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Entries in recipe (9)


Stupidly Easy Soup

Cream of Cauliflower Soup © 2009 Cameron Blazer
The weather has been weird here for the last week. May in South Carolina is usually reliably hot. But we've had days of blustery rain and cold nights. As if I needed an excuse to indulge in my favorite food group: soup.

Oh how I do love soup! Chunky chowders, cold gazpachos, creamy bisques--they're like the little black dress of foodstuffs--a little accessorizing and you have a whole meal.

My CSA has a bumper crop of cauliflower right now, and though it's apparently a spring crop, cauliflower just feels warm and autumnal to me, so it fit this weird fall-like weather perfectly. If you think you don't like cauliflower, I hope you'll give it another look--I don't know anyone who has given roasted cauliflower or cauliflower soup a fair chance who has not been completely won over by its charms.

Now, I must confess I am having to reconstruct this recipe in an odd way--this cauliflower soup began its life as cauliflower puree that accompanied our roast chicken last week. We had tons left over (the kiddo was not fooled that these were not mashed potatoes), so after a particularly bone-chilling May day, I turned those leftovers into a smooth, creamy soup that far exceeded its humble beginnings. Still, I am pretty sure I've got the proportions right--it's pretty much all cauliflower all the time. Some soup theorists may scoff, as my version includes no onion, carrots, or celery. Well, I vote for practice over theory every day--you can surely add those, but I just love the unadulterated nutty flavor of the cauliflower.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup (serves 4)

1 medium head (or 1 lb frozen) cauliflower, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 T butter (live a little!)

1/4 c cream or half-and-half (live a little more!)

2 oz goat cheese

3 c water (more or less--let your texture preference be your guide)

salt and pepper

optional: truffle salt / bacon and basil / olive oil / oven-dried tomatoes / creme fraiche

  1. Bring a pot of well-salted water to boil. Add cauliflower and cook until just tender (the cauliflower should turn translucent all the way through--if it's still bright white, let it cook a bit longer).
  2. Drain the cauliflower, reserving 2 cups of the cooking water.
  3. Puree the cauliflower (using a stick blender or in batches in a stand blender), cream, and goat cheese with enough cooking water to result in a completely smooth puree.
  4. Return the puree to the pot over medium heat. Thin, as necessary, with the reserved cooking water.

See? Stupidly easy!

The first night I made this, I served it with a sprinkle of truffle salt*--the earthy richness of the truffles ratcheted up the cozy factor on this soup to the perfect level. When we ate the soup tonight, the dreary sky had lifted and the temperatures were creeping back toward normal, so the combination of bacon and basil enriched and brightened it perfectly.

*Ok, I know. At about $20 for a teeny-tiny jar of salt, truffle salt is just about too cute by half. But I've had the same jar for over a year, and it's more than 3/4 full. So, I certainly wouldn't buy it just for this soup, but I wasn't sorry I had it lying around, either. If you have truffle oil lying around, you could use that, too, but I have rarely tasted a truffle oil that didn't taste like transmission fluid, so I don't buy the stuff any more. Whatever works, eh?


On top of Spaghetti

On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese...
First things first: Before I can discuss the easiest, tastiest meatballs I have ever made; before I can crow about virtuously saving three pints of cherry tomatoes from near-certain ruin; before I can boast about the perfect sauce-to-pasta ratio; I must speak now of the pasta itself. Benedetto Cavalieri--in Italian, I think this means "take all your money and leave you still smiling." Because, well, this pasta is not cheap. It's tough to find here in SC since Whole Foods stopped selling it, but I have been known to pay $8 for a package. Wait, wait, wait! Before you harrumph off, let's be clear: this is very dense pasta, the package is larger than the typical 1 lb box, and I have been able to feed 8 people comfortably from single package. So, $1 per person isn't that bad when you think about it. This pasta is made from durum semolina and is very slowly dried. It takes much longer than typical pasta to cook; although quick cooking is one of the undeniable upsides of pasta, the long cooking time of this pasta allows lots of starch to seep into the pasta water; that in turn makes for some super-excellent thickening power.

