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Today we have a guest post from my sister, Molly, who’s a pastry chef in New York City. Here’s Molly:

I spent a spring—or Spargelzeit, as the Germans call it—studying abroad in Berlin during college. If you’re in Berlin in the spring and you don’t like white asparagus (“Spargel”), well, you’re going to have a tough time finding local, seasonal, delicious dishes.

Take it from me: I couldn’t stand the stuff when I first arrived. This was problematic. Every single restaurant, didn’t matter the cuisine, had a special Spargel Speisekarte—a menu featuring white asparagus. The time of year even has a name: Spargelzeit or Spargelsaison. Fortunately, I came around to it by the end of the season. Spargel is traditionally served with hollandaise sauce, but my favorite presentation is in spargelcremezuppe.

 

In this light creamy soup, the asparagus is simmered in stock with onions until tender, then blended. It is traditionally garnished with finely chopped chives, which enhance the onion-y flavor. I didn’t have chives on hand, so I garnished mine with balsamic vinegar instead.

Many recipes call for the addition of heavy cream or milk, but it’s not necessary. The asparagus is creamy enough on its own that it doesn’t need the extra dairy. Many also called for sugar, which I omitted because the onions add enough sweetness for me.

For a little bit of extra flavor and New York spring flare, I used ramp butter for both the soup and the crostini. The recipe for the ramp butter follows.

Spargelcremezuppe
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type: Soup
author: Molly, saladfordinner.com
prep time: 15 mins
cook time: 30 mins
total time: 45 mins
serves: 2
A lightly creamy, traditional German soup made of white asparagus.
Ingredients
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 bunch white asparagus
  • 2 C fish stock
  • tsp black pepper
  • 1ish tsp balsamic vinegar
Instructions
  1. Melt the butter in a heavy pot. Add diced onion and celery and cook over low heat until fragrant.
  2. Meanwhile, peel the asparagus with a veggie peeler, starting from just under the buds. This removes the tough outer layer and will make for a much more tender soup. Trim both ends, reserving the buds for later use. Dice the remaining asparagus and add to the pot.
  3. Add in the fish stock and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the asparagus is tender.
  4. Puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender.
  5. Bring back to a boil until thickened to the desired consistency.
  6. Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh cracked pepper and balsamic vinegar.
Notes

Based loosely off the recipe found at Almond Corner: http://almondcorner.blogspot.com/2008/04/white-asparagus-soup.html

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Ramp butter

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes ½ cup

5 ramps
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 tsp salt

Blanche ramps in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge into ice bath. Finely dice white and red stems. Reserve greens for another use (ramp pesto?).

Mix ramps and salt into butter with a fork until well incorporated.

Roll into a log in wax or parchment paper. To get a nice round log shape, place dollops in a line in the middle of the paper. Fold the paper over it towards you so that the top is an inch or so shorter than the bottom. Gently form into a log with your hands. Then, place your right hand perpendicular to the counter just next to the butter. Using your left hand, carefully pull the bottom layer towards you. The butter will roll and create a perfect log from the tension.

Freeze and enjoy all year round, long past ramp season.

 

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We recently returned from a trip to New York visiting friends and family. We also played tourist: taking in the view from the Empire State Building by night, visiting Central Park’s bright fall leaves, and sampling local delicacies. We ate bagels, banh mi, brunches, even a local take on poutine and a delicious meal at Prune.

By the time we returned, I was ready to eat only rice, beans, and vegetables for a week. Often after a holiday, vacation, or work trip, I crave simple, healthy food. I lay off the booze for a few days–no glass of wine with dinner or beer to unwind–and overcompensate for buttery and salty restaurant meals with lighter, greener fare.

avocado salsa

This soup was the result of my post-NYC craving. It’s smoky and spicy and sweet and salty all at once. The chipotle peppers and adobo sauce (I’m still working my way through the can I opened for this) add a kick of spice, and sherry at the beginning of the cooking deepens the flavor. The soup is mostly based on this recipe from Food and Wine, and the chipotle idea I borrowed from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

I’ve been eating chipotle peppers in everything ever since I made this soup. Chipotle eggs for a weekend breakfast. Chipotle peppers in mac and cheese. Chipotle sweet potato tacos. Quesadillas with chipotle sour cream. It’s the first can I’ve ever opened. My cultural association with chipotle is the McDonald’s-owned burrito brand, famous for their mildly crowd-pleasing burritos, which, so far as I can tell, contain no real chipotle peppers. The name has been co-opted, but the real deal, original peppers are a Mexican grocery dream.

black bean soup with avocado salsa

chipotle black bean soup with sweet potatoes and avocado salsa
Print
type: soup
author: robin, saladfordinner.com
prep time: 15 mins
cook time: 15 mins
total time: 30 mins
serves: 4
Smoky chipotle peppers add a kick to classic black bean soup.
Ingredients
  • 3 15 oz cans black beans
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle peppers from a can
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 cups water or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup sherry
  • 1 medium sweet potato or yam, peeled and diced
  • 1 tsp fresh black pepper
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 2 avocados
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Instructions
  1. Blend half the beans with about 1 cup water or stock until pureed. Set aside.
  2. Heat vegetable oil over medium heat, and add onions, garlic, and pinch of salt. Cook without browning until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sherry and turn up the heat. Cook until sherry is reduced by half.
  3. Add the chopped chipotle, remaining stock, pureed beans, and diced sweet potato. Simmer until sweet potato is almost cooked through, but not quite about 8 minutes. Add remaining beans and Worcestershire sauce, and simmer for another 5 minutes or so.
  4. Meanwhile, make the salsa by combining avocado, lime juice, cilantro, and salt to taste.
  5. Serve soup topped with salsa.
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We came home several weeks ago to our landlord removing the blistered skin from 28 pounds of New Mexico hatch chiles at the picnic table behind the building. She used to live in New Mexico, and told us that green chile season was short and prized there. She, like many other New Mexico expatriates and chile fanatics, troll the internet and pester the Raley’s groceries where they are known to appear, for weeks ahead of the late August/early September arrival. The stores sell the chiles fresh, or after they have roasted them in enormous drums. In New Mexico, friends gather to roast and peel dozens and hundreds of pounds of chiles during harvest season, to freeze, preserve, and use all year. Our landlord did 28 pounds, by herself, in our backyard, no problem.

autumn sutro

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And then, she gave us about a pound of her bounty, which I dutifully froze within 24 hours, as she instructed, for future use when I was really ready.

