Tag Archives: soup

transition, through chowder

There’s been a change in the air these last few weeks…have you felt it? Just the slightest shift in temperature, a chill in the evenings that makes sleeping with windows wide open not only possible, but pleasant. The breeze is changing, carrying with it the scent of a backyard grill, the sound of fallen leaves skipping along pavement, a smattering of goosebumps across a forearm. Afternoon light has a new quality, a dreamy, golden hue that elicits memories of high school football games, apple picking, the feel of a scarf wound loosely about the neck.

Autumn begins officially today, but I’ve seen signs of her impending arrival for most of September. I won’t deny my excitement, for this time of year is truly my favorite, but I will miss the bounties of Summer. There’s been an urgency to our visits to Charlottesville’s City Market each Saturday for three weeks now. A pressure to gather up one last load of roma tomatoes to roast, to pick up a dozen freestone peaches knowing they’ll be absent until next July, to seek out a few more ears of fresh corn before being forced to rely on the kernels stashed away at the back of the freezer.

I bought our first butternut squash just last week. It stood out in our market basket, a dull cloud against the sunset of tomatoes, peaches, and eggplant. Once home we roasted it to sweet perfection before pureeing it with celery, onions and carrots into an earthy potage. The recipe is an Autumn staple, one that will grace our table many times in the next few months. We loved the soup that night as we always do, but still, I wasn’t quite ready for it.

What I wanted instead was a chowder we’d made the week before, one that took advantage of the last of Summer’s produce while introducing the initial tastes of Autumn. Those final few ears of sweet corn, the bell and jalepeño peppers, the first potatoes and carrots of Fall, a cream base with heat that hits from the belly out, all come together to create a soup that perfectly represents this time. The transition from one season to another, from tank tops and flip flops to light jackets and closed-toe flats, embodied in a chowder.

A chowder perfect for those of us on the fence, clinging to Summer while welcoming Fall.

I mentioned, way back at the end of August, that I’d found a new trick to releasing corn kernels from their cob. Well, here it is friend.  I introduce to you the bundt pan, a vessel so perfectly designed for handling fresh corn that I feel it should be marketed in that way.  Sure, it also makes a pretty cake, but really, lots of pans can do that. The central tube fits the end of an ear of corn quite perfectly, and as you cut the kernels from the cob they fall neatly into the pan. No more corn kernels all over the counter and floor. I am probably the last to discover this handy trick, but wow, was I excited when I did. My dogs, however, miss the sweet kernels falling from above.

Spicy Potato Corn Chowder

adapted from Gourmet, July 2008
serves 4 as a first course

Ingredients:

  • 3 ears corn, shucked
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1.75 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (3.5 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, halved lengthwise, then sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 jalepeño peppers, minced (no seeds unless you want your soup really spicy)
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 2 California bay leaves
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups milk (1% or 2%)
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Method

  1. Cut corn from each cob.
  2. Bring cobs, water, broth, potatoes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large pot. Boil, covered, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Discard cobs.
  3. Meanwhile, cook onion, carrot, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is pale golden, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add bell pepper, jalepeño, corn, thyme, bay leaves, and one ladle of liquid from potato/corn pot. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes.
  5. Stir in potatoes with water/broth and cream and gently boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in milk.  Be sure not to allow soup to boil after this point, as milk will curdle. Heat through, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs.
  7. Use an immersion blender to pureé some of the vegetables, to thicken soup.  Be sure to leave some large chunks of potatoes, peppers, and corn. If you don’t have an immersion blender, ladle two scoops of soup into a regular blender and pureé, then add back to soup pot.
  8. Stir in scallions, white pepper, cayenne, and salt to taste, then serve.

to satisfy all cravings

My heels hit the pavement with a muffled thud that keeps time with the music streaming in my ear.  I’ve been fussing with the wire to my headphones, trying to rearrange the line moving down the inside of my shirt to the iPhone in my hand without losing my balance and accidentally stepping out in front of a car.  Frustrated, I finally pull the plugs from my ears and wrap the cord around my wrist, content to let my feet provide base to accompany the chirping birds’ melody as I finish my jog.

