Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gourmet Today

Ok, the Gourmet of yesterday is gone. We're sad about that.

But somebody gave me at Christmas the new cookbook by the editors of Gourmet. It came out right around the time that Gourmet got the ax.  I guess it's a kind of consolation prize for those of us who miss the magazine.

I started cooking from it over the last few weeks, beginning with the soup section.  (The first section is actually  "Drinks."  It seemed sad to test this chapter alone at my farm, especially since there is no liquor store for miles around.)  The new cookbook claims to be conscious, like me, that meat is getting more expensive and that it may not be healthy in large amounts, so a lot of these soup recipes have just a little meat or none at all.  That works for me.

Some of these recipes can be found at epicurious.com, where recipes from old Gourmets have been archived.  I'll link to a few.

The first one I tried is Curried Potato and Leek Soup with Spinach. This is a gussied-up version of my beloved leek and potato soup, and honestly, I don't think it's any better.

The Chunky Butternut Squash, White Bean, and Tomato soup was very good.  I grew a lot of butternut squash last summer, and they were waiting for me in a bucket in the kitchen.  Another recipe that I used butternut squash in was Pumpkin Soup with Red Pepper Mousse.  (The recipe said you could use butternut squash instead of pumpkin.)  The mousse sounded cool but way too much trouble; the soup alone was fine without it.  Maybe I'll make the mousse garnish some other time.

The Baby Spinach Soup with Croutons was more my speed.  The garnish was just croutons, something I can handle.  I loved this soup: it was basically a thin bechamel sauce to which one adds a pound of baby spinach at the end, and some cream. I didn't have any cream so I used milk, but I bet it would be way better with cream.  (For some reason this recipe is not archived at the epicurious site.)

Spinach Stracciatella Soup was good too.  You use frozen spinach for this one, and eggs.  My dog Molly loved the leftovers.  (She likes anything that has eggs in it.)

An interesting soup is the Christmas Chestnut Soup with Sourdough Sage Croutons. This recipe calls for bottled chestnuts, which I've never seen anywhere, but luckily my neighbor had harvested some chestnuts from her trees, and she gave me some. They were pretty dried out, but some extra soaking in hot water plumped them up.  The soup had a kind of sweetness that was nice, but the color was a sort of ugly greyish brown.  One thing I figured out was that cooking soups in iron pots, while probably a healthy thing, sometimes gives them an off color.  My croutons were just sourdough, hold the sage.

Another soup requiring chestnuts was White Bean and Tuscan Kale Soup with Chestnuts.  I didn't think it was very good, but I have to say that I (1) didn't use pancetta, but country ham instead; (2) didn't use bottled chestnuts, but the aforementioned dried up fresh chestnuts; and worst of all, probably, (3) I used turnip greens instead of Tuscan kale (also known as lacinato and dinosaur kale). I usually have a great kale crop in winter, but a #@%! groundhog ate it this year.  (It's recovering a little.)  The turnip greens were too strong for the other flavors, I think.  It was not Tuscan; it was Hillbilly White Bean Soup with Dried Up Chestnuts.

The Venetian-Style Bean and Pasta Soup was good the first night, but the left-overs were not very good. I think there is too much pasta in this soup.  It's basically a bean soup with pasta.  My neighbor makes it a lot and says it was considered a low-rent dish in her childhood, and her mother was teased for making pasta fagioli a lot.  Again, Molly ate it.

The next experiment was more satisfying:  Mexican Black Bean Soup with Ancho Chiles.  This was a more complicated black bean soup than I usually make.   There were steps involving frying a mole, toasting chiles, etc.  But it was well worth it.  Weirdly, it too is not at the site.  So here's how you do it:  cook your black beans with enough water for about 2 hours.  Puree some tomatoes with some garlic and a bit of onion in a blender.  Fry that in a skillet.  Toast the chiles in a dry skillet, then saute them with some onion.  Add this mixture  to your beans.  Puree the beans in a blender.  (I used my immersion blender.)  Add some salt and the tomato sauce.  Cook together for 15 minutes.  The recipe calls for a garnish of fried tortilla strips, but I didn't do that.

The Gascon White Bean Soup was just ok.  But again, I didn't do it quite right, so maybe it's not fair to judge it harshly.  It called for a meaty smoked ham hock. I looked at these in the grocery store and just couldn't bring myself to buy it.  It looked horrible.  But it probably would have made a fairly bland soup taste better. Maybe next time I'll get some country ham and try again.  It has white beans, potatoes, and cabbage in it, and it apparently is typical of the peasant cuisine of the southwestern part of France.

Finally, last night I made Lentil, Sausage, and Escarole Soup. Well, sort of.  It was really Lentil Soup with Assorted Surviving Greens.  I left out the sausage--couldn't find any that looked very good--and the escarole--couldn't find any at all.  I had some tatsoi, a very hardy green, in the garden, plus a few limp pieces of arugula and mustard.  Those were the greens.  It was good.

There are many pages more to go of soups yet.  On the whole, I think this cookbook is worth having.

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