Dress Up Your Soup

Whether it’s a steady downpour, a constant drizzle, or a fine mist, this damp weather calls for warm, nourishing soup. Soup alone can inspire gratitude and, ’round these parts, maybe a hug, but with a few simple add-ons, one just might elicit gasps of amazement and high praise.  And I love me some high praise, especially when it comes with a minimum of effort.

These cheese crisps are incredibly easy and quick. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In the meantime, grate a half to one cup of parmesan or pecorino romano cheese on the smaller grate size.  Pile in heaping tablespoons on a baking sheet (on top of a silpat sheet if you have one), making sure to leave about 2-3 inches space between the mounds.  Dust with your choice of spice – smoky paprika is nice, or cayenne, or cracked black pepper.  Let the type of soup these will accompany inspire you.  Bake in the oven for approximately 7 minutes, or until the cheese is completely melted and golden.  Remove from oven, let cool, and then use a spatula to peel them off the sheet.

A pistou is essentially a pesto without nuts, and for the soup topping above, I made it with roughly a half cup of parsley, two cloves of garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Process in a mini-food processor or grind it all up in a mortar and pestle until you’ve reached your desired consistency.  This is also nice served on just about any protein, or as a bright and pungent topping on bread.

Each of these toppings requires a preparation time of five minutes, max. I suppose I could have spent those ten minutes the other night changing out of sweatpants and into real people clothes, but it was so much more appealing to fancify my soup than myself.  And sweatpants and soup on a rainy weeknight? Ne’er the twain shall part.

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Fresh Tomato Sauce

This isn’t the least expensive sauce you could make (for the per pound price, I’d typically prefer to eat tomatoes in their pre-cooked state with a plethora of alliteration), but it’s one of the better ones for capturing those last summer tomatoes and their bright summer flavor.  We made this a few days ago but ate it tonight with whole wheat pasta and a light sprinkling of grated grana padano. Some sautéed zucchini on the side rounded out the color, and dessert was a slice (or two…? or three…? I’ll never tell!) of prune plum cake, recipe to follow.

Fresh Tomato Sauce
(the simplicity and some details of which were inspired by Smitten Kitchen’s Scarpetta naked tomato sauce) 

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, quartered
6-8 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
Extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 400. Arrange quartered tomatoes on single layers on rimmed baking sheets, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on salt.  Roast for 30 minutes or until the tomatoes are partially dehydrated/collapsed and their edges have started to brown.

Pull sheets from oven and once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and smoosh the garlic cloves out.  Get a spill of olive oil hot in a pan and add the garlic and then the tomatoes.  Simmer on low heat, breaking some of the tomatoes into smaller pieces, until the sauce reaches your desired consistency.  Taste for salt, add pepper, and once you’ve removed from the heat, stir in the butter.

Make This Now: Ratatouille

I seriously underestimated ratatouille.  You’d think after watching the movie by the same name, one would have at the very least an appreciation for the dish that brought a sneering, discriminating, albeit cartoon, food critic to tears.  But, no, it seemed to me that the dish was a just a watery, poor excuse for a lasagna.  No noodles?  No cheese?!  But with several yellow squash and eggplants languishing in the fridge, and two very ripe tomatoes with fault-line cracks (they rolled off the counter because this apartment is slanted), there was nothing left to do but make it.

And boy am I a convert.  So much so that I’ve made it twice in four days, loosely following this recipe because I had no red peppers and used yellow squash instead of zucchini.  Somewhere in the slicing and the salting and the roasting, a richness of flavor comes out.  The Good Food Matters blog author writes: “deep candied vegetal flavors” and “caramel-like juices”!  She’s right – it’s true. But if that’s not enough to persuade you, I’ll leave with this:  please, please make this as soon as you can.  It’s the quadrumvirate (can that apply to non-masculine terms?) of awesome meals – cheap, easy, delicious and nutritious.