I’ve only recently started running again, pounding the pavement on my neighborhood streets as much for the fitness benefits as for the opportunity to get outside and absorb the beauty of my environment. Running and I don’t really get along (you can read a bit about that here, from the old Bella Eats) so my mileage is pretty light and my pace is fairly slow. I typically try to distract myself either with a talkative buddy or a good Pandora station on my iPod, but lately have found that my surroundings are distraction enough.

In the last few weeks I’ve witnessed the transition of dry, yellow lawns into luscious, chartreuse carpets speckled with sunny dandelions and dusty purple violets. I’ve waited patiently for the lilac bush at the top of one long, steadily-sloped hill to come to bloom and finally, just last week, was able to stop for a few deep inhales of oh-so-sweet perfume from its clumps of delicate blossoms. As my feet pad-pad-pad the concrete sidewalk I’ve found my head spinning in all directions to absorb freshly-mulched flower beds that first showcased crocuses in mid-March, revealed daffodils two weeks later and tulips two weeks after that. The ethereal quality of each April day is enough to entice me to lace up my shoes and walk out the door, always excited to see what’s changed in the few days since I last plodded around the neighborhood.

As I peak the last small hill before the intersection one block from my house I am hot and sweaty, my skin bright pink and glistening with tiny beads of moisture. I reach the corner and slow to a walk, raising my hands to the top of my head and taking in a few deep, slightly ragged breaths. The breeze picks up just then, sweeping through the branches overhead to send a cascade of browning cherry blossoms swirling towards the ground. This is the last of them, the white and pink flowers have been slowly pushed out by darkening green leaves over the last couple of weeks. I’ll miss the bright, cottony treetops, but now we have floppy dogwood blossoms and bright fuchsia azaleas to admire. And after that there will be wild sweet peas and multiflora rose, both lending the air surrounding Charlottesville with the sweetest scent you can imagine, making the deep, ragged breaths at the end of a run a bit more tolerable.

The sun is setting now, giving the golden evening light a hint of green as beams filter through the new growth on our backyard trees. I stretch on the back deck for a few minutes, sinking my hips deep into a lunge as the Spring breeze brushes over my still-damp skin, sending a little smattering of goosebumps up my cooling arms. It’s going to get chilly overnight, despite the mid-day temperature of 65-degrees.

This is so typical for Charlottesville this time of year – daily temperatures that swing from the 30’s to the 70’s and back in just 24 hours’ time.  It calls for a little planning in the morning, a layering of clothing to be sure you’re warm enough when you walk out the door but not too hot when you step out for lunch.  It means watching the forecast carefully to be sure that those plants that spent the Winter indoors and “just want a little sunshine!” on the back deck are brought in before the air turns too cool. It also means preparing meals that satisfy a plethora of cravings, from light and bright to comforting and warm.

As I finish my stretching and head inside my nose absorbs the scent of chicken braising in a bath of milk, lemon, sage and cinnamon.  There is soup too, a zippy puree of Winter-Spring veggies.  I am glad that I thought to start dinner prior to my run, because although standing in a hot kitchen prepping dinner sounds miserable right now, in thirty minutes the cool air slipping through our windows will have me wanting a warm and comforting meal.  A warm and comforting meal that is, at the same time, light and bright with the promise of Spring.

This soup is perfect on these Spring days with nights that feel closer to Winter. The parsnips are strong, so if you’re looking for just a hint of the root I’d reduce their amount to 1/2 pound and up your potato count to 3.  Be sure to add the squeeze of lemon at the end, it really makes the asparagus shine.