Benedetto Cavalieri Spaghettoni
I have been hording a package of Benedetto Spaghettoni for months now, and last night I decided to break it out to beat back the Monday doldrums. So totally worth it.

Now, back to the meatballs. So simple it's not even a recipe--just mix 1 lb of ground sirloin (or chuck or half-pork-half-beef or turkey thigh) with 1 egg, salt, pepper, grated parmagiano, thyme (I used dried--go for fresh if you've got it), and a handful of panko breadcrumbs. And then the secret ingredient. 1/2 of a medium shallot, grated over a fine rasp-style grater. When you do the shallot this way, it sort of turns into shallot jam, and the flavor gets mixed up all throughout the meatball, and, well, it's heaven. I made 1.5 inch-ish meatballs, which gave me about 15, but I ate one as a tester, so, well, SO. I browned these in olive oil a heavy dutch oven over medium heat. I drained most of the fat but left the good brown bits in the bottom and then poured in the tomato sauce I had made the day before and brought that back to a simmer.

Oh, I didn't tell you about that tomato sauce yet, did I? Well. A thing of beauty. I don't buy them very often, but somehow there are always tiny grape or cherry tomatoes in my house. Both my mom and my mother in law give them to me because the kiddo loves tomatoes. And I love them, too. But for all of their supposed ease of use, honestly, I am often oppressed by these tiny tomatoes. Good God, woman, why? Well, I know you can just toss them in a salad--yes, I got that memo. But, well, I am scarred by a story told to me by a cousin, oh, 25 or more years ago; it involves biting into a whole cherry tomato and being greeted by something other than tomato inside. So, yes, I feel compelled to cut up every single one of those little suckers. And if I'm gonna cut up teeny tomatoes, I may as well start peeling grapes. So, yeah, I am often looking at little clamshell pints of these things thinking, oh a tomato would be tasty now, but it will be ten minutes before I can cut up enough to feed a small wood sprite. It's a slippery slope from there to boxed mac and cheese. But. BUT! This pasta sauce! It may solve my tiny tomato dilemma forever! So simple: heat olive oil in a heavy dutch oven over medium heat; add whole tomatoes and one shallot, chopped; add 1 t salt; cook, stirring occasionally until all the tomatoes have burst open; run through a food mill to weed out the skins; return to pot and add 1/4 c or so red wine and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce; add salt, pepper, and sugar (if needed) to taste. THAT IS IT.

So, to put it all together, cook the pasta,* adding some of the starchy water to the sauce before draining; toss the pasta in with the sauce (if you use a whole package of the B-C pasta, you will have a fair amount of pasta left over, just toss it with olive oil and save it for tomorrow, preferably with a 1/4 c or so of the pasta water for mixing in with whatever you make next), and cook for a few minutes; serve with plenty of black pepper and shaved parmagiano reggiano.**

*Obviously, you don't have to use my decadent pasta to have this turn out well. I do recommend, though, the fattest spaghetti noodle you can find. A good, hearty meatball needs a good, hearty pasta to stand up to it!

**Mr. Batali (deference, please, people!) often says that parmagiano is the "indisputed king of cheeses." Well, probably, but I usually prefer pecorino romano in dishes that call for parmagiano. Well, I tried it my way, and then I tried it with King Formaggio, and, well, the parmagiano is just better here. It stays drier and doesn't melt as easily, and its grainy texture is a good foil to the tender meatballs. Point, Mr. Batali.


Get it on the table #2: Roasted Cauliflower

First, have I mentioned my abiding love for frozen foods? And frozen vegetables, in particular? Well, feel the love.

And while I cannot function without frozen spinach, and I'm lost without frozen rice, I'm pretty sure that the greatest frozen vegetable of all time is cauliflower. Yep, cauliflower. If you do not like cauliflower, it is because some Nurse Ratchet type steamed it and fed it to you an a partitioned, green melamine plate. Try it again my way, will you? When you roast cauliflower, something happens that turns this weird, spongey, cabbagey brainshape into divine vegetable bacon. Seriously, it gets all brown with crispy bits and sweet and caramel-y, and just flat-out awesome.

