Posts Tagged ‘broth’

The Greens of Winter: Soup Base

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Earlier this week I walked through my frost-killed garden to see what was left. For the most part I don’t make any special effort to protect my garden in the fall because after a long summer I’m ready to move on to the things I do in the winter, so the pickings were slim, but I found lots of chicory, dandelion, chard, broccoli leaves, alfalfa tips, celery, and kale, along with green garlic and green onions, and some of the herbs were still in fine shape. I decided to make soup, and since I had a lot more greens than I remembered planting, it occurred to me to make a soup base that could sit in the freezer, ready at any time to be turned into soup in a hurry. To the garden ingredients I added a large onion and a largish handful of sun-dried tomatoes from earlier in the summer. You could also use a jar of dried tomatoes in oil, drained.  The celery was used from base to leaf tip. I used roughly equal volumes of all the greens types, about the equivalent of a medium-sized supermarket bunch of each.

The onion was sliced thinly and sautéed very slowly in olive oil while I washed and prepared the greens. I was aiming for a rich caramel color, which meant low heat and frequent stirring, which is no extra trouble if you’re in the kitchen anyway. I used my wok because I knew that the volume of sliced greens would be considerable. First the green garlic and green onions were cleaned, finely slivered, and held separately, then everything else was washed and midribs removed and cut in cross section into roughly 1/2″ slices.

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When the onion was a nice toffee color I added the chopped green alliums, cooked about another five minutes, then added the other greens and some more olive oil along with about a teaspoon of salt. Don’t stint on the olive oil. You want sautéed flavor, not steamed flavor.  The heat was turned up to medium and the whole mass stirred and turned with a wide wooden spoon about every five minutes to keep it cooking evenly. As soon as the greens were in the pan I ground the sun dried tomatoes into small powdery chunks in the blender and added them to the wok. They rehydrated well enough in the moisture from the leaves.  Keep cooking until the greens are soft when chewed.

When you have a darkened dense mass of soft greens, put the whole business in the food processor and grind to the finest paste that you can achieve. Taste. You want it on the salty side, because that helps with preservation and it’s going to be diluted later. Add more salt if needed. I prefer to use fish sauce rather than salt to season at this point because it adds a wonderful rich savor. I used about a tablespoon. Don’t use this if you might be serving vegetarians.

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Now cool your soup paste and pack it into one-cup containers, each of which makes about a quart of finished soup. Coat the top with olive oil, push lids on tightly, and freeze.

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When ready to use, put a quart of any kind of salt-free or low-salt broth you like in a saucepan, add a cup of soup paste, and simmer until thawed. Correct the texture with a stick blender if it needs smoothing out. Taste for seasoning and adjust in any way you like. The caramelized onions, deeply sautéed greens, and fish sauce gave a meaty-umami flavor to the potful I made for lunch today, so I salted to taste and added a swirl of fat from my homemade bacon and a generous sprinkling of thyme leaves, a meaty-umami herb if ever there was one. Yum. With toasted buttered slices of my low-carb fake-o cornbread, it made a perfect light healthy Thanksgiving brunch to lead into the excesses to come at dinner.

This basic formula can be varied endlessly according to what you like and have available. If you serve vegans at your table, using some miso rather than fish sauce and good olive oil for the final swirl with water or vegetable broth as the liquid would suit their needs while fully satisfying the omnivores. If you don’t like the brownish color, leave the tomatoes out and it will be more green. Pan-grilled small oyster or other mushrooms would make a good garnish. A fried or poached egg adds tremendous heft to soup if you want a richer meal, or some bacon lardons fried crisp would satisfy any ardent carnivore with a minimum of actual meat. You can add cow or coconut cream for a cream soup (try a toss of chopped fresh tarragon for the final garnish,) or some leftover tomato sauce for interesting tartness, or finish it with a handful of good freshly grated Parmesan along with olive oil and let the cheese dissolve in the hot soup. For a more Cretan effect, use crumbled feta and olive oil on top.  There are a hundred possibilities and you can get any of them from freezer to table in well under 20 minutes. Serve any kind of bready stuff that suits your diet alongside, and you and your table mates will be full. I say that a quart of soup is two servings, but I understand that normal people can serve three or four with a quart. Know your family’s tastes.

In my opinion the celery is necessary rather than optional, and I strongly advise including at least a small portion of bitter greens (dandelion and chicory in this case.) When making mixed greens, I’ve often noticed that a savory-meaty element is lost if I don’t include some bitter greens. The proportion is small and the final product isn’t bitter and is enjoyed be people who don’t like strong greens in other contexts. Besides, they’re so damn good for you.

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Kitchen Staples: Broth


Few things will improve your cooking as much as getting rid of all commercial broth products and making your own. On my website I have extensive notes about broth-making, and you can read them here. In this post, I’ll just add a few notes about broth and its uses, and refer you to that site for the details.

Use very good materials to begin with. You can get lovely flavorful pastured chicken necks and backs from Pollo Real at the Santa Fe farmer’s market, and there is no better basis for chicken broth. Give the roasting step the time it needs, and the pay-off in flavor will be considerable. Don’t salt your broth, because you may want to reduce it later which will concentrate it manyfold. I pressure-can mine for later use, but if you have room in your freezer, that’s an easier alternative.