Creamy Asparagus and Parsnip Soup

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced to 1-inch chunks
  • about 3/4 pound parsnips, peeled and diced to 1-inch rounds
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound asparagus, tough ends removed, chopped to 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4-5 cups chicken broth
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lemon

Method

  1. Melt butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add the potatoes, parsnips, onion, garlic, and asparagus and stir to coat with butter.  Cover pot and let veggies sweat for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes and parsnips are slightly tender.
  2. Add white wine to pot and stir to deglaze bottom of pan if there are any bits of veggie stuck.  Add the chicken broth, enough to just cover all of the vegetables.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes and parsnips are fully tender, another 10 minutes or so.
  3. Using an immersion blender or a regular blender, puree the vegetables until you have a smooth, creamy consistency devoid of any chunks.  Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, to taste.

This chicken is everything that everybody has raved about.  Moist and flavorful, it is wonderful on its own dressed simply with the sauce created from the braising liquid.

Braised Chicken in Milk

recipe from Jamie Oliver via Whitney in Chicago and The Kitchn

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3-1/2 pound organic chicken
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 stick of butter
  • olive oil
  • cinnamon stick (mine was about 3 inches in length)
  • handful of fresh sage leaves, removed from stem
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 10 cloves of garlic (I removed the skin)
  • 1 pint milk

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 375*.
  2. Rinse and thoroughly dry your chicken.
  3. Rub your chicken down with sea salt and black pepper, evenly and thoroughly.  Heat a large oven-proof pot on your stove top and melt the stick of butter and a glug of olive oil together.  Place the chicken in the pot, breast-side down, and fry until golden brown.  Turn bird to all sides to get even, golden color.  This should take about 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the bird from the pot and place on a plate.  Discard the remaining butter and oil.  Put the bird back in the pot (don’t mind all of the little brown bits at the bottom of the pot, they will add tremendous flavor to the final sauce) and add the rest of your ingredients.  Place the pot in the oven, covered, and cook chicken for 90 minutes.  Baste with the cooking juices whenever you remember (which I did 2 or 3 times).  If you think about it, remove the lid for the last 30 minutes of cooking, so that the skin will crisp up a bit.  If not, no biggie.
  5. To serve, pull all of the neat from the bones and divide amongst 4 plates.  Be sure to siphon up the juices in the pot including the curds, which I know look weird but add so much flavor to the sauce.  I put the sauce in a jelly jar and shook it really hard, to help incorporate those curds into the liquid so that they didn’t look so funny on my chicken.  Spoon the sauce over the pulled chicken and ENJOY!

Be sure to fish out all of the garlic cloves from the pot when the chicken is done.  Spread them over thick slices of chunky bread, and swoon!

on a whim

As Spring quickly approaches, I’m finding that the evening meal has become a very relaxed affair. With daylight extending itself to an hour that allows for chatting with a glass of wine on the back deck after work, thoughts of dinner don’t start to cross the mind until the sun dips behind the trees and the temperature drops to a point that requires either a move inside or the addition of a lightweight sweater. It is only then that we notice the clock (and our bellies!) telling us that it is past 7pm, and time to pull something together in the kitchen.

I haven’t been planning our meals very far in advance, something that is unusual to my character. Typically our weekly menu is fully laid out by Saturday afternoon, neatly written in bright-white across our pantry doors coated with black chalkboard paint. I consider the menu carefully before finalizing my grocery list, receiving feedback from Brian and swapping days according to the longevity of ingredients to be purchased. The planned meals may vary slightly after Sunday’s trip to the store, when I discover that there are perfect golden beets that I hadn’t counted on calling my name, or that red cabbage has been particularly popular lately, and therefore its typical spot in the produce department is empty save for one sad, wilted purple leaf.

Lately our trips to the grocery have been more rushed than usual, the product of two very busy schedules finding only slivers of overlap in which to make the drive to and wander the aisles of the market. Oftentimes we wind up stopping in on our way to or from other errands, on days not typically designated as ‘grocery days’, leaving me standing in the middle of the produce department, overwhelmed and without a list. And so we rely on stand-by ingredients, items we purchase most weeks religiously, and add in whatever else looks or sounds good at that moment. I quickly assemble meals in my head, substituting ingredients in and out of pastas and soups, making sure that we’ll be able to use whatever we purchase and not be left with a bag full of yellow brussels sprouts at the end of the week. It still happens occasionally, but at least I try.