Roasted Cauliflower

1 bag cauliflower
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°. (I am often too lazy/hurried to wait for the oven to get fully up to temp, but it is better this way.)

In a bowl, toss the cauliflower and the olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit about 15 minutes, if you can stand it. The salt will draw out some of the water and help bring the sugars to the surface, which means better browning. (Aside from the deliciousness factor, there may be a nutritional benefit: apparently, when cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables are cut, they release healthy chemicals called isothiacyanates; the chemicals continue to develop until the vegetables are cooked.)

Spread the cauliflower out on a rimmed baking sheet--nonstick if you've got it.*

Roast the cauliflower for 25-40 minutes, turning very occasionally. This is one of those foods that benefits from a degree of benign neglect: if you turn them constantly, your oven will lose heat and you will never get the cauliflower caramelized. Still, you want to make sure any smaller pieces aren't over-roasting and that you aren't getting any too-dark spots.

This cauliflower makes a great alternative to mashed or roasted potatoes; it's great pureed with milk/broth for a hearty winter soup; you can add it to your favorite pasta dish; you can go Sicilian and serve it at room temp with chili flake, capers, and olives; you can make a bunch ahead and throw it onto a store bought cheese pizza (some slices of chicken sausage wouldn't hurt, either--I'm just sayin'). This may be the world's most underappreciated vegetable. But not if I can help it.

*Have you tried the Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch nonstick cookware? It ain't cheap, but Sweet Fancy Moses it sure works well. I am not affiliated with Williams-Sonoma in any way (though W-S, if you're reading, I'm happy to become a product tester!)--this is just one hell of a cracker jack product. I have three of the jelly-roll style pans (one large, two small) so that I can roast to my heart's delight. I've had my eye on the muffin tins for a while, but given the paucity of muffin baking going on at my house, I have thusfar exercised restraint. Admirable, yes?


Last-minute Spinach Fried Rice

Way, way back at the beginning of this century, I used to be a professional cook in Los Angeles. I cooked in some pretty fancy places with some pretty fancy people. And I was pretty good at it, if I may say. I would happily spend days simmering a stock into demi-glace. I cheerfully sliced bushels of carrots into perfect little matchsticks. I prepared three sauces to dress a single dish.

That was then.

Oh sure, I still love to prepare expansive feasts with fabulous ingredients and high-falutin' techniques. But in the intervening years since my time in the restaurant business, a few things have changed my priorities: marriage, law school, and parenthood, to name a few. So while I always crave well-prepared, delicious food, I have had to re-align my expectations and priorities. Working full-time means that I have limited waking hours to spend with my son and husband, and I don't want to spend all of that time waving my son out of the kitchen. Necessity has bred a few culinary inventions that I thought I'd share for others who find themselves in my shoes, so I'm incarnating a new feature for this blog called "Get it on the Table." Tonight: Spinach Fried Rice.

This recipe relies on several frozen foods that are staples in my home: frozen basmati rice and frozen spinach. I get my frozen rice from Whole Foods, but my operatives in other parts of the country tell me it's available all over. (Of course, you don't need to use frozen rice or spinach if you have cold, cooked rice and raw spinach lying around.)

Spinach Fried Rice

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 20-oz package Frozen Basmati Rice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 4-oz package Frozen Spinach
2 eggs, beaten
1 scallion, chopped
  1. Heat the oil in a large, preferably non-stick, saute pan over medium-high heat until you begin to smell the oil (and before it sets off your fire alarm).
  2. Add the frozen rice and stir to coat it with the oil.
  3. Turn down the heat to medium and cook the rice, turning occasionally, until it is warmed completely through.
  4. Add soy sauce and distribute evenly; let cook for 2-3 more minutes or until rice begins to brown and crisp.
  5. Add spinach, breaking up any large clumps and mixing well until warmed through.
  6. Make a well in the center of the pan and pour in egg mixture, scraping the bottom of the pan to make thin layers of scrambled egg; continue until all egg mixture is cooked.
  7. Sprinkle in sliced scallions and serve, adding soy sauce to taste.
Et, voilà! Serves 4.

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