Dinner for Two: Buttery-Garlicky-Spicy Calamari with Israeli CousCous

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I must credit two people for introducing me to what has become my favorite special-occasion-feeling fast-food meal. The first is Melissa Clark, who wrote the recipe for the dish you see above, and the second is my dear friend, Tracie, who gifted me Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now, the book that contains said recipe.

I adore Melissa Clark because she takes dishes that seem complicated and makes them super simple and un-intimidating (like this one). And then once you make the dish, stand back and admire your work, you feel like a superhero / star chef. I love that feeling.

I grew up eating a lot of calamari, usually fried. It was a staple of our Christmas Eve menu as well as our Good Friday one. Good ol’ Italian Catholics and their affinity for seafood. My mother makes the lightest fried calamari you’ve ever tasted. It’s never greasy or rubbery or heavy or fishy, probably because my mom knows how to buy seafood, and she knows how to fry. I’ve become comfortable cooking fish fillets in the last six months, and while I can do a lot with shrimp and I’ve finally figured out how to sear scallops (hot pan! hot pan!), I have stayed away from squid. A—I don’t fry food, and B—I had distinct memories or seeing it inky, sandy and slippery on the kitchen counter from my childhood. Gross.

Ms. Clark introduced me to buying cleaned squid and sauteing it in butter and olive oil. Life-changing, let me tell you! Cleaned squid, tentacles and all, takes minutes to prepare. You cut the bodies into half-inch rings and leave them on paper towels to dry, then pat dry again. Leave the tentacles whole, unless they’re huge, in which case you just split them in half with your knife. It’s totally not gross. Also, something my mother taught me—fresh seafood doesn’t smell fishy. It smells like the sea. So if you get home and unwrap your squid and it stinks, wrap it back up and take it back to your fish dealer. Get a refund, and don’t buy from them again.

Israeli couscous is a great partner for the squid here – it’s light and creamy yet still has some bite, it absorbs the sauce well, and if you get the tri-color kind like I did, it certainly looks pretty. I found some beautiful snap peas at the market, so I served them steamed with the squid & couscous. You could substitute broccoli or baby spinach as well.

One word of note: This dish takes ten minutes to prepare, but to achieve greatness in those 10 minutes, have all your ingredients ready and the table set. You and your sweetie will be treated to an amazing meal, I promise.

RECIPE:

Buttery-Garlicky-Spicy Calamari with Israeli CousCous

adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking time: 10 minutes
  • Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup Israeli (pearl) couscous
  • 2 tsbp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound fresh raw squid, bodies cut into 1/2 rings, plus the tentacles, patted dry
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 basil leaves, cut into ribbons
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • quarter of a lemon (to squeeze)

Method:

  • Add broth & pinch of salt to a 1.5 or 2 quart saucepan, then bring to a boil. Add the couscous, return to a boil, then cover and turn the heat to its lowest setting. Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  • This would be a good time to prep a vegetable for steaming in the microwave. Or, you could whip a green salad together. Just sayin’.
  • When the couscous has 5 minutes to go, heat a large skillet (not non-stick) over high heat. After a couple a minutes, add the butter and olive oil. Once the butter is melted and the foam subsides, add the squid and stand back (there may be some sputters and pops – careful!). Be patient and don’t poke the squid for a solid minute.
  • Add the garlic, basil, parsley and pepper flakes and stir everything together. You’ll see some sear marks on the squid (this is good), and you want to cook it till its just opaque throughout, which is really easy to see. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top and remove from heat.
  • Stir in the couscous till its coated with the sauce, then squeeze the lemon over the mixture (watch out for pits!) and stir again. Serve immediately with a nutritious green vegetable and a glass of something light and crisp, like a Grüner Vetliner.

Video & Recipe: Cheesy Rutabaga Mash

Today’s a very exciting day on the blog. I’m posting my first video demo! Making a video for MITK is something I’ve been wanting to do for years. I have a background in video production and I love to cook, so you’d think I would have done it sooner.