Which brings me back to the weeknight, post-7pm. Brian and I stand in our kitchen, him ravenous and me a little chilly, peering into the pantry and refrigerator, pulling out ingredients to assemble a spontaneous meal together. Our preferences are changing with the season, moving from heavy and hearty to light and bright.  ‘Quick’ is a new requirement now that we’re getting started on preparation later in the evening, and ‘warm’ still plays a role for me after having been outside, barefoot and sweater-less, after the sun has set. The results have been fantastic; pasta tossed with leftover chicken, local ham and a light parmesan broth; a mélange of roasted chickpeas, potatoes and brussels sprouts; an on-a-whim creamy soup of potatoes, parsnips and asparagus.

The best part has been creating these recipes, together, according to our own at-that-moment preferences rather than the recommendations of a book, magazine or blog.  It is easy, when I have a plan, to lose myself in the kitchen to the preparation of dinner, excusing Brian to take care of one of the many items on his ever-growing ‘to do’ list. But when there is no plan, and the task is to create quickly, we come at it from both sides, each tossing in our own suggestions to make a dish that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

I’ll admit that this egg drop soup is a recipe that has been in our repertoire for years, but it is so simple and satisfying, and we nearly always have its ingredients in our kitchen, that it is perfect for a spontaneous lunch or dinner.  It is not enough on its own, which lead to the creation of the vegetable fried rice variation below, on a whim.

Egg Drop Soup

serves 2

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided
  • chunk of fresh ginger root, 1/4-inch thick by 1-inch diameter
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh scallions
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 4 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk

Method

  1. Reserve 3/4 cup of the broth, and pour the rest into a large saucepan. Add the salt, ginger and scallions, and bring to a rolling boil.
  2. In a cup or small bowl, stir together the remaining broth and the cornstarch until smooth. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk together using a fork. Drizzle the egg a little at a time from the fork into the boiling broth mixture. The egg should cook immediately.
  4. Once all of the egg has been dropped, stir in the cornstarch mixture gradually until the soup is the desired consistency.

This dish was nearly spontaneous, the only forethought being that I made extra brown rice a few days prior, so that it would be ready and waiting in the fridge for some version of fried rice that had yet to be determined.  It just so happened that the night we decided to make egg drop soup was also the night that the leeks were starting to look a little haggard, and I wanted to use the brussels sprouts before they reached that same state.  Thus, a new star was born.

Fried Rice with Leeks and Brussels Sprouts

serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp peanut oil, divided
  • 2 medium leeks, sliced thinly
  • 1 pound brussels sprouts, ragged outer leaves removed, sliced thinly (a food processor is a wonderful tool for this task)
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 cups steamed brown rice, cold (ideally, leftover from the night before)
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the sliced leeks and brussels sprouts, and saute’ until tender and bright green, about 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside.
  2. Wipe skillet clean, then heat over high heat, until a drop of water vaporizes upon impact.  Add the remaining 1 tbsp peanut oil, swirling to coat pan evenly, and heat until just starting to smoke.  Add eggs, tilting pan and swirling eggs to form a thin, even layer, and cook for 30 seconds.  Add rice and stir-fry, breaking up eggs and letting rice rest several seconds between stirs, until rice is hot, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the brussels sprouts and leeks, stir-frying to combine and heat through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

a backdrop of falling snow

Last Saturday another ten inches of snow fell across Charlottesville, blanketing my city in delicate drifts of sparkling white. I awoke in the wee morning hours, just as soft gray light started to seep through the cracks between the blinds over the bedroom window. Aside from the soft snores of the dogs nestled at my feet, all was quiet. The typical sounds of tires meeting asphalt, wind rustling tree branches and birds chirping from their power line perch were nonexistent, lost in the insulation provided by a muffling snow.

