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Rainy Tuesday in Huntsville Soup



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“It breathes reassurance, it offers consolation; after a weary day,
it promotes sociability… There is nothing like a bowl of hot soup…”
~ Louis DeGouy, The Soup Book

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Rainy Tuesday in Huntsville Soup

So there I was in Huntsville, AL. Madison, actually. 
Serendipity. An unexpected pleasure. You know how life is, right? Blessings that flow
out of seeming disaster. The rainbow after the storm.....

My computer crashed. Just up and died. Stone cold. It was a long time
coming, actually. All kinds of glitchy, funky stuff had been going on for
months. It was hanging in there, and I was hanging in there with it. By
a thin thread. A thread which finally snapped. The dreaded blue screen!
A webmistress without a computer. Run, Chicken Little, run! The sky
is falling in!!! Right? Well, not exactly...

After the obligatory freaking out period had passed, I came to realize
that what I had on my hands was not so much a catastrophe as a forced vacation. Time to do something out of the ordinary. Like get on the road!
One phone call did the trick. I would head for Huntsville, AL and visit my partner in culinary crime. My dear friend and confidant. "But of course,"
he said, "I'd love to have you." So away we went, my beautiful Sophie-
DogAngel and I, seeking adventure.

"On the road again. Goin' places that I've never been. Seein' things that I
may never see again..." Thank you, Willie! What a beautiful idea it is, what
an awesome concept. Marvelous and filled with promise. Exceeded only by
the reality of the journey itself. Is it any wonder they write songs about it?
And books. A mystical, magical thing, the road. It makes the heart beat
faster, the blood flow more swiftly. Anticipation... 

But what about the soup, you're wondering! Ah yes, the soup... There
is an old Spanish proverb which states: "Of soup and love, soup is best." Hmmmm. Perhaps, but not necessarily. But it runs a very close second.
And it certainly has no equal when it comes to comfort food on a cold
rainy day.

  The weekend had offered weather straight from the gods, gratefully accepted and appreciated by my companion and myself. Not to mention our bevy of
beasties. Tuesday, however, was a totally different story. It was a soup day
for sure.
No question about it. Germany weather. You know. There’s a chill
in the air, highs have been in the 40s or low 50s for at least a couple of days.
And it’s still raining. Cold and damp. The kind of weather that chills you to
the bone. We must have a pot of soup today, because nothing else will do.
It’s just that simple.

  The only question remaining, then, is what kind of soup. Here’s how it
went down. The newly arrived

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is still lying on the dining room table, unchristened. It beckons invitingly.


            Bouillabaisse – nope, we don’t have the majority of the ingredients
on hand.

Cauliflower and Brie – hmmmm…an excellent possibility.

Crab and Corn Bisque – sounds yummy, but will the fresh crab
be readily available?

Creole Tomato and Fennel – ohmigod! However, this is definitely
not tomato season. At least not in northern Alabama. I’ll save this
one for LaPlace, later in the year……

Oyster Chowder – Lord have mercy! But once again, it’s a question
of locating fresh oysters……

Red Bean – another excellent possibility. There’s even andouille
in the freezer!

Roasted Eggplant and Garlic – excellent! But maybe another time. Somehow, this just isn’t an eggplant day…..

Split Pea and Carrot with Ham Hocks – probably great, but if I’m going to make any kind of split pea soup, it will have to be
Potage St. Germain. Not today.

"I don't like recipes. They keep cooks from using their intuition.
And intuition is precisely what so much of cooking is about."
~ Richard Olney

Okay. Next step. What’s in the fridge? I know there’s lots of food
there. How much of it has soup potential?

A bunch of white asparagus
A package of baby carrots
2 ears of corn
Leftover home-fried potatoes
Heavy cream
Portobello mushrooms – these need to be used today!

  A great start, I thought. Lots of potential here! And, of course, there’s a
lot of meat available should I choose to move in that direction: bacon,
ham, Italian sausage, andouille, chicken, pork... Inspiration a plenty.

