With brisk weather I feel like a heartwarming soup. And boy, our weather has turned so frigid that Lauro wonders if he should break out his arctic-ready parka.
I’m not ready for snow just yet, but the chilly weather makes me want to curl up with soup (and a nice mystery book) and this one couldn’t be easier to make: a melange of what’s in the fridge, with a little vinegar for brightness.
I learned from Stefano - the fantastic restaurateur from Sheboygan – that the perfect way to achieve a robust soup is to puree half, making something like a gravy to thicken the broth.
And it’s so healthy and light that I feel perfectly entitled to splurge with a drizzle of fruity olive oil to finish it off.
Don’t skip this step – the flavor will permeate the soup and make you feel quite indulgent.
Brown lentil soup with carrots and kale
Makes about six cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
4 cups vegetable broth, chicken stock or water
1 cup dry lentils, rinsed
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 generous cups chopped kale
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded Parmesan or other hard cheese, for serving
Olive oil, for serving
Preheat a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add oil and onions and saute until translucent, about five minutes. Sprinkle with salt. Add carrots, lentils, vinegar and broth, bring to a simmer and cook until the lentils are just tender. Try not to overcook because they will break apart.
Pour about half the soup into a blender and puree until smooth. Return to the saucepan. (Or you can use an immersion blender. Stir in kale and cook another minute or two until the kale is bright and just tender. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls and top with shredded cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy in front of the fire.
A lot of these good people are featured in Farmers’ Markets of the Heartland, or are simple great places to eat – it’s the list I share when visitors are looking for recommendations. These spots will get you off Michigan Avenue and rubbing elbows with the locals.
Summer in a jar to pull out any time we need a little sunshine.
This time around I wanted to switch it up a bit, and thus the salsa, a perfect blend of sweetness from fruit and sweet bell peppers, punctuated by tart vinegar.
I like to stir in fresh cilantro just before serving, and thus the name “almost” salsa, because it doesn’t really have much salsa-like zing without. This method means your cilantro will stay fresh and bright green.
Makes about three cups
½ cup cider vinegar (5%)
¼ cup water
¼ cup granulated sugar
1½ cups peaches or nectarines, diced
¾ cup red bell pepper, diced
¼ cup red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1-inch knobs fresh ginger, peeled
Pour vinegar and water and sugar into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add peaches, red pepper, onion, garlic and ginger. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for five minutes.
Divide garlic cloves and ginger pieces between three hot sterilized half pint jars, then spoon in peach mixture, leaving ½ inch headspace. Cover with hot liquid, again leaving ½ inch headspace. Wipe rims of jars with a damp clean paper towel. Cover with sterile lids and screw on rings.
Will keep for about a month in the refrigerator. If you want to store longer, process hot half-pints in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from boiling water to a towel on the counter and cool completely. Listen for the magic ping that tells you the jars are sealed. Once completely cool, check the seals and store in a cool dark spot.
For serving: To me, salsa is not salsa without cilantro, but I don’t care for the way it darkens when cooked. When you are ready to serve, stir in about a tablespoon of roughly chopped cilantro.
Last week a case of oh-so-fresh peaches arrived at my door, courtesy of the good people at Washington State Fruit Commission and Sweet Preservation.
I’m flattered that they asked me to make a return engagement as a Canbassador, and began experimenting with a few flavor combinations for jam, and maybe something savory. A salsa, perhaps?
But the first thing I did was steep a few in sugar and vinegar, with a little rosemary punctuation, with the intent of mixing up a bourbon cocktail at the pop-up brunch I’m co-hosting this Sunday with my friend Liz of Lizzie’s Bake Shoppe in Chicago. You can get on the wait list here.
In my opinion, sweet fruit like peaches really thrive with a little acid like vinegar. It helps balance the sweetness and gives a real depth of flavor, so I hope you’ll try a little shrub. It couldn’t be easier.