I slid out of bed, thankful that I’d kept socks on my feet and wouldn’t have to endure the cold hardwood floor against bare skin. Padding out to the kitchen I paused at a window to peek outside and was greeted with an idyllic view. Three inches of snow does wonders for an imperfect ground, provides each and every limb of surrounding trees with sugary peaks along their length, silences a high-trafficked road. I couldn’t deny that I enjoyed this scene – my outside world painted white; bright and shiny and devoid of mud. I stood there, mesmerized by my transformed street and the plump flakes still spiraling down from a silver sky, and made up with Winter.

Finally, the promise of a cup of coffee and a long kitchen agenda were enough to pull me from my trance. To have an entire Saturday with no errands, no obligations, no sunshine-filled sky tempting me to leash up the dogs for a hike in the woods, seemed luxurious. Despite the snowflake-clogged air, the light pouring through our windows was clear and bright, the ground having become a natural reflector as I slept. My camera screamed at me to get started, to not waste a single, brilliant moment. I simmered and sauteed and baked and photographed all day, stopping every once in awhile to marvel at the still-falling snow that had gifted me this time.

This soup emerged with perfect timing, the kale softening just as Brian came in from shoveling our sidewalks and driveway. Hearty with potatoes and greens, flavored by bright leeks and spicy sausage, it promises to warm the coldest of bodies and satisfy the grayest of minds. You can’t help but to be thankful for Winter as the thick broth slides down your throat, the heat of the sausage spreading from inside out, a sensation not necessarily welcome during the Summer months but oh so tasty against a backdrop of falling snow.

This soup is very easy to make, coming together in just 45 minutes. The hot Italian sausage is a key player, infusing the broth with wonderful flavor and heat.

Spicy Sausage, Potato and Kale Soup

serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 large leeks, rinsed and sliced to 1/4-inch strips (about 3 cups total)
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 3 large Russet potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes (leave about 1/2 the skin on the potatoes)
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 pound of hot Italian sausage, removed from casings
  • 3 cups of chopped kale (stems removed)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Melt butter in large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks, onions and potatoes and stir to coat with butter.  Cover pot, reduce heat to low and let vegetables sweat for 15 minutes.
  2. Remove cover and add broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.  Drop sausage in small chunks into soup.  Cover and let simmer for 20-25 minutes, until potatoes are fork-tender.
  3. Remove 2 cups of soup from pot, avoiding large chunks of sausage.  Puree those 2 cups in a blender until smooth.  Add back to soup pot and stir to incorporate evenly.  Add kale and cover pot, allowing to simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
  4. Remove cover and lower heat.  Add heavy cream and stir to incorporate.  Heat through, but don’t let the soup simmer again or the cream will curdle a bit (as in my photos).
  5. Salt and pepper to taste.

This recipe, and Bella Eats,  made its debut on SuzySaid – Charlottesville on Monday. I have been asked to contribute a recipe each week to the site, and am so excited to be part of such a wonderful online resource for women in my city.  If you’re from Charlottesville or the surrounding area, check out SuzySaid – Charlottesville for information on upcoming events and local businesses.  And tune in each Monday for a new recipe from Bella Eats!

heart and soul-warming

Brian and I met when we were 18 years old, as freshmen in college. We were introduced by a mutual friend at an evening lecture in our first few weeks of school and hit it off immediately. Although we were both in long-distance relationships with high school sweethearts, we had a connection that couldn’t be denied. At least not by those around us. WE denied it, Brian and I did, despite the two years of friendship and flirting and soul-bearing conversations that followed.

pc soup-4

We were both architecture majors, and each semester arranged our schedule so that we had all of our classes together. On the first day of school we’d get to our studio early to ensure that our desks would be located next to each other in the space where we spent most hours of our days and nights. We’d put a disc-man between us, load it with mixed CDs and plug in a pair of split headphones so that we could listen to the same music as we worked all night long on projects for the next day’s review. Our friendship continued to grow as we saw each other through relationship elation and heartache, as well as the highs and lows of life as a student of architecture. But still we denied any feelings we had for each other, insisting to those around us that we were just friends, never anything more.

pc soup-3

The end of the second year of architecture school brings a make-it-or-break-it moment for its students – a pin-up presentation that shows your best work to a panel of your professors so that they can decide whether or not you show enough promise to proceed in the program. It is terrifying – a time when you search your soul to decide if you are truly made for architecture, and debate possibilities for what you might change your major to if you are not chosen. You are given roughly 36 hours, the time between when your last project of the semester is complete and the pin-up judgement begins, to put together a 4-foot by 8-foot board that expresses who you are as a designer.

