Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Golden Beet & Pear Soup

Whenever someone hires me to prepare a meal, the first thing I do is ask them about their food preferences.  Of course I want to make sure that I know about allergies and food dislikes…but mostly I’m interested in finding out what they really love to eat…or what they are in the mood for right now—basically what will make the meal special for them.  Most of the time people request a certain protein for the entrée…or a seasonal ingredient that they would love to have somewhere in the menu.  Occasionally someone will request a particular classic dish.  But most of the time the requests are general in nature.  Whether general or specific, I use their preferences to design a few menus (that sound delicious to me) that they can then choose from.

Recently as I was getting ready to prepare a special lunch for two women who have been coming to my classes since the very first class I taught (almost 20 years ago!), I was surprised to get a very specific request in response to my query:  Golden Beet & Pear Soup.  I had never thought of making a golden beet soup (a great idea because you get the delicious beet flavor without the shocking color of a magenta soup)…much less combining it with pear.  But beet and pear are a classic salad combination…and I knew the flavors would work well together.  So I included a golden beet and pear soup in my proposal.  I was not surprised when they chose it for their first course.

Almost all of my puréed soups follow the same formula:
  cook some aromatic vegetables (always some onion/leek/shallot…often garlic, carrot and/or celery…occasionally fennel or peppers) in a fat of some kind (butter, olive oil…sometimes bacon fat) in order to infuse the fat with the flavor of these vegetables.  This step gives depth and roundness of flavor to the finished soup.  (You should never skip it.)  You can add spices and herbs with the aromatic vegetables if you like.  Then, add the main vegetable(s)—either in their raw form or already cooked (roasted, for example)—along with some stock or water.  All of this is then simmered together to soften the vegetables (if they were raw) and blend the flavors.  You can also add herbs and other flavors towards the end of cooking if you would like their flavor to be more prominent (rather than the background flavor of those added at the beginning).  Finally, purée and pass the soup through a sieve (to give the most velvety texture) and finish with cream if you like. That’s all there is to it.

Most of the time the main vegetable will provide all the thickening that you need for a puréed soup (they don’t need to be super thick).
  Although occasionally you will find recipes that incorporate potato with the main vegetable since the potato will add thickness and body.  Frequently I will add a little rice to cook with the vegetables.  This provides a small amount of starch for thickening, but mostly I like it because it seems to help emulsify the liquids and solids together (adding to that aforementioned velvety texture).

Because I thought the beet and pear would make a subtle soup, I was careful not to get carried away with my additions.
  I didn’t add any carrot or celery, which could easily have overwhelmed.  To the onion-shallot-garlic base, I added a little coriander (to accentuate the sweetness of the beets and pear) and thyme (which I love with pear and apples in savory preparations).  I also added some ginger, which I thought would light up both main flavors (it did!).  I could have added it at the beginning with the aromatic vegetables, but in this case I felt this would soften the flavor too much.  Instead I opted to add it towards the end.

It is always a good idea to finish a puréed soup with a nice garnish of some kind.
  This will provide complimentary flavor…or a great textural contrast.  It also adds to the beauty of the final dish.  Something as simple as a drizzle of olive oil…or lightly frothed cream…or crème fraiche…and a sprinkling of herbs (maybe parsley or chives) is sufficient.  But all kinds of things are possible:  seasoned oils, bits of cheese, seeds, nuts, a complimentary or contrasting vegetable purée, pesto, croutons or garlic/cheese toasts.

For this soup I added a drizzle of olive oil and some crumbled blue cheese and minced toasted walnuts—which complimented both the beets and the pears…as well as each other.
  It seemed like an obvious finish to me.

I was astonished by this soup.  It is subtle…and suave…tasting of beets, with a fragrant, slightly sweet finish from the pear.  A truly special and elegant soup.  I wouldn't have thought of if it hadn't been suggested to me.  It will now have a permanent place in my repertoire.  I hope that you will give it a try.  I know that I will remember my friends…and their special lunch…every time I make it.

Golden Beet & Pear Soup

1 1/2 T. olive oil
1 large onion (about 1/2 lb.), thinly sliced
1 shallot (1 oz.), thinly sliced
1 fat clove of garlic, sliced
1/2 t. coriander seed
1/2 T. picked thyme
1 T. unsalted butter
1 lb. gold beets, peeled, halved if small, quartered if large, and sliced a scant 1/4-inch thick
1/2 T. Arborio rice
1 large firm, but ripe, pear (about 1/2 lb.)
3 c. Chicken stock, plus more as needed for consistency
1 T. minced fresh ginger (or more to taste)
1/4 c. heavy cream
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, if needed
Salt & Pepper
Garnish of your choice:  drizzle of olive oil, spoonful of crème fraiche, crumbled blue cheese (something like a Danish Blue or an aged Gorgonzola), minced toasted walnuts, etc.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, shallot, garlic, coriander and thyme, along with a generous pinch of salt.  Cover and gently sweat until the onions are soft—about 15 minutes.  Add the butter and melt.  Add the beets and cook for 5 to 10 minutes—until they are beginning to soften.  Add the rice and cook another 2 or 3 minutes.  Add the pear and cook for a minute or two.  Add the stock and bring to a simmer.  Cover and cook until the beets are beginning to be tender—about 40 minutes, add the ginger and continue to cook until the beets are tender—about 20 minutes more. (It will seem like the beets are taking forever to cook.  But don’t worry…at right about the one hour mark the will go from being a bit crisp to tender.)  Purée the soup and pass through a fine meshed strainer.

