There’s nothing like making a hearty soup to break in a new kitchen. And you know how it is when you move: until you get the pantry stocked and a few items in the fridge, there’s a lot of pizza and canned soup going on (or, in our case, burritos). So it was a welcome break in routine this morning to wake up to a stormy Monday, hot coffee waiting in the kitchen, and some free time to get busy in the kitchen. Finally.
Now a quick business note before we talk about minestrone. You’ve probably noticed: A Sweet Spoonful got a face lift! Have a peek around. There are some new features and pages, giving you the ability to print recipes, read travel pieces and restaurant reviews, and browse previous posts via photos. I also added a little Amazon page: just things I like and use often in the kitchen that I think you may like, too. The new site just went live a few days ago and somehow I’ve lost a lot of subscribers in the transition (not really sure how), and there have been a few mass email snafus (hopefully we’ve stopped that from happening in the future). So please make sure your readers/RSS are up to date and/or that you’ve subscribed via email in the box to the left. I’d love for you to stick around!
Now on to the important stuff: hearty, winter soups. Minestrone is an Italian staple and is often known as “the big soup.” It’s kind of ironic that I found this recipe and set out to the store to purchase all of the ingredients (as our kitchen is still under- stocked at this point) because traditionally, this was a soup that you kind of add whatever’s in the fridge–from meats, to rice and pastas, to vegetables. Most minestrone’s I’ve had in the past are thick, tomato-based soups. But I was drawn to this particular recipe because it called for pancetta (hello!) and instructed you to simmer the soup with a Parmesan rind. Intriguing. It’s more of a brothy soup, with lots of vegetables and incredible flavors. Perfect for a stormy afternoon…of which we’ve been having quite a few of around here lately.
This recipe is from the Culinary Institute of America’s The New Book of Soups. I did receive this book for free from the publishers; I actually wrote to them specifically about it because I’d heard such great things and was curious to take a peek. Now I’m not generally one who likes cookbooks devoted to one dish. There’s something overwhelming about them. But I’m also someone who loves soup, and living in the fog 85% of the year makes it the perfect comfort food. The book is organized intuitively in categories including Cream Soups, Stews, and Bisques and Chowders. There’s also great information on shopping for soup ingredients, aromatics, making homemade broth, and selecting the proper soup pots or stock pots. I wanted a particularly hearty soup, so I did adapt the CIA’s recipe just a bit, adding more carrots, beans, and pancetta than they suggest.
A few notes on ingredients: I did use store-bought chicken broth, mainly because Trader Joe’s makes a nice low-sodium, free-range chicken broth that I’m fond of. They also sell cubed Italian pancetta which I used for this recipe. And for potatoes, I bought purple potatoes to add a bit of color. But play around with any ingredients you have at home. You could also easily make this soup vegetarian by omitting the pancetta and using vegetable broth.
Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until the fat melts, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not allow pancetta to burn. Add the cabbage, onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the broth, potatoes, and Parmesan cheese rind. Bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Don’t overcook. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a small bot of boiling water until tender. Drain. When the vegetables in the soup are tender, add the cooked pasta, tomatoes, chickpeas, and kidney beans. Remove and discard the Parmesan rind. Season the soup to taste with the pesto, salt, and pepper. Serve in heated bowls sprinkled with cheese.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.