Brian and I, of course, spent those 36 hours together, holed up in his apartment working round-the-clock with no sleep. At one point, around hour 30, I was exhausted to the point of tears and hungry for anything other than pizza or Chinese delivery. And so, Brian made me soup.

pc soup-6

It took a few more months and the demise of our high school relationships for me to outwardly admit the feelings I had for Brian but, looking back, I believe that the moment he handed me that bowl of piping-hot potato cheese soup amidst the biggest deadline of our lives thus far was the moment I knew that there was something more between us.

This soup is still, to this day, my absolute favorite thing that he makes in our kitchen.  It has morphed over the years, adjusting with our tastes and food values, but at its core is still the creamy, delicious, heart and soul-warming meal that he made me so many years ago.

Brian’s Potato Cheese Soup

serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 large onion, 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 stalks celery, 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced to 1/2-inch
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 large Russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
  • 6-8 cups chicken stock (we use better than bouillon no-chicken base)
  • 4 oz extra-sharp cheddar cheese, 1/2-inch cubes
  • 4 oz gruyere cheese, 1/2-inch cubes
  • salt + pepper
  • 4 mini bread bowls
  • parsley (for garnish)

Method:

  1. Heat butter over medium-high heat in large soup pot.  Add the onion, celery, carrots and garlic and saute’ until the onions are just translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the potatoes and saute’ another minute.  Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium (a low boil) and cook until the potatoes are tender but not falling apart.  Remove from heat.
  2. Put the cheese cubes into a blender.  Pour 2-3 ladles of hot soup on top of cheese in blender.  Puree’ the mixture until smooth.  Whisk the cheese puree’ back into your soup pot.
  3. Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve in a sourdough bread bowl, if desired.

pc soup-5

Local

Virginians…check out the Virginia Chutney Festival next weekend in Sperryville, VA!  I wish I were going to be in town, because their picnic menu looks amazing!  It includes all locally raised and produced food – a true celebration of local flavors.  For more information, check out their website at www.virginiachutney.com.

bella terra: tomatoes, part 1

You might remember that peaches claimed the number one spot on my “favorite summer produce” list.  But I must say, it was a close, close race.  In fact, Brian and I agreed that the attributes we loved most about both peaches and tomatoes were mostly the same. Both taste infinitely better during their season than at any other point in the year.  The personal acquisition of each (peaches from the orchard, tomatoes from our garden) guarantees a freshness and minimization of the bruises that these fragile fruits usually have when gathered from the grocery store, not to mention warm + fuzzy memories of time spent with your honey.  And finally, both peaches and tomatoes are so very summer.  In the end, I think it was my sweet tooth and Brian’s lack thereof that determined each of our favorites.

tomatosoup1 (1)

The ripening of tomatoes in our garden is a bittersweet time for me.  Sweet, because we look forward to the juicy yellow, orange and red fruits from the time we plant the seedlings in mid-May, and bitter because it signals the beginning of the end – the downward slide of summer into fall.  Especially this year, when our harvest season has been cut so short by the blight claiming tomatoes across the Northeast.  Brian and I noticed it early this year, the slow yellowing then browning and shriveling of the lowest branches on our plants.  Eventually, the plants become skeletons of their former selves, with sad tomatoes hanging desperately to branches for as long as they can.  We learned this year that there is no way to avoid the fungus, especially since we have a strict no-spray rule, and if we want a full harvest season next year we need to plant a succession of tomatoes every 4 weeks starting in May and ending in July.  Lesson learned.

