Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Wallflower Soup

I propose a commentary on our life and society based on my last two markedly contrasting posts. How about this: while an eggplant stack is the high school cheerleader with perfect dimples who is dying to be taken seriously (obvious flash, subtle substance), corn and potato soup is the awkward wallflower at the sock hop who just wants Billie-the-football-player to look over (all substance, desperately lacking flash). An extended metaphor, I know, but an apt one. The soup I made was ugly. It really just was. So, no picture of the final product. To give you an idea, my poor soup bore a striking resemblance to what I would imagine was Oliver Twist’s gruel. If it is any consolation, my soup had a lovely personality - it wasn’t much to look at but I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste good.

This all started as a result of my choosing beer and cheese and crackers for dinner over actually cooking anything for an embarrassing number of days in a row. The sweet corn I received in my Boston Organics box was crying for action and attention -- I had to use it before it quit on me.

Two disparate thoughts came together to generate the idea that would later become my wallflower of a soup. First was the broccoli soup that Clotilde deemed her best ever; the base of the soup was enriched with an aged cheese rind and parsley stems. [This is why I have had a cheese rind and parsley stems in my freezer for the last six months (six months due to the fact that I choose beer and cheese over a real dinner routinely)]. The other idea came from a Boston Globe interview with the chef at Lineage, the somewhat new restaurant that has replaced my beloved Lucy’s on Harvard St. in Coolidge Corner (interesting tidbit – Lucy was Mitzi-the-owner’s dog. Much better name for a restaurant than Mitzi’s).

Using seasonal ingredients is, of course, de rigueur in new Boston restaurants, as well it should be. The soup of the moment at Lineage is a sweet corn soup that is started by sauteing leeks, shallots, and onions, then adding sweet corn, Yukon Gold potatoes, a stock made from corn cobs, chicken stock and some cream to finish. I see a number of problems with executing this recipe in my own, limited, kitchen. For one, do I really need to include every possible form of onion in my soup? No, indeed I do not. Secondly, cream scares me, so I never have any around. I am working on getting over this debilitating phobia of liquid fat, I promise. But a stock made from corn cobs sounded like a pretty neat idea.

I set out to “build” my soup with as much flavor as I could shove into it. I started by making a corn stock with parsley stems, corn cobs, and an aged Gouda rind. [The picture of the stock is there to replace that of the final, unappealing gruel-like soup product]. The smell coming from this pot was unbelievable. While the stock was infusing with corn and cheese, I was chopping onions and garlic (and drinking beer) for the second stage of the soup making. I sautéed the onion and garlic in some olive oil until softened, added corn and potatoes and stirred them about until the potatoes released some starch. I then added the strained stock and let it all bubble contentedly away while I continued on my merry cheese-eating way.

Once the potatoes were tender, I pureed the soup with my stick blender, which I still get a dorky thrill from using. It was at this point that I realized my soup was going to have a difficult life ahead of it. The other kids were not going to play with it. It looked plain and slightly consumptive: a pale, chunky puree. But I still loved it, as any mother would.

Upon tasting my outcast of a soup, I was surprised to find it lacking the depth of flavor I would expect from a soup infused with cheese. It is too bad I was drinking beer and eating, um, cheese while making the soup – I made the mistake of using water for the base of the soup as opposed to chicken stock. To remedy, I thinned the soup with chicken stock, added more salt, a bit of white pepper and parsley. That did the trick. The chicken broth made the corn flavor stand out and added a roundness to the soup that I was missing. The fresh parsley made the parsley-infused base come forward. And salt is just salt and my life would be incomplete and meaningless without it. [In case there was any doubt of my dork status, I actually keep a baggie of my own salt in lab so that I do not have to stoop to using the iodized craziness that lives in the lab “food” drawer.]

Clotilde was right: the cheese rind and parsley stems gave a great depth of flavor to an otherwise plain soup. I didn’t even miss the other 15 varieties of onion that I was meant to include.

So that is it. That is the story of my ugly soup with soul. So don’t judge. Some things are worth a second look, even if they are wallflowers and you are Billie-the-football-player. Lesson learned?

Corn and Potato Wallflower Soup

parsley stems
Aged cheese rind (any aged cheese, I suppose. I used an aged Gouda rind and a bit of Parmesan rind)
2 cups water
olive oil
2 ears of sweet corn, kernels cut off the cobs
3 baby Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced
½ medium white onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chicken stock
salt and freshly cracked black pepper
dash of white pepper
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley leaves

1) Simmer corn cobs, cheese rind, and parsley stems in 2 cups water for about 30 minutes (or until you get really bored of staring at the pot). Strain the stock. [The smarter thing to do here would probably be to make the corn stock in chicken stock instead of water. Either way would work].
2) Sautee onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Add the corn and potatoes. Cook stirring for about 5 minutes, until the potatoes begin to release some starch. Add the strained stock, season with salt and pepper(s), bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender.
3) Puree the soup with a nifty stick blender (or a regular blender, should you be so unlucky) leaving some texture in the soup – I actually removed some of the corn from the soup prior to blending to leave some kernels whole.
4) Add 1 cup of chicken stock, or as much as will give you your desired soup consistency. Bring to a boil, add parsley, and it’s all done.

1 comment:

ben said...

That sounds pretty awesome. Come on! Post pictures! It can't look any worse than hummus or baba ghanoush.

And yes, playing with kitchen gadgets is very dorky said the tea pot to the kettle.