Monday, December 26, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cream of Celery Soup

I’ve gone too long without writing about soup. Two of my favorite soup recipes—one for Asparagus and the other for Cream of Celery—come from Simon Hopkinson, a British chef and author of Roast Chicken and Other Stories [1994] and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken [2001]. Hopkinson gained international attention when a British food magazine, Waitrose Food Illustrated, voted Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories “The Most Useful Cookbook of All Time.”

Hyperbole aside, both Roast Chicken and Other Stories and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken warrant praise; they are outstanding cookbooks. Hopkinson organizes the books alphabetically by ingredients. Roast Chicken starts out with recipes for Anchovy, Asparagus, Aubergine and Brains; it ends with Sweetbreads, Tomatoes, Tripe and Veal. Each section and its recipes get brief introductions, which are typically more personal than technical. Hopkinson shares his own recipes and those culled from various sources such as favorite cookbooks and magazine clippings. Both Roast Chicken and Second Helpings are a magpie’s collection of treasures: in Second Helpings under Butter and Drippings he shares a recipe Roast Potatoes in Beef Dripping followed by a wonderful recipe for Arnhem Biscuits (or Arnhemse Meisjes) from Roald Dahl’s Cookbook. Hopkinson’s recipe selection exemplifies his outstanding taste.

But back to the soup. Because my local asparagus season remains months away, let’s instead focus on Hopkinson’s Cream of Celery Soup. How good is Hopkinson’s version? I bought Second Helpings of Roast Chicken just for this recipe. Hopkinson begins his section on Celery: “I am of the humble opinion that celery makes one of the finest cream soups of all.” He aimed to make “the smoothest, creamiest and most savoury bowlful in [England].” He says that he did; after tasting Hopkinson’s version I think there is a very good chance you will agree. His recipe serves 5 to 6.
  • 50 g butter
  • 350 g celery, cleaned and chopped
  • 2 small onions, peeled and chopped
  • ½ tsp celery salt
  • 1 large potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 litre good chicken stock
  • 150 ml whipping cream
  • Freshly ground white pepper

Melt the butter in a roomy pan and gently cook the celery and onions in it for 20 minutes or so until soft but not coloured. Add the celery salt. Put in the potato and add the stock. Bring to the boil, check the seasoning to see if any further salt (plain) is needed, skim off any scum and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Now liquidize the mixture well, for at least a minute or so for each couple of ladles, as this will accentuate the eventual creamed quality of the soup. Finally, push through a fine sieve into a clean pan, stir in the cream and pepper and gently reheat without boiling. Serve with tiny, buttery croutons.

As previously advised in my Soupe à la Citrouille post, please exercise due care when blending hot liquids. Heston Blumenthal presents sound counsel in his new Heston Blumenthal at home [2011]. He describes how to liquefy soup as follows: “The contents of the pan need to be transferred to the jug of the blender while still warm, as they’ll liquidize more efficiently like that. That said, no matter how eager you are to get the soup done, resist the urge to pour it into a blender while it’s still piping hot. If you put a hot liquid in the jug and close the lid, the heat can cause the air pressure to build to such an extent that, when you hit the switch, the soup forces its way out. So let it cool for a few minutes, then fill the jug no more than two-thirds full. Put on the lid but remove the small inner section, hold a folded tea-towel over the top, then press the button. Leave it for long enough that the contents are fully and evenly liquidized.”

(I’ll admit here that I’ve never much liked blending hot soup in a canister blender; when I use them I rarely fill the jar more than a third full.  When I can get by I do most of my liquefying with a hand-held emersion blender.)

If you are looking for a comforting, rich and satisfying addition to your holiday table, Hopkinson’s Cream of Celery Soup fills the bill. I hope you enjoy this soup in good health. I wish you every happiness at Christmas and good fortune in the New Year.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Pasta Dough

I often experiment with different pasta dough recipes. When making a new dough I take quick notes that I first scribble out on a piece of paper and then enter into a journal. I record both successes and failures (the later being particularly important to avoid repeating mistakes). I keep track of:
  • The type, brand and weight of flour
  • When making an egg pasta, the amount and size of eggs and/or egg yolks
  • The type and amount of any added liquid and/or fat
  • How long I knead the dough and how much the finished dough weighs (to gauge serving portions for future reference)
  • How long the dough rests and whether it rests at room temperature or in the refrigerator
  • If rolled, the final setting that I run the dough through on my pasta machine.

When I take my scribbles and make a journal entry I add some quick notes on what worked and what I might try different in the future. Sometimes I add a drawing (or if a shape is particularly complicated, my youngest daughter takes over the drawing).

Why do I go through this process? It helps me to achieve greater consistency when I make pasta. The notes also provide reference points to consider when I want to try something new.

