Sometimes there’s just not a whole lot to say, though that’s not normally the case with me; I can flap my jaws about nothing for days and days only to realize that the only person listening is the cat. And that’s just because she is required to in order to get fed, and she is an indoor cat with no means for escape. Oh, and she isn’t really listening at all since SHE’S A CAT. Incidentally, Monkey, that long suffering pet of mine, is also quite possibly the best birth control on the planet. See, I have a gallery wall of pictures of her in my upstairs lounge. An entire wall. And as soon as any of my dates sees this wall, it’s all I can do to keep them from fleeing into my parking lot for their very lives.
Being at a loss for words already, I was also having a really difficult time settling on a menu for this month’s soupapolooza!. Say what you will about the difficulties of cooking (it’s hard! I can’t boil a pot of water without burning it! I cut the crap out of myself every time I use a knife!) but I’ve found that probably the single most essential element of cooking is finding and using the right recipe. It’s tricky and fraught with peril; just like shooting a movie: you can have a solid script that makes really bad film, but there is no chance in hell of a good movie coming from a bad script. It’s impossible. And slightly more expensive than screwing up a pound of turkey meat. Flawed recipes and subpar ingredients never a good soup make, no matter what. So, always consider your sources when you get the itch to cook.
For this month’s soupapolooza! I pried myself away from making cat videos (only slightly more disturbing than Princess Beatrice’s wedding hat, consider yourself warned) and watching the William & Kate wedding loop long enough to go through probably two dozen cook books and ten different google searches. As I so long-windedly pointed out in my blogpocalypse about baby showers/ party throwing, menu planning is daunting, and I was totally in violation of my “figure it out five days in advance and then don’t make changes” rule.
Which made me desperate enough to pan for gold on Facebook.
Thank God this was all before the death of Bin Laden. Because, my friends, we have vaulted to new heights of crazy, I’m just saying. I love you, but some of your core beliefs truly frighten me. But I do hope you’ll still read my blog since it’s a place for food, foolery and narcissism, not personal politics.
Anyway, some pretty excellent ideas were thrown out there. I knew there was to be a special treat in the form of Pisco punch made by Semi-sweet Bitters, so riffing on that theme, the Artist Formerly Known as JJ suggested I make a Peruvian soup. Which sounded pretty good to me.
I have never made anything Peruvian. I don’t know much about Peruvian cuisine other than I really enjoyed a meal made by Ricardo Zarate at the Test Kitchen with JJ last year. It was wildly strange and complex and subtle and modern. And don’t tell anyone, because she’ll kill me for saying this publicly, but JJ, the avowed vegetarian, ate cow heart, which made me positively gleeful. I am horrible. So horrible, in fact, that I came THIS close to getting her to try tripe.
I was hoping there would be a lot of information out there on the interwebs about this type of cuisine, but all I kept running into were strange recipes with canned ingredients and egg noodles. Not to disparage egg noodles or anything, but in my experience of recipe selection, these are never good signs. And I was coming up with absolutely nothing.
Offering up much needed help, JJ came over and helped me look through some books for inspiration. She pointed out a saffron and meatball recipe and I scoffed, thinking it too wintery for an 85° Los Angeles day. I’m sure there was some sort of overt or covert eye-rolling on her part, and she ended up leaving for her guitar lesson before I had made a decision.
Enter Legal Eagle. The next victim of my indecision and unwitting cat video watcher, God love her. She also helped me comb through stacks of information, and said that the saffron and meatball soup looked really good. And since I can’t argue with TWO people whose tastes I greatly admire, the die was cast and Legal Eagle and I went off to gather all that we would need to complete the meal. Of course I knew well enough to pack an ice chest for the car so that after getting all our dairy, we could stop and have a beer (or two) at The Fat Dog before coming back to the loft. I’m nothing if not a practical WASP.
As it turns out, the selection was spot-on and delicious, and I have those two fabulous ladies to thank. This soup is, without a doubt, totally worth your time and attention. In fact, it is definitely in my top five favorite soups and it is hearty as well as light. And the source, well, it was a cook book from the editors of “Cooks Illustrated” that was a gift from a friend some months ago that, for some reason, I had been avoiding. But now it might be one of my favorites. There is a very handy breakdown of tools at the beginning, and a detailed description of how to make an incredibly easy chicken stock, which is another essential skill in delicious soupmaking. The mastery of the chicken stock is actually the eyebrows of a soup-- when done properly, it brightens everything up.
And I’d like to take this moment to publicly thank The Artist Formerly Known as JJ** for generously providing the insanely delicious croquettes from Porto’s, and to Legal Eagle for making some tasty buttermilk ice cream to accompany the atomic strawberry cake. You guys made my day a million times better and easier. Thank you thank you thank you.
And to Semi-sweet Bitters. Best. Pisco. Punch. of my life.
So here are the details on the soup:
Spanish-style Meatball Soup with Saffron
The picada (a toasted mixture of ground almonds, bread crumbs and olive oil) is very important for the flavor and texture of this soup. Do NOT use ground turkey breast here (also labeled 99% lean) or the meatballs will be very dry. Parmesan or Asiago cheese may be substituted for the Manchego.
2 slices high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
1/3 cup whole milk
1 lb 93% lean ground turkey (see note above)
1 oz Manchego cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 3/4” pieces
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 recipe picada (see below)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Mash the bread and milk together into a paste in a large bowl. Add the ground turkey, Manchego, parsley, shallot, oil, salt and pepper and mix throughly to combine. Pinch off 2-teaspoon-sized pieces of the mixture, roll firmly into balls and arrange on a rimmed baking sheet; you should have 30-35 meatballs. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes. cook’s note: the balls are easier to form if the ground meat is very cold.
Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium high heat, until simmering. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, paprika, saffron and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the wine, scraping up any browned bits, and cook until almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Gently add the meatballs and simmer until they are cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the picada and parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.
yield: 1 cup
1/4 cup slivered almonds*
2 slices high quality sandwich bread, torn into quarters
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
pinch fresh ground black pepper
Adjust an oven rack to the middle of the oven and preheat to 375°. Pulse the nuts in a food processor to fine crumbs, about 15 pulses. Add the bread, olive oil, salt and pepper and continue to pulse the bread to coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses. Spread the mixture evenly over a rimmed baking sheet and toast, stirring often, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool. The picada can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
*chopped or whole unsalted almonds can be substituted for the slivered almonds; however, they may require longer processing times.
As for the rest of the menu: chicken and ham croquettes, a shaved asparagus salad (compliments of the new cook book by Chef Kenobi-- which is truly divine), the soup and the atomic strawberry cake and buttermilk ice cream. We were also lucky enough to be the recipients of a delicious chocolate cake made by Gen (we haven’t given her a soup name just yet, but we will). Thank you, Gen!
SO...for a gal who doesn’t have all that much to say or any idea about what she wants to cook, I had a whole lot to say and I cooked for a whole lot of people. Which is good for my sanity. The cat’s sanity? Well, let’s just hope for her sake, and for the sake of my dating future, I continue to keep the video camera down.
** Jenni Jihad (The Artist Formerly Known as JJ) was renamed because the Department of Homeland Security showed up on my stat counter, and we were a little worried about an unwarranted FBI file. Just FYI.