May I present to you my entry for the CreateTV Cooking Challenge

I chose to make rutabaga the subject of this video for lots of reasons. I discovered it earlier this winter after I (once again) found myself exhausted with butternut squash and sweet potatoes. I had a hard time finding references for what to do with rutabaga – there are very few videos and articles devoted to this often-ignored vegetable, which is really a shame because it’s DELICIOUS! Seriously. And what I really love is that it’s not sugary-sweet the way that butternut & sweet potatoes can be. Rutabaga is wonderful roasted, but it’s positively ethereal when mashed with potatoes and cheddar.

You will love this, I promise.

Recipe: Cheesy Rutabaga Mash

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Prep Time: 15 minutes / Cook Time: 25-30 minutes / Serves 8 as a side dish

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds rutabaga (1 med-large)
  • 1 pound Idaho baking potatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2.5 tbsp kosher salt, divided
  • 2 quarts tap water
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter (salted is OK, but you may want to decrease the kosher salt)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese (the sharper, the better!)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Use a Y-peeler to peel the rutabaga, making sure to peel away all the wax and skin. Cut into 2″ pieces and set in a large pot or Dutch oven. Next peel the potatoes and cut into 2″ chunks, then add to the pot. (If you want to do this ahead of time, you can refrigerate the rutabaga and potato separately- potato should be kept in cold water to avoid browning up to 4 hours ahead of cooking).

Add the bay leaves, 1.5 tablespoons of the salt and water, covering everything in the pot. Cover and set on high heat until boiling.

Once the water boils, continue cooking for 22 minutes, or until a fork easily pierces the rutabaga. If it crumbles a little, that’s okay – this is a situation where a little overcooking is actually quite fine.

Drain and remove bay leaves. Return vegetables to the pot, then add butter, milk, and the remaining salt. Using a potato masher, mash the mixture until it’s uniform and silky.

Next add the cheese and 1/3 cup chives and stir with a wooden spoon until the cheese is melted and fully incorporated. Top with the extra chives, freshly ground pepper and serve.

Storing: If you have leftovers, or do what I do and cook a lot of food on Sunday, this dish keeps up to 4 days stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator and reheats beautifully in the microwave.

A couple of things I learned as I was researching rutabaga and testing this recipe:

Make sure to cook the rutabaga uncovered once the water starts boiling. While it’s cooking rutabaga releases a gas that’s kinda smelly, so you don’t want to contain that within the pot. Including the bay leaves in the cooking water is essential for this reason, and it also helps neutralize the bitter edge rutabaga can sometimes have.

Rutabaga will keep for weeks in the fridge, but keep in mind its taste will get sharper the longer it sticks around. You can still cook with it, but you may want to add more butter & cheese so it’s not as pungent.

Potato is a key ingredient here because it has the starch that rutabaga lacks. Potato is what gives this mash its silkiness and body.

You could use another cheese or combination of cheeses here, like Pecorino Romano or Fontina or even goat cheese. Just remember that some cheeses, like Pecorino, are saltier than others, so you may want to adjust the second addition of salt.

You could use cheddar and skip the chives, instead seasoning the rutabaga with a combination of spices, like chipotle chile powder and smoked paprika. This would go wonderfully with pork and chicken. I prefer my cheddar & chive version with steak.

 

Sweetcakes: Banana Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

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A surplus of overripe bananas is never a bad thing in our house. For one thing, my husband actually eats them. And when he forgets—or when I’ve really bought too many bananas, as I did this week—I make banana bread.

Here’s the thing: I rarely make banana bread the same way twice. Sometimes I feel virtuous and make it with whole wheat flour and flaxseed meal. Other times I’ll brown the butter in a saucepan before mixing the batter, which gives it a nutty flavor. Occasionally I’m inspired to throw in some chopped dark chocolate, or when I really want a treat, I make my banana bread with peanut butter.

