We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens — or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn’t much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn’t lavish. But it’s what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.)
Since then, I’ve been more inspired to cook lots of “real” food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen’s curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I’ve taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread). After our knock-em-dead New Years Eve, we had plans to go to The Wandering Goose for Southern breakfast + resolution writing, a tradition we’ve kept for years. But when we woke up to a light dusting of snow, neither of us really felt like dealing with a very busy (now) toddler in a very small restaurant — nor were we quite ready to think about goals or resolutions. There was still wrapping paper to clean up and mail to open, and frankly I wanted space and time to really think through mine before sharing them this year. I remember sitting at our table last year with a six week old baby strapped to me, lightly bouncing and, with each bite of breakfast, trying not to drop black eyed peas on his head. There was a bit of a wait for our food, so we ended up sharing a piece of caramel cake and coffee first, and I proceeded to lie my way through each of my goals. And I 100% knew it at the time, too. Was I going to learn how to sew clothes for myself? Yes. Would I get better at baking bread? Absolutely. Write a new book proposal? You betcha. I remember thinking to myself that the entire exercise felt futile and what I really was going to do that year was keep this sleeping baby alive and healthy. And I did. We did. And he’s a little walking, babbling ray of sunshine that loves kiwis and bananas and biscuits and taking showers with his papa. And this year, I’m ready to start thinking about new personal and professional projects that have more to do with me — to make lists that feel genuine and exciting, not just words on paper.
This soup has turned out to be good fuel for that sort of thing — for writing thank you notes and starting the new planner my sister Zoe got me for Christmas. I saw the recipe in Bon Appetit a while back and when I recently dug it out, I discovered it was a spring minestrone with sugar snap peas and fresh peas, so obviously my version is a seasonal departure. I ended up using frozen peas and fresh zucchini instead and it feels like exactly what I want and need to be eating right now: clean, simple, and all about the ingredients themselves. Nothing over the top, festive or fancy. Just a good, wintry soup. And a clean desk to start thinking about those truthful resolutions I’m almost ready to write. Happy New Year, friends.
This soup has a few components that can be tackled separately and in advance: the soffrito works as the base and you’ll have quite a bit leftover that you can then freeze and use for soups in the future. As for the pesto, I didn’t have pistachios as the original recipe called for so I used hazelnuts instead. Like most pesto recipes, I treat it as a formula more than anything so use any nuts and greens you like here; it’ll turn out great.
Adapted from Bon Appetit
For Soup / Assembly:
To make the soffrito: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Cook onions, leeks and celery, stirring often, until soft but not browned, about 6-8 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt.
To make the pesto: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Toast nuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until golden brown, 6-8 minutes. Let cool; crush using a small sauce pan (you want a mix of sizes).
Pulse garlic, basil, parsley and 1/3 cup oil in a food processor until a coarse puree forms. Transfer to a medium bowl and mix with Parmesan, lemon zest, crushed nuts, and remaining 1/3 cup oil; season with salt and pepper.
Soup and assembly: Heat oil in a medium pot over medium-high. Add the thyme and zucchini and cook until tender, about 6 -7 minutes. Add bay leaf and 1 cup soffrito and cook down until fragrant, about 2 minutes (Reserve remaining soffrito for another use; see note below).
Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add peas, kale, beans and cook until kale is wilted and peas are tender, about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, as needed. Remove and discard bay leaf.
Serve soup, topped with pesto, Parmesan and red pepper flakes.
Note on Soffrito: The base can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool, cover and refrigerate (or freeze for up to 1 month).
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.