the red bell, I believe it’s the inherent sweetness it possesses.  As for the green bell, it imparts a nice freshness and aroma that is reminiscent of a home garden.  The spicier varieties appeal to the more adventurous.  But more than that, I believe is a textural thing as well.  In their cooked state, peppers are somewhat meaty and add nice body to any dish.  In their raw state, it’s the crunch that I look for.  I’m sure you do as well.
FrozenPeppersFajitas, Food and Wine Section, Dating Symbol blog

Photographer Bill Brady

Written by Victor Ribaudo

 

End of Summer Corn Chowder

Sex is good, but not as good as fresh, sweet corn. -~Garrison Keillor

Sweet, fresh corn is at its peak at the farmers markets.  Don’t miss this opportunity to create a creamy and flavorful corn chowder. 4 servings

Ingredients

1 T butter

1 oz. bacon (preferably a thick sliced chunk)

½ cup chopped carrot

½ cup chopped celery

½ cup chopped onion

3 ears of corn

4 cups milk

1 Turkish bay leaf

1 medium Yukon Gold potato cut into a small dice

1 t salt

1/8 t freshly ground black pepper

½ t chopped fresh thyme

1 plum tomato, seeds and pulp removed, cut in a small dice

1/4 cup water mixed with 3 T masa harina or corn meal

Directions

1. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add bacon. Fry about 4  minutes but don’t brown.

2. Add carrots, celery and onions.

3. Cut the kernels off the corn and put aside.  Cut the cobs in half and add to saucepan.

4. Add milk and bay leaf.  Bring to a simmer, cover pot and continue to cook at a bare simmer for 30 minutes.  Be careful not to scald milk in the bottom of the saucepan.

5. Discard cobs, bacon and bay leaf.

7. Add  potatoes, salt and pepper and simmer about 15 minutes until potatoes are tender.

8. Add corn kernels, thyme and tomato.  If chowder needs thickening, stir in a slurry of masa harina and water.

9. Simmer 5 minutes and serve.

An Ear for Corn by Victor Ribaudo

As the song goes, “I’m as corny as Kansas in August… .”  And I proudly admit it.  The end of the summer most assuredly sets my mind on certain culinary treats – and fresh corn is definitely one of them.  Oh, there are bushels of it available throughout the summer, to be sure.  However, this time of year offers the last chance to sample the local harvest and that makes it all the more sweet.  So off I drive to suburban and yes, rural areas surrounding New York City in search of those golden kernels on the cob.

Sweet is the word I most often use when describing the glories of fresh corn.  If it’s a good crop, and not too starchy, there’s a natural sweetness to the stuff that just can’t be described unless you’re lucky enough to taste it.  And for me, preparation of fresh corn is a simple task.  After husking and removing the silk, I throw it in boiling water for a few minutes and there you have it.  Others put some milk in the water – even butter.  It doesn’t hurt, but in my estimation it’s unnecessary.  Boiled in plain water and served with a pat of creamery butter and a sprinkling of salt and I’m good for at least three ears in one sitting.

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t sometimes throw caution to the wind and set my ears of sweetness on the grill.  When leaving the husks on, I soak them in water for a while so they don’t burn too quickly over the coals.  If I’m placing the ears on the grill in the buff, I generously slather plenty of olive on them first.  There’s something to be said for the caramelizing that occurs when those lovely kernels sport a nice char.  If done correctly, it adds to the sweetness and intensifies the flavor.

(Look for the recipe in the upcoming book I Love Corn by Lisa Skye, published by Andrews McMeel; available next year.)

Now, for those of you who have read my articles before, you know that I’m not one to leave well enough alone.  That’s to say, I dabble in plenty of corn cuisine.  After all, when you take something really sweet and add it to your favorite recipes, the end result is, well, sweeter!  Corn chowder is a good example of this.  Phyllis has offered her most excellent recipe above, and I strongly suggest you try it.  It’s delicious.

The simplest way to incorporate fresh corn – boiled or grilled – into everyday fare is to add it to your salads.  Bean salads, pasta salads, potato salads…even a tossed green salad.  However, I particularly like to add corn to my crabmeat salad.  Corn and crab are made for each other.  Just take fresh lump crabmeat, corn, onion, celery, mayonnaise and a bit of hot sauce (to balance out the sweetness), gently combine and serve on a hot dog bun.  Simple, but really satisfying.  Even my crab cakes are set on a sauce of corn, which is basically home-made creamed corn that has been pureed and spiked with a kick of hot sauce.  Again, simple but incredibly delicious.

Corn fritters are another favorite of mine.  I take a basic fritter batter and add copious amounts of fresh corn and some chopped scallion as a counterfoil to the sweetness.  Be sure to fry up plenty, because they move like hot cakes.  The same happens when you add some fresh corn to your cornbread recipe.  I like the texture of the kernels, as well as the burst of fresh flavor they impart to the bread.  Add some chopped jalapenos if you’re feeling frisky.

By the way, I’m not averse to using canned or frozen corn in my recipes when I have to.  It’s just that when the real thing is available, why not reach for the stars?

Oh, there’s no end to the corn cuisine you can create.  You’ll find plenty of recipes online and in cookbooks.  In fact, there’s a cookbook due to release called I love Corn by Lisa Skye.  Keep an eye – and an ear – out for it.