  Had to have some leeks, I decided, so off to the market I went. Great
store, Publix! I wasn’t at all familiar with them until my first visit to
Huntsville. An incredible variety of products (in every department!)
for a mid-size southern metropolis. Of course, Huntsville, is anything
but typical of Alabama. (Please don't take my word for it. Just check
out www.huntsville.org for yourself, and then plan to visit. Chances
are  you won't regret it.)

  But I digress. Again. Came home from Publix with fennel, fresh green
beans (small and tender-looking, bagged up, on sale for 99 cents), broc-
colini, gorgeous fresh thyme and Italian parsley, in addition to the much
sought-after leeks. Quite a haul.

  So. This is approximately how the Rainy Tuesday in Huntsville Soup
came together. As best I can tell you. Mas o menos:

  4 slices bacon (thick), diced and sautéed
1 onion, diced coarse
2 leeks, washed well, drained, chopped coarse
1/2 package baby carrots, sliced diagonally
1 small bulb fennel
Potatoes (leftover home fries)
1 bunch white asparagus, sliced diagonally
(please save some tips for the topping)
Fresh green beans, about 3/4 pound,
cut into 1-inch pieces
2 ears fresh corn, cut from the cob
1 bunch broccolini, cleaned, trimmed, chopped
Emeril’s Essence (or reasonable facsimile)
Dry white wine (I used what we had on
hand – white Zinfandel)
Chicken stock or canned broth
Fresh thyme
Italian parsley
1 cup heavy cream
1 head garlic, roasted
8 ounces Portobello mushrooms
A sprig of fresh thyme
Reserved fennel fronds
Reserved asparagus tips
Additional wine and a sprig of fresh thyme
Fennel fronds for garnish

This is the most difficult part of writing a recipe. The method, when you
are winging it. Remembering what you did, when and how. Well, start
with the bacon, of course. In a large Dutch oven or stockpot.  Naturally,
you’ll want to give it several stirs while you’re frying it up, to prevent
sticking, as well as to ensure that it cooks evenly, right? When the bacon
is crisp, add the onion, stir well, and continue sautéing until the onion
has turned golden. Remove the stalks and fronds from the fennel bulb.
Clean and trim the bulb. Chop the bulb and stalks into fine dice. Mince
the fronds and reserve them to be included in the topping. Then add
the chopped fennel to the pot.
About those home-fried potatoes... what can I say? You don’t just happen
to have any on hand? No problem. Just peel (if you must) and dice a potato
or two and toss them into the pot along with the asparagus, green beans,
corn and broccolini (or whatever veggies you may have come up with).
Stir the vegetables together and toss in a generous teaspoon of Essence
or some such bold seasoning. Bam!

  The next step is to deglaze the mixture with wine. I probably used about 1/2 cup. You don’t really need to measure it though. Just pour in enough white wine to cover the bottom of the pot by at least 1/2 an inch. Turn the heat to high. The idea is to bring the liquid in the pan to the boiling point and stir to loosen any browned bits of food on the bottom. This is an excellent flavor enhancer and a must for soup, in my book anyway.

  Now it’s time to add the chicken stock/broth. Too bad I did not measure it, but I would guess I used about 2 quarts. If that doesn’t look like enough
to you, add some more. This is supposed to be fun, and the soup is going
to taste great. (Especially if you loosen up and have fun with it!). Now add
some minced fresh thyme (at least a couple of teaspoons) and an equal
amount or more of parsley. Stir the soup well. Cover the pot, reduce the
heat to low and allow the soup to simmer for at least 1 1/2 hours. Check
it once in a while to make sure that it isn’t cooking too fast, and give it a
stir or two. With loving care, please. That will make all the difference. And
besides, you’ll be doing yourself a favor, since every time you uncover the
pot and give the soup a stir, you’ll be treated to an extra up-close-and-
personal whiff of a magnificent aroma!