Makes about 2 cups
1 to 1 1/2 ripe peaches, pitted and diced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (or more) cider vinegar
1 3-inch sprig rosemary
Pour the diced peaches into a two-cup sealable jar. Top with sugar and leave on the counter until juices flow – a couple hours should do it. Tuck in the rosemary and top with vinegar. Shake well.
Steep in the refrigerator for a few days. When ready to serve, strain the peaches and rosemary and reserve for another use.
Peach bourbon cocktail
Pour two parts bourbon and one part shrub into a glass filled with ice. Adjust proportions according to your taste. Add sparkling water if you like. Garnish with a slice of fresh peach.
We’ve reached that long-awaited moment called high summer.
When we have corn.
Friends, it’s time for panzanella.
A panzanella is a simple bread salad, made with day-old bread and juicy tomatoes. Along with classics like pan perdu (also known as French toast), it’s a great way to use that delicious bread that’s just a wee bit over the hill. It soaks up the juice from the tomato.
To make your own croutons from your favorite bakery, preheat the oven to 400 of 425, give or take. Drizzle some oil, sprinkle salt and herbs, toss and bake until golden and crunchy.
Try not to eat them before you prepare the salad, because they are like potatoe chips and you won’t be able to stop. The dangerous part is when they’re cooling on the pan, sitting there, a reach away. Once they’ve cooled, put them in a covered container and stash them on the top shelf in a cupboard you don’t open very much.
If you’re making this salad ahead of time, keep the croutons separate until everyone is sitting at the table. Since your tomatoes are at their juiciest, you’ll suffer from soggy croutons. Crunch is key to this salad’s success.
Serves four to six as a side
3-4 large Roma tomatoes, diced
2 ears corn, roasted and kernels cut off (about 2 cups)
1 small red onion, diced
1/2 cup pitted olives
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup olive oil, or more to taste
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
salt and pepper
2 cups homemade crunchy croutons
Toss the tomatoes, corn, onion, olives and thyme together in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. Right before serving, season with salt and pepper. Add the croutons and gently fold to combine.
Don showed up at a class I taught at Williams-Sonoma years ago and we’ve been food friends since. He’s one of those folks food writers love because he responds to newsletters and posts with encouraging words – a most treasured reader.
And he loves clafouti.
He’d never had it before my class, and he’s been a fan ever since.
Since it’s cherry season, and I’m on a bit of a Julia Child kick (there’s still time to enter), I wanted to share my recipe for this classic French country dessert traditionally made with cherries.
Clafouti, also spelled clafoutis and pronounced clah-foo-TEE, is a sort of a cakey flan baked custard. You get the idea. I puffs up when cooking, and then gently deflates, and lends itself to all kinds of fruit.
As I mentioned, the tradition is to make it with cherries, and the French leave in the pits for a more intense flavor.
In the interest of protecting dental work, I pit my cherries. You can do as you wish.
And in this case, I used brandied cherries that I’ve been holding from last year, and they gave the dessert a nice punch.
Feel free to play around with adding a couple tablespoons of liqueur, and varying your fruit all the way into fall, when pears and almonds are delicious together.
Another tradition is to sprinkle it with confectioners sugar, although in the photo I’ve skipped that step to give you the idea of what the clafouti looks like.
Quite simple, mais non?
Serves eight to ten
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 pint sweet or tart cherries, pitted
Confectioners sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter a 10-inch round baking dish and set aside.
In large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cream and vanilla. Pour into flour mixture and whisk to combine. Add cherries and gently fold to combine. Pour batter into baking dish and bake in the center of the oven until puffed and golden, about 35 to 40 minutes.
Cool slightly, then sprinkle with confectioners sugar and cut into wedges.
It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Julia Child. She was a warm, effusive, inspirational food coach, and just as delightful in person as on TV.
Did you know Julia was a big cat lover? I remember watching an old episode of The French Chef when she talked people “who are lucky enough to have a pussy cat” can give them the fish trimmings.
When I visited her house in Cambridge during the Baking with Julia days, I spotted her cat-shaped cutting board in the kitchen, and a picture of cats in grass over the mantel in the living room, painted by Paul Child, a talented amateur artist along with many other qualities.