Over the last few months I find myself coming back to the following pasta dough recipe. It makes a firm dough; the pasta has a great bite. I cut the sheets by hand with a pastry wheel. If asked to classify the shape, I’d call it pappardelle. The recipe serves three as a main course and four as a starter.
  • 100 grams Giusto’s all-purpose flour
  • 100 grams Giusto’s Extra Fancy Durum
  • 5 medium egg yolks
  • 1 medium egg
  • Salt

When I make pasta with this dough I follow the steps described in my post on pappardelle with these changes: (1) mix the all-purpose and durum flour together before sifting the flour; (2) knead the dough for 15 minutes; (3) let the dough rest 1½ hours in the refrigerator; and (4) after rolling the dough out to the desired thickness (I like this pasta on the thicker side), cut the sheet with a knife or pastry wheel into pieces that are approximately 1-inch wide and 8-inches long.

Expect the dough to start out on the dry side. I often have to add the smallest amount of water—a single spritz from a water bottle—to incorporate all of the flour in my mixing bowl. The dough should weigh about 345 grams after kneading.

The pasta from this recipe can take a range of sauces. It tasted delicious both with a tomato sauce with sausage and with a (quasi-vegetarian) artichoke sauce.

Leading photo: Porcelain Cup by Ayumi Horie / Ayumi Horie Pottery

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Best Cookbooks of 2011

As this year comes to a close, it’s time to offer up my list of the five best cookbooks published in 2011. Frankly, complying this list was pretty easy—as cookbooks go, 2011 offered a lot to like. The only difficulty I had was deciding whether to include new editions of previously published works. I decided to leave these books out (with no slight intended to Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco and Carol Field’s The Italian Baker). So I present, in alphabetical order, the five best cookbooks of 2011.

The Art of Eating Cookbook: Essential Recipes From the First 25 Years by Edward Behr. University of California Press.

Bocca Cookbook by Jacob Kenedy. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Heston Blumenthal at home by Heston Blumenthal. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Mission Street Food – Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz. McSweeney’s Publishing.

The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton with Matt Molina and Carolynn Carreño. Alfred A. Knopf.

Why these titles?

I have subscribed to Edward Behr’s The Art of Eating, for almost its entire run. (My collection begins with Issue No. 2.) His cookbook features some of the best recipes from his excellent journal. These recipes speak to his interest in traditional food whether Italian, French, North African or American. Behr includes recipes for Caponata (Sweet-and-Sour Eggplant); Fomage de Tête (Headcheese); Asparagus Soup; Zucchini Pudding; Gâteaux de Foies de Volaille (Chicken Liver “Cakes”); and Stewed Rhubarb with Honey. The Art of Eating Cookbook is an outstanding collection of classic, time-tested dishes often overlooked in mainstream cookbooks.

Jacob Kenedy’s Bocca Cookbook captures what I love about Italian cooking: traditional, simple, ingredient-driven dishes. Although he “confesses” that the recipes in Bocca may not be completely authentic, I’m hard pressed to find any offering that doesn’t ring true. Kenedy’s pasta section shines. (This should be no surprise; he co-authored the outstanding The Geometry of Pasta.) I particularly like his lucid explanation on how to make fresh orecchiette. (Check back in 2012 for more on Kenedy’s technique.)

Heston Blumenthal’s latest cookbook further evidences his well-deserved stature as one of the top chefs and teachers of our age. Heston Blumenthal at home fits neatly between his Family Food, which features comforting home fare, and The Fat Duck Cookbook, which covers the magnificently creative and complex food served at his Michelin three star restaurant. Heston Blumenthal at home presents recipes to create sophisticated yet comforting dishes. My favorites include his Prawn Cocktail; Onion Soup; Lamb Steaks with Tapenade; and Strawberry Sundae (also with a tapenade, in this case a sweet one containing black olives and Laphroaig whiskey). And speaking of whiskey, don’t miss his Whiskey Sour recipe. Heston Blumenthal at home is destined to become a classic.

Mission Street Food probably ranks as the most enjoyable, fun yet instructive 2011 offering. Instead of repeating my praise, you can read more about Anthony Myint’s and Karen Leibowitz’s wonderful book here.

Last, and by no means least, is Silverton, Molina and Carreño’s The Mozza Cookbook. This work shares a lot of the qualities that make Kenedy’s Bocca Cookbook so appealing: fresh, direct and exciting Italian food. In its Primi section Matt Molina shares essential pasta making tips that he has acquired over time. These tips along with the book’s pasta dough recipes make The Mozza Cookbook a valuable resource for anyone interested in learning more about creating fresh pasta at home.

Let’s hope that 2012 offers as many quality cookbooks as 2011. If you decide to add any of the above books to your collection, consider buying your copy from a friendly, independent bookseller such as Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco on Cesar Chavez Street at Church.