Today I decided to modify my approach. My thought process went something like this: I wanna make banana bread, but I can’t keep it in the house because we’ll eat it all. I’ll give it to Paul to take to work. But bringing a bread to work is kind of awkward, the cutting and all. Okay, so! Muffins it is. Let’s add some chocolate chips. I have the end of a jar of peanut butter, so maybe i can scrape away about a quarter cup… now to Google recipes. Nothing for banana peanut butter chocolate chip muffins? Internet, you disappoint me.

I found a recipe for banana chip muffins, took it apart, then put it back together my way. What I’ve created here is a super-easy, incredibly decadent-feeling, flavor-packed breakfast, dessert, or snack.

Here you go, America.

RECIPE: BANANA PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

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Time: 12 minute to prep / 20 minutes to bake

Serves: 15 (12 muffins, plus a mini-loaf for 3)

Ingredients:

2 c. all-purpose flour

2 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. coarse salt

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

3 very ripe bananas, mashed (1 cup)

3/4 c. dark brown sugar (not packed)

1/4 c. butter, melted and cooled slightly (4 tbsp. or a half stick)

1/4 c. creamy peanut butter

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Spray a mini-loaf pan with Pam, or rub some vegetable oil along sides and bottom to coat.

Combine the first four ingredients together in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk. Next, combine the banana and sugar in a larger bowl, mixing quickly with a whisk to break up any lumps in the sugar. Next add the rest of the wet ingredients, the butter through the vanilla, and mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture is uniform.

Fold the flour mixture into the the wet mixture until just combined. Then stir in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Divide batter first among muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full. Put the remainder of the batter in the loaf pan, and using a spatula try to even out the batter.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The mini-loaf may take a few minutes longer than the muffins. Cool everything in-pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn out carefully onto a plate and allow to cool completely.

Serving suggestions:

These muffins go equally well with coffee or tea. If you think that’s a really tame suggestion—well, fine. Do it. Get the vanilla ice cream or the fro-yo. Mash it all together in a bowl and have yourself a banana peanut butter chocolate chip muffin sundae. BOOM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheesy Butternut Mac

I had another financially-related freakout this afternoon. A little free time at work afforded me the opportunity to do something I have long procrastinated doing: shopping around for health insurance. Freelance producing is nice work if you can get it—and I am very thankful to be employed—but one of the major costs of any freelance work is having to pay for your health insurance. Adding insult to my non-existent injury, the options for remotely decent health insurance at a reasonable cost are few. I compared five plans and did the requisite calculations. So many digits! My eyes are exhausted from popping out of their sockets.

I avoided making any decisions, electing instead to ponder my dinner—and I needed a dinner to be excited about. It’s been a long week, and I’ve behaved very well with my diet. I didn’t want to blow all that effort, but I wanted to eat something other than fruit and Greek yogurt.

I’m getting really tired of non-fat Greek yogurt.

I looked through my basket of old issues of Cooking Light, and found a potential dinner on the cover of the September issue, 2011: the creamiest-ever mac & cheese.

I’ve never made mac & cheese myself, but I know what the real thing tastes like. I’ve had it once—just once. I watched my friend Pam make it for Easter years ago. I remember a towering heap of shredded cheddar cheese, a carton of half & half, and (at least) a half pound of butter. I remember the bubbling goo at the edge of the pan, the crispy tips of the slightly charred ziti, and each piece underneath coated with just the right amount of cheese, buttery sauce.

I also remember a lot of bad mac & cheese. And I’m not talking about the stuff from the box. I have a soft spot for the nuclear-orange stovetop mac & cheese that I prepared on a two burner stove in college, while the pre-fab fish sticks crisped in the shoebox-sized oven below.  I haven’t eaten boxed mac & cheese in over ten years, but in that time I’ve had lots of bad baked mac & cheese. It’s a mainstay at catered parties, hospital cafeterias, and at video shoots (on the rare chance hot food is provided). You know the kind—It’s in a giant aluminum pan that’s been perched atop a sterno for 8 hours at a minimum. And you know that because the macaroni falls apart as you spoon it onto your plate. The sauce is the right color, but it’s thin and watery. And something that may have once been cheese clings to the macaroni like the last bits of yogurt at the bottom of a plastic cup. Not exactly “Mmm, mmm…good!”, is it?