Return the soup to the pot and add the cream.
  Add water or more stock if the soup is too thick for your liking.  Heat through.  Remove from the heat.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt & pepper.  If the soup tastes flat or out of balance, add a small squeeze of lemon. The effect of the lemon should be to make the sweet flavors in the soup pop.  You won’t need much…maybe a teaspoon.  If you add too much, the soup will become tangy (which is not the goal).  You may also add more freshly grated ginger if you like—but be careful, the flavors of the soup are subtle and too much ginger will overwhelm the beet and pear.  Serve with a spoonful of crème fraiche, or a drizzle of olive oil, blue cheese crumbles and minced toasted walnuts.

Makes 5 cups or four servings (recipe is easily multiplied for more)

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Sunday, March 14, 2021

Winter into Spring Salad

Recently while scrolling Instagram a beautiful salad from AOC in Los Angeles caught my eye.   It isn’t really surprising that this happened…I love Suzanne Goin’s salads.  They are always beautiful.  But more importantly, they taste even better than they look.  She has a gift for combining not only colors and shapes, but textures and flavors.  I don’t think I have made all the salads in her book Sunday Suppers at Lucques…but I have made a lot of them (some I have shared on my blog).  I have never been disappointed.

Of course I didn’t have a recipe for the salad pictured on Instagram, but that didn’t stop me from making it.  The combination of arugula (a long time favorite lettuce) and radicchio (my current favorite winter “green”) with oranges, dates, pistachios and goat cheese rang all my bells.  And because I have been keeping radicchio as part of my “lettuce pantry” this winter, I had all the ingredients on hand.

I did make a couple of changes to the salad.
  First, I added some roasted beets. I don’t always have roasted beets in my fridge, but for some reason that escapes me now, I had some.  When I began pulling the ingredients for the salad out on the day I intended to make it for lunch, I pulled out the beets because my memory of the picture included beets.  When I checked the IG post before I made my salad to make sure I had everything, I realized there were no beets in the image.  All I can say is that they clearly belonged in my version of the salad. 

The other change I made was the kind of cheese. I had goat cheese out and was going to use it, but decided at the last minute while I was making the salad that I wanted a salty element.  So I used Feta instead of goat cheese. It was delicious—not only did I really like the salt with the sweet beets and dates, I liked the crumblier, firmer texture of the Feta.

I mentioned in my last post that I like to keep a versatile mustard and shallot based vinaigrette on hand.
  The one I had in my fridge was a simple champagne vinaigrette that is good with bitter winter greens (like radicchio) and winter fruits… so that’s the one I used.  It worked very well. 

The salad was just excellent.
  I’m sharing it here as I made it: for one.  But it would be an easy thing to multiply the ingredients to make a big platter for a crowd…or several individual plated salads.

The day I made the salad, I posted a picture of the salad on Instagram.
  When my sister-in-law saw it she commented that the plate just screamed springtime.  I was struck by her comment because the ingredients (citrus…winter lettuces….beets…) seemed very wintery to me.  But she was right about the brilliant colors.  So I’m calling this my “Winter into Spring Salad.” 


Winter into Spring Salad
(Arugula with Radicchio, Citrus & Dates)

1/2 a large or 1 small, Cara cara orange
1/2 oz. Arugula
1/2 oz. Radicchio (about 2 leaves), torn into large bite-sized pieces
1 T. (or to taste) Champagne Vinaigrette (see below)
1 medium beet (about 3 oz.), roasted and cut into 8 to 10 wedges or halved and sliced crosswise (dressed with lemon or vinegar of your choice, if you like)
2 Medjool dates, pitted and each cut into 6 to 7 lengthwise strips
A mounded tablespoon of pistachios, lightly toasted (or not—as you prefer) and very coarsely chopped
1 oz. Feta in brine, broken/crumbled

Prepare the orange:  Slice off the stem and blossom ends. 
Set the fruit so that it is resting on one of the flat, cut surfaces.  Using a thin, sharp knife, cut away the rind in strips.  As you cut, follow the contour of the fruit with your knife and use the previous cut to guide where you make the next cut so that you remove all of the peel, pith and membrane...but as little of the flesh as possible. Slice from top to bottom and rotate the fruit as you make each cut.  You should end up with a smooth, sphere of citrus that is free of membrane, pith and peel.  Cut the orange in half from top to bottom (direction of the segments).  If the orange is large, I only use one half.  If small, I’ll use the whole thing.  Cut the halves into quarters, lay them on their side and cut cross-wise in quarter inch or so slices.

Place the arugula and radicchio in a small bowl. Season with salt and drizzle with enough vinaigrette to barely coat—don’t weigh the greens down with the dressing…you can drizzle more over the salad after you build it.
  Toss to thoroughly coat the lettuces.  Give the beets a drizzle of the vinaigrette and season with salt & pepper if you didn’t dress them with vinegar and season them when you roasted them.

Scatter half of the greens over the plate.
  Arrange half of all the other elements over the greens.  Repeat these two layers.  Drizzle with more vinaigrette and serve.  Serves 1…but multiplies easily to serve as many as you like.

Champagne vinaigrette:
2 T. Champagne vinegar
1 small shallot, peeled and finely minced (1 1/2 to 2 T.)
1/4 t. salt, or to taste
1 t. Dijon mustard
6 T. extra-virgin olive oil

Make the vinaigrette:  Place the vinegar in a small bowl with the shallots and salt.  Set aside for five minutes or so to let the shallots soften a bit. Add the mustard and whisk until smooth. While whisking constantly, add the olive oil in a thin stream to form a slightly thickened, emulsified dressing.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt.  Set aside.

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