  When the soup has cooked enough to suit you, it’s time to give it a semi-purée. If you don’t have an immersion blender, please use this recipe as
an excuse to buy one. They’re WONDERFUL! In addition to being readily available and relatively inexpensive. This way, all you have to do is lower
the blender into the soup and let it do its magic. But please. Do not make pabulum out of this soup (unless, of course, you’re making it specifically
to feed a baby.) I like to do what I call a half-purée with this kind of soup.
That way it has a marvelous texture and consistency, with some identifiable pieces of vegetables intact.

  Should you not be so fortunate as to be the proud owner of an immersion blender, then you’ll need to go to a bit more trouble in the puréeing. Please
do it anyway, okay? It’s important in this case to allow the soup to cool
down - or to be especially careful in the process. Burned hands are no fun, right? Add the soup – in batches – to either the work bowl of your food processor or the standard container of your blender and purée as above.
Please remember to be careful not to fill the work bowl or blender too full. Otherwise, you’ll have one fine mess to clean up. Of course, you’re going
to need a large bowl – or another pot – to contain the puréed soup until
you’re ready to pour the whole batch back into the soup pot. This in itself
was enough to encourage me to buy an immersion blender. Easier clean-up
in addition to being a time-saver.

  Okay, now it’s time to “adjust the seasoning”. Obviously, this will require tasting on your part. You might need additional Emeril’s seasoning, or just
a tad more salt, perhaps. Freshly ground black pepper. You may wish to
add more thyme and/or parsley. Then, for the crowning touch, stir in the
roasted garlic (which is soft and mushy, right?) and the cream and stir
well. Voila! It’s soup!

  I didn’t really want to include the Portobello mushrooms in the soup, as
I wanted them to have a life of their own. So I decided to use them as a topping. In a medium skillet, melt about 3 tablespoons or so of butter. Add
the coarsely chopped mushrooms and sauté them until they have released
their liquid and most of it has boiled away. Then add the asparagus tips,
the thyme sprig and fennel fronds and continue to cook the mixture until
the asparagus is just tender. Deglaze with about 1/4 cup or so of wine.
Taste for seasoning – you’ll need to add a bit of salt, or perhaps kick it
up a notch with Emeril. Add a generous dollop of the topping to each
serving of soup. Be prepared for compliments! Raves, even…

If you’re very, very fortunate, you’ll be sharing this soup with a gentle-
man friend who will surprise you by showing up with the ingredients for
a yummy “Kaesebrot”, which he will insist on preparing himself, while
he pours you a glass of excellent white wine and tells you all about his
day. If not, then you might want to consider making some garlic bread
to accompany the soup. Or a loaf of excellent French bread partnered
with some truly excellent butter. Please don’t forget to light a candle or
two and indulge your senses even further with your favorite music.
Relax. Enjoy. Remind yourself that life is good, and that soup soothes
the soul.

"The first Mrs. Astor, the Mrs. Astor, was a true eccentric. . . Mrs. Astor made
herself famous in social circles and infamous in culinary circles by putting
down that great masterpiece of the dining art - soup.  Mrs. Astor didn't serve
soup at her famous dinners. . . she even said, 'Why would anyone want to put
their dinner on top of a lake?'  Well, all I can say about Mrs. Astor is, what
did she know about love, having married for money?  Soup is a mainstay of
civilization.  It is a creative synthesis of flavors and textures, served in a
comforting, back-to-childhood style; or as a precise and perfectly elegant
beginning to the shape of things to come. . .  free-lancers of every stripe
cannot live without it.  By that I mean writers, artists, inventors and
confined housewives.  Lives have been saved by soup....."
~ Liz Smith
(from the foreword to 'Lee Bailey's Soup Meals')

Amen, Sister Liz!


"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think
of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I
am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the
love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one."

~ M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating icon icon



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