So you can imagine how, in spite of my excitement over the sight of mac & cheese on a magazine cover, I was dubious about Cooking Light’s claim that this recipe was the “creamiest-ever”.

While I have my doubts about makeovers of traditionally decadent, calorie-loaded food (and with good reason—light ice cream is light years from the real thing), I had a good feeling about this recipe. The base of the cheese sauce is not actually butter or bechamel, but butternut squash, cooked with milk and chicken stock, then pureed.  You obviously can’t claim the title of “creamiest-ever mac & cheese” without cheese, and this recipe called for a good amount of gruyere, romano, and parmesan. I had all those, plus some leftover shredded cheddar from the chili I made last week.

The trick to making a lightened up version of a heavy dish is to keep your expectations in check. A sauce made with butternut squash, milk, yogurt and a limited amount of shredded cheese is not going to taste like one made with butter, cream, and massive amounts of cheddar. All you can hope is that what you ultimately make tastes good, if not very good, and that the calories you’ve saved will be spent on the day when nothing but the real thing will do.

So here’s the recipe.  I made half, and followed the instructions pretty closely, BUT I added two ingredients to amp up the flavor of the sauce: old bay seasoning and smoked chicken sausage, which I happened to have in the fridge. The verdict: Yes, the sauce is most definitely creamy. But if I were me two hours ago, I would have added more cheese. Do that, and you’ve got yourself a better-than-good—dare I say, damn fine—dinner on the table.

The Recovery Plan

Peach & Strawberry Jam

About a week ago, I sat at my computer reviewing my ever-growing expenses and felt my left eye twitch. The twitching, I’m told, is caused by stress, and since a complete overhaul of one’s budget isn’t exactly the most peaceful exercise, I turned to the interwebs for distraction.

I ended up here.  Melissa Clark, high priestess of The New York Times Dining section and fellow Brooklynite, was making and canning jam. And she was making it look so easy! I make fruit sauces and refrigerator jams all the time, but true canning would allow me to preserve the best tastes of summer to enjoy all year long. Until I saw Clark’s demonstration I had been more than a little intimidated by the process: boiling and sterilizing jars, ensuring each jar has enough “headspace” and is sealed airtight, creating enough space in the kitchen to carry out the process from start to finish—it’s a lot of stuff. But Clark inspired me.

Hello, Weekend Project.

I bookmarked the video and made a trip to Whisk, a cooking supply store here in New York, for canning supplies. (They also have a well-stocked online store.) Even though you don’t need any special equipment for canning, a few tools make the process go much easier: a jar lifter, a wide-mouth funnel, a lid wand, and a set of tongs to lift the rings.

I’m getting ahead of myself. For the amateur home canner, the best jars to start with are 4-ounce or 8-ounce glass canning jars with metal lids and rings, like these.

As for jam ingredients, I lucked out at the farmers market—it was the last week for peaches, so I stocked my canvas bag full of them. I couldn’t find any of the lemon verbena Clark’s recipe called for, so I decided on some flavorful substitutions: the addition of almond extract (just a few drops) and Wild Turkey American Honey (a couple of generous tablespoons).

I returned home and re-read Clark’s peach jam recipe another ten times, and then watched the jamming & canning video again. And again. Once I was sure I had all the steps down, it was time to prepare the fruit for Phase I: Maceration. This step doesn’t require anything fancy—I combined the peaches, sugar, lemon zest and juice, almond extract and liquor together in a pot, bought it to a simmer, and then transferred the mixture to a big bowl.

Just peachy

It was like looking at sunset: pinks and yellows and oranges swirling together, shining brilliantly. Sigh. I covered the bowl, transferred it to the fridge and then headed to bed, a little too impressed with myself and very excited for the morning to come.