And now cat lovers and Julia fans have an entertaining picture book to gobble up.
This charming story tells about Julia and Paul during their time in Paris, when they adopted a little stray cat and named her Minette.
The whimsical illustrations made me want to jump right into the book, something like that scene in Mary Poppins when Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and the children hop into the sidewalk pictures and spend a delightful afternoon.
Comment to win your copy
The good people at Abrams, Susanna’s publisher, sent me a copy, and they’re offering another to give to a lucky Rustic Kitchen reader and Julia Child fan.
Simply leave a comment between now and July 31. Tell me what you loved about Julia Child.
Just in time for our nation’s red-white-and-blue holiday, I have a ruby-red bevvy suitable for flag waving.
And yes, it’s also good with vodka.
Delicious either way. It’s a fizzy drink made with strawberry shrub. The perfect homemade soda bursting with strawberry goodness. Leave out the vodka and it’s great for the entire family.
My path to berry devotion
A few weeks ago, I was so flattered to be interviewed on Iowa Public Radio about Farmers’ Markets of the Heartland, along with a few market directors from that state. Charity Nebbe, the host of Talk of Iowa, asked how I first fell in love with the farmers’ market.
In a word, strawberries. The flavor of ripe strawberries reminded me of childhood, and I’ve been creating recipes to enjoy them before they’re finished. I’d go on about my farmers’ market story but then you wouldn’t need to buy the book, although Amazon gives you a peek.
The luscious sweetness of strawberries is great in a shrub, the colonial method of using vinegar and sugar to preserve fruit. Well, my friends, it works for non-preserving, I-want-to-enjoy-something-this-afternoon too. So join me on the back porch for a soda, won’t you?
Strawberry shrub soda
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, quartered
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
Sparkling water for serving
Put a many strawberries as will fit into a two-cup sealable jar. Pour the sugar on top. Shake it and leave it on the counter until the berries macerate and exude their juices. The time will vary depending on the size and ripeness of your berries, but an hour or an afternoon should do it. Pour in the vinegar and give it another shake.
Because I tend to enjoy this right away rather than keeping it in a dark cupboard, I consider it ready. For sodas, strain the syrup, saving the berries for making your own fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt. Pour about 1/4 cup into a frosty glass and top with sparkling water.
Join me on my homemade soda kick
My friend Jill of Relish loves the idea of homemade sodas, because you contol the sugar. For me, I prefer and lighter flavor balanced with a little acid, such as these shrubs, or a simple syrup cut with a little citrus juice.
If you still have rhubarb, or maybe you froze some, here’s my rhubarb fizz. And here are some other shrub recipes to use later in the season, created with fruit from my Washington fruit grower friends at Sweet Preservation. And here’s my ginger ale.
And here’s a link to a post about Judy Henry of Berry Patch Farm, one of my favorite farmers from the Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Market, with links to a cabernet syrup and orange-spiked sabayon, both perfect for topping berries. Enjoy a spectacular Fourth!
1/2 cup plain yogurt (if using store-bought yogurt, make sure the label says “live cultures”)
Bring milk to a simmer over medium heat until it reaches 200 degrees (do not boil). Remove from heat and let cool to 100 degrees. Preheat oven to lowest setting (mine is 170 degrees), then turn off. Once milk reaches 100 degrees, gently whisk in yogurt. Cover, wrap in a towel, and place into oven for four to six hours until yogurt thickens to desired consistency. Strain through a sieve to remove any milk solids and store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
I list temperatures here, so a candy thermometer is a plus, but you can eyeball things with a little conviction.
I use my wide-mouthed All-Clad saucier pan to expose more of the milk, which I believe lends a thicker texture.
Drizzle with honey or maple syrup for a nice balance to the tang.
Make your own fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt by scooping jam – like peach rosemary preserves, for example – into a half-pint Ball jar and then topping with your yogurt. I make five at a time for a week’s worth of afternoon snacks.