Shoulder Season Soup

Dinner: September 28, 2010

I’m in commuter hell this week – I’ve had a succession of early or late buses in the morning, consistently late trains, and unplanned cab rides home from the train station which, in addition to being annoyingly expensive and sometimes terrifying, have put me in a big ole cranky mood in the evening, and craving exactly what we’ve been trying to get away from – comfort food.

I sat on the train in my work clothes drenched to the bone after a rain-soaked spin through the Boston Public Market on Tuesday, with tomatoes and fennel and green beans and squash globes and all sorts of other goodies in my totes, and decided a big veg-laden soup was in order. After I got home, I peeled off my damp clothes and changed into something warm and dry, and then I got to chopping: slender leeks, carrots, fresh celery, beautifully ripe plum tomatoes, sweet red peppers, globe zucchini, fresh thyme branches and green beans all went into my pot at various stages, sprinkled with salt and bathed in dribbles of olive oil and a judicious amount of red wine as they cooked down. I added a little bit of orzo to the mix, and when it was tender, added a good amount of freshly grated parm to the soup off the heat. I blitzed up a fresh parsley and fennel frond pistou in the mini chopper to spoon on top, and served up our soup with a few thick slices of Olga’s Pane Francese and some gooey, runny cheese from Farmstead.

As antidotes go, this was just about perfect.


Exchanging Inspiration

A while back our friends Melissa and Derrick posted a photo and write-up of one of their dinners, mentioning that my writing about our day-to-day dining inspired them to do so. As you can imagine, I was flattered and delighted by this, but I also took away some inspiration of my own. You see, I have always been seduced by the lovely squash blossoms that show up in gardens and markets this time of year, but I have also felt very intimidated about cooking with them myself. I mentioned this to our friends, and with their encouragement I decided that I’d give it a shot. Am I ever I glad I did.

If you search the internet for fried squash blossom recipes, many of them look a little bit… futzy. Egg washes, breadcrumbs, milk, flour, batters with beer or without… I was worried that the flavor of the little blossoms would be overwhelmed by something so heavy. Derrick’s method was far simpler, and I think, superior: flour, buttermilk, flour then fry. This I could get behind.

lined up like little soldiers

I had a vacation day scheduled yesterday, so I decided to get a jump on the prep work. I trimmed the squash blossoms, opened them up and pulled out the little stamens, then set the cleaned blossoms aside. For the filling, I combined 2 oz. of crumbled soft goat cheese, 4 oz. of sheep’s milk ricotta, a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh chervil. Our blossoms were a little on the small side, so getting the stuffing in without cracking them on one side was a little tricky, but I pressed forward, first using a spoon to stuff then and finally just using my fingers. I placed a little bit of the stuffing inside each blossom, then twisted the ends closed and press them together. They didn’t all stay closed, but I figured I could try to re-seal them before battering and cooking them. I placed the stuffed blossoms on a platter, covered it with plastic wrap and set them in the fridge until I was ready to cook them.


The blossoms and filling firmed up nicely with those few hours of refrigeration, and when it was time to dip them in the flour and buttermilk, I was relieved to see that they held together well. I fried the blossoms in batches until they were golden, and then set them on a paper towel-lined platter to drain as they came out of the oil, sprinkling them with a little kosher salt while they were still hot.

While I heated the oil and worked on the frying, I had a second pan on the stove in which I put together a summer vegetable ragout. I chopped up six garlic scapes and sautéed them in a tablespoon of olive oil, and then added half a cup of white vermouth, a cup and a half of water, a teaspoon of kosher salt and a parmesan rind. After that simmered for 10-15 minutes, I removed the parmesan rind and added 1 1/2 cups of halved red and gold cherry tomatoes. I let them cook uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, and when the last of the squash blossoms was out of the oil, I added a mixture of blanched vegetables (peas, cranberry beans, green beans, favas) and herbs (flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, thyme, dill) to the tomato and parmesan broth. I let this cook for just a minute or so more, turned off the heat and ladled the vegetables and broth into bowls. I topped them with the crunchy squash blossoms, and our meal was ready to go.

The squash blossoms were delicious – perfectly crisp on the outside, the filling soft and delicate, and they provided a really nice counterpoint to the light, brothy vegetables. Mike had taken a cue from Derrick’s post as well and brought home a lovely Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc to go with our meal. As we sipped our wine and ate, I thought how wonderful it is that food and drink have this great power to inspire, to bring people together across the miles. I felt a great sense of appreciation for the good food and drink in front of me but more importantly, I felt a great sense of appreciation for the good friends who inspired it.

Weekend Eats (and Drinks)

Weekend Eats (and Drinks)

Mike and I both fell victim to The Dread Summer Cold over the weekend, but we tried to make the best of it. Dinners were simple grilled meats with fresh veggie sides, and for the most part I didn’t take photos. I made an exception for last night’s delicious pork tenderloin, seasoned with paprika and fennel seeds (inspired by Terry’s recipe). We’ve used this seasoning twice now on grilled pork, and it is an absolute winner.