Sunday! The weather was perfect for a brisk walk to the waterfront, so I took one and returned home energized and readyfor Operation: Jam! All my equipment was assembled, jars ready for in-pot sterilization, and I had watched Clark’s video for what must have been the twentieth time in twenty-four hours. I separated the fruit solids from the syrup that developed overnight, and poured the rose-hued syrup into my 12-inch skillet and turned on the heat.

The fruit rested peacefully in a colander on the counter, slowly dripping its clinging juice into the bowl below. Bubbles appeared in the syrup as I stirred along. I was impatiently looking for foam, the kind of foam I remember from chemistry experiments gone wild in high school, the high billowing foam that Clark’s syrup produced in the video.

After a few more minutes, I still didn’t see any foam, so I raised the heat and turned my attention to the large stockpot full of boiling water on the adjacent burner. Time to sterilize the jars. I carefully took hold of each jar with the lifter and lowered them into the pot. But they wouldn’t stand up straight like they do in the video (reason: too much liquid in the pot).  Drops of boiling water splattered and stung my hands as I quickly and awkwardly maneuvered the jars.

And then I smelled it: burning caramel. I looked over and saw the syrup foaming and blackening rapidly. I left the jars to tumble in the water, covered the pot and went back to the skillet to save my syrup. I shut the heat and grabbed a spoon to stir, but it was too late.  It was goop. Burned and quickly hardening goop.

Sometimes you have a moment where everything. Just. Stops. You realize you were moving too fast, maybe taking too much on. Maybe you overestimated how good you really are. Or the expectations you had were so high that the level of disappointment you’re now experiencing will destroy your day.

But I wasn’t ready to give up. I mean, it was tempting. But the kitchen was a mess, and I had a project to finish. And it wasn’t going to be finished until there was jam canned in shelf-stable jars. Besides, if I stopped now I’d have go back to the depressing prospect of my unbalanced budget.

I took a breath. Even though the syrup was ruined, I still had the macerated peaches – soft and full of flavor. I had another two pounds of peaches for snacking in the fruit basket & a package of over-ripened strawberries in the fridge. It was time to get back to business and make this work.

RECIPE:

Peach & Strawberry Jam

Adapted from Melissa Clark

The Original Recipe

  • 3 pounds peaches (or combination of peaches and nectarines),
  • peeled and sliced
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1.5 tbsp American Honey Liquor
  • 4 drops almond extract

Combine all ingredients in a stockpot or large skillet. Bring to a simmer and stir as sugar dissolves. Remote from heat. Transfer mixture to a bowl and let sit overnight. In the morning, spoon the solids into a colander set over a large bowl, set that aside, and pour all the remaining syrup into a pot. Put the syrup into a wide skillet as Clark instructs, set it over medium high heat and look for the foam to form.

I’m going to pause here since this is where I screwed up—Be patient: I turned my attention away for a couple minutes and… Well, you know the rest. So! Once my syrup was burned and therefore useless, here’s what I ultimately did to make that beautiful jam you see in the picture:

The Recovery Plan:

  • 1 pound strawberries
  • 2 pounds peaches (or combination of peaches and nectarines)
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp. American Honey Liquor
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • Macerated peaches from previous recipe

Wash, hull and quarter the strawberries. Peel and cut the peaches into 1” chunks. Combine all ingredients through the almond extract in a stockpot (you heard me – forget the skillet). Set the pot over medium high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil 2 minutes, stirring, until sugar dissolves, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.

Simmer 25- 30 minutes, then remove from heat.  The fruit will be soft but still intact, and the mixture will be a little thicker but still viscous. Using a large spoon, transfer the fruit solids to a colander set over a large bowl.  Return the syrup to a boil, and allow to boil for 3 to 5 minutes until you see foam begin to form around the edges. Reduce heat so that syrup is at a full simmer. Cook for another 15 – 20 minutes, and continue to stir mixture as it thickens. Be sure to reduce heat if foam rises too high or mixture starts boiling again.