tomatosoup merge 1

Despite the blight, we have had way too many tomatoes to handle all at once, just not enough for all of the canned sauces and salsas we had planned.  We’ve had countless tomato mozzarella salads, tomato + hummus + ham sandwiches, roasted tomato pastas and just plain tomato slices sprinkled with salt and eaten while standing over the kitchen sink, juice dripping from our hands.  Friends and neighbors have been lucky recipients of our extras – and in fact our guests last weekend claimed our house as the best “bed and breakfast” they’d stayed at as they loaded their car with a bag of heirloom tomatoes and a jar of homemade jam.  In return, they shared a recipe for Heirloom Tomato Soup that was not only delicious, but a great way to use up large quantities of our bounty.

tomatosoup merge 2

We made it the next night, and I was pleased after my first taste to find that it was reminiscent of a favorite tomato basil soup I enjoyed at a local Greek restaurant while in graduate school – rich and creamy, with a nice spice that hits the back of your throat after each bite.  It was wonderful with fresh heirloom tomatoes from the garden, but I also look forward to trying it with canned tomatoes in the winter when I need a little reminder of warmer days.   For me, tomato soup has no particular season – I’ll take it any time of the year.

tomatosoup06 (1)

This soup is the grown-up version of a childhood favorite, and pairs perfectly with grown-up grilled cheese sandwiches.  We made ours with a fresh french baguette, jarslberg cheese and salty soprassata – but feel free to use whatever soft cheese and cured meat makes you happiest.

Creamy Heirloom Tomato Soup

I adapted this recipe from a friend’s adaptation of a Cooking Light recipe.  The original didn’t use any cream, which I’m sure would be good, but the cream makes it oh, so delicious…

serves 4 for dinner with a salad or sandwiches

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 tsp hot red pepper flakes (optional – use more or less to suit your tastes)
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped finely
  • 6 large heirloom tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or 2 (28oz) cans whole tomatoes, if you make this in any season other than summer)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 large slices good quality bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 1-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup light cream
  • salt and ground pepper, to taste

Method:

  1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add onion, garlic, thyme, basil and red pepper flakes, stirring until onions are translucent.
  2. Add tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes, until tomatoes start to break down.  Using wooden spoon, mash tomatoes against side of pot to release juices.
  3. Stir in sugar and bread, stirring occasionally until bread starts to break down, about 5 minutes.
  4. Transfer soup to a blender in batches and puree’ until smooth and creamy (if you have an immersion blender, feel free to use it in the soup pot).  Return soup to pot and stir in chicken broth and cream.  Reheat, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve with mini grilled jarlsberg and sopressata sandwiches, if desired.

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We’ve been eating a LOT of tomatoes in our house, so stay tuned for more Bella Terra: Tomato posts…

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And, the Bella Eats Jam winner is…JENNY (comment #7)!  Send me an email at bellaeats[at]gmail[dot]com and I’ll get your jam out to you this week.  If I don’t hear from Jenny, I’ll select another winner randomly in my next post.

Other Bella Terra posts this season:

Bella Terra: Preparation

Bella Terra: Chives

Bella Terra: Herbs

Bella Terra: Sugar Snaps

Bella Terra: Red Beets

Bella Terra: Kale

Bella Terra: Cucumbers

Bella Terra: Blackberries

striking a balance

March is a big birthday month in our household.  We kick it off right with Brian’s at the very beginning, end it with mine and have a whole slew of friend and family celebrations in between.  I’ve never attempted to actually calculate the numbers, but if I had to guess I would say that 30-40% of the birthdays we actively celebrate fall within March.  That means a lot of cake and cocktails, which, following a winter of heavy comfort foods makes the whole month seem like a last hurrah for indulgent eats before the panic of a looming swimsuit season sets in.  

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The mostly dreary weather of March has put a damper on my running habit as well.  Although the coldest temperatures of the month are typically much higher than those in January and February, the occasional 60* teaser days make the moderately cold ones completely unbearable.  I have a hard time motivating myself to tie my shoes and hit the road on a 40*, overcast evening (which in February would have felt downright warm) when my previous run had me in shorts and a tank top.