Once you have good broth on hand, you can use it to reduce waste and pick up some goodness from all kinds of things that you might otherwise discard. If I buy a pound of oyster mushrooms or shitake mushrooms to roast for a winter dinner, I put the stems and trimmings in a quart of broth to simmer for an hour, building the foundation for a great mushroom sauce or mushroom soup on another day. Chicken bones left over after dinner? Pop them in a quart or two of broth to simmer and enrich the flavor. Onion skins and ends on your cutting board? A slow simmer in broth will improve its flavor and give it a lovely gold color, and the rawness of the onions is lost en route.Many people save their bones and vegetable trimmings in plastic bags in the freezer, but I think the flavor is better if you simmer them while they’re fresh. The broth can be frozen more successfully than the ingredients.

Fish and seafood broths need to be cooked separately from other meats, naturally, and don’t include any salmon trimmings. I love salmon, but it does ruin fish fume’. But if you buy a few mild fish heads to start fish broth, then every time you have shrimp shells, crab shells, or any other flavorful but inedible seafood bits available, you can extract its flavor in broth and save the broth for a great paella or gumbo when you’re in the mood.

Once some good enriched broth is hanging out in your kitchen, what do you do with it? There is almost no pan-grilled or roasted meat that can’t be improved by a simple reduction sauce. Remove the meat from the pan, pour a cup of good broth into the pan over high heat, boil hard and scrape all the lovely browned bits into the broth, and when it’s reduced to a few tablespoons and has a syrupy consistency, swirl in a tablespoon of butter and serve immediately. A glug of good red or white wine, depending on the meat and seasoning, can be added to the pan for the initial deglazing, then add the stock and boil down. If you want to get fancier, most of the sauces of classic French Cuisine are at your command when you have really good broth to start with, and you can check out Glorious French Food or another cookbook to consider your options. Grains like rice and bulgur are delicious when ccoked in broth. If you’re a fan of Mexican cooking, you’ll want to try Zarela Martinez’s trick of toasting dried chiles of various kinds and then soaking them in broth rather than water before grinding them into a mole’ paste or other flavoring paste. Great stews like coq au vin are within your reach, although they will use up a lot of broth, which is why you make a lot in the first place. A paprikash like the one above requires little more than a meaty main ingredient, top-notch paprika, and really good broth (my own far-from-conventional recipe is below.)When I’m feeling dispirited and glum I revert to my Louisiana roots and make gumbo, and it invariably cheers me up, and usually cheers some other people too.

I advise avoiding strong-flavored vegetables of the cabbage family, such as broccoli and kale, for general-purpose broth. If you use leafy greens, they will color the broth, so don’t use them unless you’re willing to have green broth. Onions, carrots, celery, shallots, and leeks are aromatic staples that improve any broth. If you want to make all-vegetable broth, my favorite way is to roast the vegetables to bring out their flavor via the lovely Maillard reactions, and add a few mushrooms for the base note; dried shitakes are especially good for this, and as long as you don’t use too many, the flavor will not be identifiably Asian. .

If we can grasp some positive principle from the wretched ecomony, it should be to get the best value we can from everything we use. Nothing does that better or more gracefully than broth.
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The Greens of Spring: cutting celery and lovage

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Cutting celery is one of the most underutilized herbs that I know of. It has the flavor of stalk celery without its potential aggression, and can be used in almost any herb mixture. It grows like a weed and can be snipped at for nine months of the year. It seeds itself like a weed, too, so once your clump is established, keep cutting it back to prevent seeding. Throw a few stalks in the pot every time you make broth or stock, chiffonade it into rice or bulgar pilafs, throw a chopped handful into nearly any mixed greens dish. It seems to support the other flavors without taking over.
Lovage, shown below, is another matter. It grows best in semi-shade in our sunny climate. It’s loaded with quercetin and other antioxidants and has a fascinating celery-juniper flavor, , and I wouldn’t be without it, but the flavor is insidious and can dominate a dish. A few leaves are plenty for most dishes and a leaf or two chiffonaded into a vinaigrette will give it more complexity. More will unbalance the flavors, at least to my palate. My favorite way to use it is in Lovage Pesto, where it is used lavishly but the garlic keeps the lovage under control. Lovage will shoot to seed and die if you let it, so keep cutting if you want to keep it. Also, bear in mind that the plant gets pretty big, and site it where it can have a couple of square feet to itself when it matures.

Lovage Pesto
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
About 6 cups of lovage leaves, no stems, loosely packed
1and ½ cups full-flavored olive oil
1 cup walnut pieces
1½ teaspoons sea salt

For this recipe, the food processor is okay. Chop the garlic in your food processor, then add the lovage leaves and half the oil and process until the leaves are coarsely chopped. Add the salt, the rest of the oil, and the walnuts, and process only until the nuts are coarsely ground. Let mellow for an hour before use. It can be tossed with pasta and parmesan like other pestos, or makes a good marinade for fish (add a squeeze of lemon if you wish.) It can be brought to the table with roast lamb as a sauce to dip into sparingly. A spoonful is a good addition to a simple vinaigrette. Tightly covered, it will keep about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
For more on herbs, visit the “recipes” page of my website and click on “herbs.”
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Lovage in early spring. It gets three times this size in a couple of months.