Well, hello. There it was the half-marathon in October, and here it is the end of the week after Thanksgiving. What happened? Well, I guess that last half-marathon race was followed by what has to be the equivalent in the life of a wine salesperson: namely the insanely draining weeks from October to Thanksgiving. Although of course I did some wonderful cooking projects (including inventing a terrific pumpkin and Roquefort tart! And cooking osso bucco for 7 with the Best Osso Bucco Ever from Florence Prime Meats! Making some super-sweet and delicious apple sauce!), there just didn’t seem to be any energy left over for blogging about it.
Here it is, though, finally the busiest wine retail season of the year. Which might leave me some time for cooking adventures and a catch-up in blogging. I aim to try and fit in some posts on the above-mentioned projects before my traditional onslaught of Extreme Holiday Baking sets in . . . we shall see.
But in the meantime I set out the other night to
clean out my fridge before leaving for Thanksgiving make the first Escarole and White Bean soup of the season. (It seems a crime to think of something so delicious as merely a way to clean the fridge, though it’s true I did have some lurkers: the inevitable limp celery, and a head of escarole that kept not getting used because the weather has been oddly warm and there miraculously keeps on being salad in the garden in Taghkanic. And I was afraid that the little bitty end of delicious Pancetta was going to end up lost in the bottom of the cheese drawer if I didn’t use it up.)
Anyhow, I’d surveyed the fridge lurkers and, inspired by some guilt provoked by the ongoing sight of that escarole, thought to pre-soak some white beans. I put them on to gently boil. Washed the very sandy escarole. On the side I sliced some onion (yes, a half-used onion! More fridge lurkers), what of the celery I could salvage, minced up the pancetta and finely chopped some garlic. How nice it felt to be making something I have done so many times before, making tidy piles of familiar ingredients on the cutting board and going through the steps I know will make something good . . .
So into a soup pot went the onions for a gentle sauté with a little salt and olive oil, followed by the pancetta, then the celery, everything on low heat and covered for a few minutes to sweat and soften up. Then the garlic, always the wonderfully sticky garlic from my garden – I don’t think I’ve bought garlic for two years now! Everything fragrant and nice. . . I reached up to the herb cupboard for a little thyme. . . and then I saw the magic surprise ingredient that would take my cozy soup up just a notch – Morton and Basset Herbs from Provence with Lavender.
(Aside: I broke down at Fairway a few weeks back and bought the Morton and Basset bay leaves -- when cooking osso bucco from Florence Prime Meats, why mess around with the usual sad dry flaky bay leaves? I happened to be out of bay leaves that week, so Morton and Basset it was. And here I will add, that $5 for bay leaves or no, I am never going back! It really makes a difference having fresh dried herbs (oxymoronic as thay may sound). Somehow at the same time I grabbed the Herbs from Provence with Lavender. While I was being profligate (and I was having a dinner party, so I was indeed being profligate. Very Much So.) I guess I figured I wouldn’t notice another five bucks or so going missing. . . . Anyhow, the lavender just sounded so wonderful. . . .)
So I finally opened this magic little jar, sniffed it (yum, garlic and bay and savory and thyme and that little whiff of lavender) and decided that in lieu of plain old thyme just a little pinch would do to add the right amount of fragrance to my soup. In it went, and it smelled fabulous. In went a quart of chicken stock (a good rich batch that I made with chicken backs and lots of carrots last time I needed to clean root vegetables out of the fridge). In went the beans, which were just getting soft enough to thicken the soup. In went the escarole, all of it, and I stirred until the escarole shrank down to fit in the pot (amazing how enough greens to totally fill the pot can quickly shrink enough to fit in the liquid at the bottom!).
20 minutes later, there was my favorite winter soup, as comfortable and welcome as a long-lost friend. Maybe I’d just forgotten since last winter how great this soup is, but this seemed like the best version I’d made so far – the escarole and beans all fragrant and earthy and chewy and the soup rich from the chicken broth. And it was so deliciously flavored with those Herbs from Provence, which added a tiny floral note without being overwhelming.
This pot of soup made me incalculably glad. Being able to spot the ingredients in my fridge and make a dish from memory and feel made me realize how much I have moved on from being a cook who needs to work with recipes. In fact I scarcely read them any more, except for references of scale or perhaps for an idea of how to create what I am thinking of. I am thrilled that I have been able to invent some things through experimenting (I will have to post that squash and Roquefort tart!). I also love, maybe even more, that there are dishes that I can make with the utmost of love and care but hardly a thought because I have done them so many times. And I also love that I can find something small and terrific to add to these old friends of familiar dishes, the little variations that make them more delicious.
And I am so glad to be reminded that how ever complicated and difficult life can be (has been, this year, hell!) soup I can do.