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And now here I am on the eve before the start of April, my legs sore from last night’s run after the prior week’s hiatus, my mouth craving a sweet because its become a daily habit and, dare I say, my body a couple of pounds heavier than it was just one month ago.  I started this blog originally to hold me accountable in my healthy eating and exercise habits, but found (along with an amazing community of people and many new friends) that the creative aspects of photographing and writing about food were more compelling for me than the keeping of a food diary.

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Its been about a month since I switched formats, and although the timing may have been poor what with all of the celebrations that March holds, I think the changes I’ve seen in my daily habits prove a point.  Food diaries work.  At least for me they do, which is why I’ll be keeping a closer tab on myself starting tomorrow.  But don’t worry, I won’t be switching things up on you again.  I really love the direction the blog is heading and from the positive feedback I’ve received, I think you do to.  What you will be seeing are some lighter, healthier, simpler and hopefully more economical recipes popping up on Bella Eats this month, starting with this one.

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This soup was delicious.  So good that Brian and I haven’t been able to stop talking about it for two days.  Its very simple, using ingredients that we always have on hand – carrots, celery, onion, canned beans, canned tomatoes, dried mushrooms, dried grains, good olive oil and fresh herbs are staples in our kitchen.  The mushrooms added such a wonderful earthiness to the broth that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to make vegetable soup without mushrooms again.  And the infused olive oil adds so much depth.  Please – please – don’t leave it out.  You won’t be sorry.

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Mushroom White Bean Soup with Rosemary

recipe inspired by keep it simple foods and the new york times

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 oz porcini mushrooms, dried
  • 6 cups veggie or chicken broth (I used chicken)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 carrots, cut in half and sliced into 1/4″ pieces
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced into 1/4″ pieces
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves,  minced
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained (15oz)
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking barley
  • 2 cans cannelini or navy beans (15oz each), drained and rinsed
  • salt and pepper

Method:

  1. First make infused olive oil, recipe below.  It will need to sit for 2 hours before serving, so be sure to plan ahead.
  2. Boil 2 cups of water.  Place dried mushrooms in a glass bowl and pour boiling water over them.  Let sit for 30 minutes.  Place a fine mesh strainer over a separate bowl.  Lift mushrooms out of water and squeeze over strainer, collecting liquid in second bowl.  Rinse mushrooms in strainer with cold water and squeeze out excess over sink.  Chop mushrooms and set aside.  Pour the mushroom soaking water through the strainer into the second bowl.  Add water as necessary to make 2 cups.  Set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottom soup pot.  Add the onion, carrots and celery and saute’ for 5-7 minutes, until starting to tenderize.  Add the garlic, rosemary and thyme and saute’ an additional 30 seconds.  
  4. Add the chicken broth, mushroom liquid, chopped mushrooms and tomatoes and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a heavy simmer and add the barley.  Continue to simmer for 12-15 minutes until the barley is tender.  Add the beans and salt + pepper to taste.
  5. Serve immediately with rosemary + porcini oil drizzled on top.

Rosemary and Porcini Infused Olive Oil

recipe modified from bon appetit

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 whole garlic clove
  • 1/2 oz porcini mushrooms, dried

Method:

  1. Place mushrooms in a strainer.  Rinse under hot water and drain well.  Pat dry.  
  2. Combine mushrooms, oil, rosemary and whole garlic clove in small, heavy saucepan.  Cook over low heat until thermometer inserted into oil registers 180*F, about 8 minutes.  (I am currently without a thermometer so left my oil on for 9 minutes, just in case).
  3. Remove from heat, cover and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.
  4. Oil can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.

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Thank You All for the great comments you write on my posts, they really make my day!  Welcome to my new readers who have found your way here from Tastespotting and Foodgawker, I look forward to hearing from more of you and to sharing some simple, healthy recipes with you this month.  Enjoy!