Once your syrup passes the “wrinkle test” in Clark’s video, or registers 220 degrees on a candy thermometer, return the fruit to the pot, stir into the syrup and remove from heat. Cover the pot.

Now, you can focus on the canning. Go forth, home cook, and make that jam.

My Summer in Food

It has been a very hot and very busy summer.  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for fall. Apples, apple cider donuts, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin ice cream, butternut squash, hearty vegetable soups, braised beef…

The chilly air means sweater weather. Orange is the dominant color of my wardrobe. I am never without a hot beverage (or a chronic case of the sniffles). And every Sunday, the apartment will be filled with aromas of simmering soup, roasting vegetables or a bubbly, baked pie. I can’t wait.

But before autumn comes to Brooklyn, here’s a look back at some of my favorites this summer—the home-grown, the raw, the cooked, and the more successful experiments…

Late June

I discover garlic scapes at the farmers’ market. I’m so fascinated by their shape and aroma that I buy 2 bunches…and have no idea what to do with them.

Voi-la! Pesto. Made with garlic scapes, olive oil, parsley, parmesan, and some pecans I had in the freezer. As potent in flavor as it is bright in color.

JULY

Yellow corn grits with shrimp and bacon. A lovely mess, worth every minute spent in an infernally hot kitchen.

Cooking Light’s lightened-up Lemon Bars. Tart & creamy custard, crunchy nutty crust. A new fave.

August

My birthday cake, made from scratch by my mom. Layers of golden sponge cake, vanilla custard and chocolate cream, surrounded by toasted almonds and hazelnuts. I rationed out portions for myself for the week. The cake didn’t last longer than 3 days.

Raspberries from my mother’s garden. The bushes grow wild, and no matter how much she cuts them back, they take over half the yard every summer.

The fig tree dominates the other half of the yard, and threatens to take over the house. By the 17th of August, the tree has fruited completely, but not one of these little guys is ripe for the picking. Wait for Labor Day, mom advises.

Is there nothing in the world more emblematic of summer than a perfectly ripe peach?

Oven roasted ratatouille with garden grown eggplant, tomato and zucchini…

…makes an excellent topping for pizza!

I finally got around to making The Kitchn’s Magic One-Ingredient Ice Cream. Google it, read the recipe, follow it to the letter, and be amazed by the texture and flavor (helped immensely by cinnamon and vanilla).

Early September

I love my mother’s hands in this shot. She’s shaping the foundation of our dinner…

Foreground: Mushroom/Sausage Pizza. Background: Margherita

More raspberries. This time, I make sauce: raspberries, sugar, Grand Marnier. Right now I’m having some with fro-yo. Mmm.

Sunday September 2nd. Finally, the figs are ready.

Bringing A Taste of The Vineyard Home to Brooklyn

On Monday, I returned from a wonderful yet all too short trip to Martha’s Vineyard.  This is the second summer I’ve made the trip—my boyyfriend’s family spends time there each every summer, and it’s easy to see why. The Vineyard is a magical place—the vibe is relaxed, the landscape is picturesque, and there is good food to be had everywhere. I don’t mean restaurant food—I mean fresh food, particularly fish and produce. On Saturday evening my boyfriend and I joined his parents, aunts and uncles for a delightful homemade dinner of Portuguese kale soup with Linguiça sausage, grilled striped bass with pesto, and so many sides of farmers market vegetables that I can’t even remember how many or what they were . I just remember them being delicious. And while the striped bass was perfectly cooked, moist and tender to the bite, the standout of this meal was the soup.

I had never had Linguiça sausage—it’s similar to chorizo in its smokiness, but it’s leaner, and flavored with a different blend of spices, including oregano and cinnamon among others. It adds an incredible flavor to the soup’s base of chicken broth. And without the Linguiça, I would never have been interested in a soup that featured kale, potatoes and kidney beans. Luckily, all those ingredients benefit from some smoke and pork fat.