Photographer Bill Brady

Written by Victor Ribaudo

Blog syndicated at the datingsymbol.com

Smoked Ham and White Bean Soup

Does it seem that that big chunk of leftover Easter ham might remain in your refrigerator for weeks, even if you have a large family?  Fear not.  Here is an idea of how to turn that succulent, savory meat and ham bone into an invigorating soup.

Ingredients

3 T olive oil

2 cups small diced onions

1 cup small diced celery

1 cup small diced carrots

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

16 oz. can diced tomatoes

1 Mediterranean bay leaf

1 T fresh thyme, minced or 1 t dried

½ t freshly ground black pepper

2-3 lbs. ham shanks or hocks

6 cups chicken stock (water can be substituted or added if more is needed)

1/4 cup dried lentils

1 large potato, diced

3 cans white beans, such as cannellini, drained

1 t hot sauce, such as sriracha, or to taste

Leftover ham, diced

Procedure

In a large Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat, add oil. When oil is hot, add onions, celery and carrots.  Sauté until onions are translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add garlic, tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme and pepper.  Cook a few more minutes until spices begin to release their flavors.

Add 2-3 lbs. of ham shanks or hocks and stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce to medium low and simmer for 45 minutes.  Add more stock or water if needed.  Add lentils and potato and cook for 20 minutes..  Remove shanks or hocks and bay leaf.  Add beans and sriracha sauce.  Stir.

To thicken soup, pulse very briefly with a stick blender or take out 2 cups, puree in a food processor and add back to pot.  Remove the meat from the bones and return to pot along with any other leftover ham.  Heat through, taste for seasoning* and ladle into individual serving bowls.  Serve with a crusty bread.  Serves 8-10.

*Not knowing how salty your ham might be, I have omitted salt.  Add to taste if needed.

(photo by Bill Brady)

Roasted Vegetable Gazpacho plus a “Tomatini” Bonus

Tomatini, aka a Bloody Mary Martini

Few soups are as inviting on a hot summer day as a cold gazpacho.  My idea of improving upon an already refreshing combination of local fresh produce is to first roast the tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic to lend that charred, slightly smoky flavor.  The added attraction here is the creation of a tomato martini by straining the steeped vegetables through a fine sieve, and mixing the liquid with vodka in a cocktail shaker to serve as a “tomatini”.

So as not to duplicate flavors in the same meal, I suggest serving the martinis one day, and allowing the flavors of the gazpacho to meld in the refrigerator and serving the soup the following day.

Ingredients

For gazpacho:

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil for brushing cookie sheet and vegetables

4 large ripe beefsteak tomatoes cut in half horizontally*

1 large sweet onion cut into thick slices*

2 sweet red peppers cut in half lengthwise*

2 garlic cloves peeled

1 medium cucumber, seeds removed and cut into chunks*

1 T balsamic vinegar

1 t Worcestershire sauce

1 T fresh lemon juice

2 t chili powder

1 T salt

½ t freshly ground black pepper

2 cups tomato juice

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

For croutons:

2 oz day-old French bread, crusts removed and cut into ½ inch cubes

1T butter

1 T olive oil

For garnishes:

*2 T each reserved vegetables cut into a small dice before processing

1 small jalapeno pepper, finely diced

1 t each chopped basil, mint, thyme and parsley

For tomatini:

4 oz. strained gazpacho

8 oz vodka

2 t fresh lemon juice

4 drops Tabasco sauce

Ice

12 tiny grape tomatoes

Procedure

On a large cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil and lightly brushed with olive oil, place the tomato halves, (cut sides up) onions, sweet pepper halves (cut sides down) and garlic.  Brush vegetables with olive oil and roast on the middle shelf of a 400-degree oven checking after 15 minutes from time to time.  Take out the garlic when soft, the tomatoes and onions when golden and the pepper halves when blackened.  Let cool.  Peel the skin off the tomatoes, squeeze out the seeds and place in the container of a large food processor.    Peel the skin off the peppers, take out the seeds and place in the container.  Add onions and garlic. Pulse until lightly mixed.  Add cucumbers, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, chili powder, salt and pepper.  Pulse until coarsely pureed but not smooth.  Add tomato juice and pulse again. Pour into a glass or plastic container and chill until icy cold.

Sauté croutons in 1 T butter and 1 T olive oil until crisp and golden brown.  Set aside in a small bowl.

Combine raw tomato, cucumber, sweet pepper, jalapeno, onion, basil, mint, thyme and parsley in a small bowl and set aside.

For tomatinis:  Strain 4 oz. of liquid from the gazpacho. Place in a cocktail shaker with 8 oz. vodka, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and 4 drops of Tabasco sauce.  Add 2 scoops of ice and stir vigorously. Strain into four 4-oz martini glasses.  Garnish each with tiny grape tomatoes on a skewer.

After liquid for tomatinis is strained out, stir ½ cup extra virgin olive oil into gazpacho.  Check texture.  If too thick, thin with a little tomato juice. Ladle soup into shallow soup plates and serve with the croutons and chopped vegetables in separate bowls.  Serves four generously.

Photographer Bill Brady http://bit.ly/9wFYxm
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell

Creamy Cucumber Gazpacho

June 16, 2009 031

This is my take on the familiar icy cold cucumber gazpacho.  Its spicy and peppery  notes announce themselves but do not overwhelm.  The shrimp garnish adds a nice contrast of texture and flavor.  Sometimes soup alone does not a meal make.  The savory cheesy ciabatta toasts make it feel more like a light summer lunch.

Continue Creamy Cucumber Gazpacho…

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