I was still full from dinner when I awoke the next morning and hurriedly got myself together for the West Tisbury Book Fair. Sunday is half-price day, so our troop (my boyfriend, his uncle and I) arrived at 8:50am so that we might secure the best books once the fair opened at 9. I gave myself a cap of 2 books, knowing I had to fly home and had limited luggage space. I walked away with 5 cookbooks for $5.25, and I was so excited by my good fortune that I temporarily forgot how I would get the books back to Brooklyn.

One of my glorious finds was Molly O’Neill’s A Well-Seasoned Appetite, published in 1995. I remembered reading O’Neill’s columns in The New York Times Magazine growing up, back before Mark Bittman dominated the recipe columns of the newspaper and the Magazine.  Like Bittman’s recipes, O’Neill’s are most appealing in their simplicity—she focuses on seasonal foods and preparations that make them shine with the least amount of effort. Molly O’Neill’s recipes make me want to get in the kitchen; her prose made me want to read the book in a single sitting.

As I combed through each section, looking for inspiration to make some new dishes once I returned home, I found a recipe for Kale Soup with Potatoes and Sausage. It was the first thing I made when I got home.

RECIPE:

Kale Soup With Potatoes and Sausage
adapted from A Well-Seasoned Appetite, by Molly O’Neill

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Total hands on time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 strips bacon
  • 2 links of chorizo sausage (about 3-4 inches in length; Goya or Tropical sell them in a package)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled or scrubbed, then cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 head of kale (standard curly)
  • 4 cups (1 quart) chicken stock (homemade or canned low-sodium)
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 can red kidney beans (14 oz, preferably low sodium), rinsed and drained
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Prep:
A couple more things in addition to the washing/draining/chopping listed above… Remove casing from the sausage links. Cut each link into quarters (lengthwise), then slice each log into 1/8 inch-thick pieces. Set aside. Chop the stems off the kale, then rinse the leaves thoroughly. Drain. Then cut into 1″ strips & set aside.

Method:
In a large stockpot over medium heat, cook the bacon until the fat has rendered. Remove bacon from the pot, then drain and either discard (for shame!) or use it for something else. Lower the heat and add the chorizo pieces, cooking for 2-3 minutes until the fat in the pan has increased and turned a golden-orange color. Next, add the chopped onions, and cook for two minutes. Then add the potato and garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the kale and cook, stirring constantly, for another 2-3 minutes.

Next, stir in the broth, vinegar and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Allow mixture to gently simmer for 30 minutes, then add beans and the water. (Tip: if the water is already hot or even boiling, you won’t have to adjust the heat under the pot to bring it back to a simmer). Allow the mixture to continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes, until the kale and potatoes are tender to the bite. Remove from heat.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with freshly ground pepper. A slight drizzle of extra virgin olive oil doesn’t hurt, either.

This soup with serve 8 as a first course, or 5-6 as a light meal. Molly O’Neill says the recipe will feed 4 as a meal, but assume those portions are huge.  If you don’t plan to serve all the soup at once, freeze some in a large container, or in individual portions. It will keep in the fridge up to 4 days, and will always taste better the day after you make it, once all the flavors from the vegetables and the chorizo have a chance to get to know each other better.

Notes:
 I took a few liberties in this recipe in my adaptation—for one thing, I couldn’t find Linguiça sausage in my neighborhood grocery store, but I did find chorizo.  I didn’t buy the pound that was called for in the recipe, as it would have been too expensive, but I still needed more pork flavor—and fat—than two links of chorizo would yield. Enter bacon, which I already had in my freezer (conveniently frozen in packs of 3 strips each). I skipped the tomatoes O’Neill calls for in favor of the kidney beans, which were a key ingredient in the Portuguese kale soup I enjoy so much at Martha’s Vineyard. I think the soup is better without the addition of tomatoes. Finally, if you are tempted to skip the balsamic vinegar, as I initially was, don’t. One tablespoon goes a long way, and it adds just the right amount of sweetness to the soup without calling attention to itself (as balsamic has a tendency to do).