It took me weeks to decide how to make chile verde with my chiles. There are hundreds of recipes for chile verde floating around, yet few seem definitive. Many use tomatillos for the green color, while others use peppers. None of the pepper-based ones I found struck my fancy, so I made one up. I used a combination of this Chowhound commenter’s methods with Emeril’s Food Network recipe ratios (approximately 1 part pork to 1 part chiles). The result may not have been exactly what you would get at Green Chile Kitchen, but it was fabulous enough to write down.

I added a few tomatillos for their sour flavor and acidity. You could also make this using all poblanos, or some combination of those with other chiles, like California or pasilla peppers, that you may be able to find at your local Mexican grocery. Of course, you could always email Raley’s next September to find out when they’re roasting their chiles again, or mail order some straight from the source.
IMG_8677

IMG_8684

Chile Verde with New Mexico hatch chiles, pork, and potatoes

I mostly made this up, based on recommended techniques and ingredients from around the Internet. A classically trained French chef would probably do something more elegant with the flour + cornstarch thickening combination, based on one of the mother sauces, but the way I’ve described it here worked for me.

Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 pound roasted, skinned New Mexico hatch chiles or other New Mexico green chiles
  • 1 pound poblano peppers, charred and skinned
  • 2-3 tomatillos (about 1 pound), husks removed, roasted and skinned
  • 2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, or other fatty cut of pork
  • 1 – 1 1/2 pounds potatoes (about 6 small red potatoes), cubed
  • 3 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 3 cups water or chicken broth (add an extra tsp. or two of salt if you use water)
  • 1 tbsp. corn starch (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped

Instructions

1. Trim fat from pork, and cut into cubes (3/4 in. will do). Season with salt and pepper.

2. Brown the pork: Heat oil in dutch oven, or other heavy-bottomed pot. When it shimmers, add the pork cubes and brown on at least two sides, 5-7 minutes per side. It helps to do this in batches, so that you’re only browning as much pork as can line the bottom of the pot. You don’t want to be stacking the pork in multiple layers, or it could end up gray, not brown (ick). Remove pork from the pot.

3. Turn down heat and add onions and garlic to oil (you may want or need to drain off some of the pork fat here, depending on how into extra fat you are). Saute until onions are translucent, taking care not to burn the garlic. Add herbs and 1/2 tsp. salt, and cook for two more minutes, stirring. Add flour and stir again. Finally, add the peppers and tomatillos and saute for 2 minutes more.

4. Add the water and browned pork and cover pot with lid. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn down the heat to a low simmer, and cook for 45 minutes.

5. Add the cubed potatoes, and continue simmering for another 30-45 minutes, depending on your patience and level of hunger. Add cornstarch if needed for extra thickening.

6. Turn off the heat and add the cilantro. Taste, and add more salt if needed. By this time, the pork should be tender and pull apart easily, and the potatoes almost falling apart.

7. Serve garnished with cilantro, sour cream, lime wedges, and warm corn tortillas.

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The sun is setting before 7pm now, casting golden glows of Indian Summer over the fogless Twin Peaks. The past few weeks at the market and in the kitchen I’ve been desperately hanging on to the last fruits of summer: sweet corn, juicy heirloom tomatoes, and the final peaches and nectarines, no longer quite as sweet, and quickly molding in the warm, early autumn air that stuffs our kitchen. All of this adds up to more vegetable matter than we can reasonably eat in fresh form.

heirloom tomatoes

corn cob, pulped

It also means that in addition to fried and cheesed zucchini, we’ve eaten a lot of corn soup this summer. Or corn chowder, I suppose. See, it’s unclear what really distinguishes a chowder from a soup, especially when it comes to corn. I put cream or milk in other soups, but don’t call them chowders, and many corn chowder recipes seem not to call for the thickener that Wikipedia tells me is the mark of a chowder. What’s more confusing, Epicurious defines a chowder as “any thick, rich soup containing chunks of food,” but no one seems to have a recipe for any chowder other than corn or seafood.

corn chowder, variation 2

Corn chowder

I discovered this version of corn chowder last summer, when I picked up my cousin’s CSA box in the waning August light and found bounty of fingerling potatoes, fresh sweet corn, ripe heirloom tomatoes, and a bunch of basil.  What to do with all of this? Google, of course. Which led me to this New York Times recipe for corn chowder.

corn chowder with tomato, basil and lime

The original Times recipe called for much more corn than I had, and cherry tomatoes, not heirlooms. I’m sure it’s delicious their way as well. I’ve adapted it to fit a smaller amount of corn, different tomatoes, and to be a bit less fussy in ingredients. I’ve also made variations on this with a half-cup of cream and blending the soup base before adding half the corn, while leaving out the lime juice and basil, or adding an extra cup of zucchini to the mix, from all that surplus zucchini we had earlier in the summer. Corn soup is endlessly adaptable, but this is always my go-to flavor combination.

ingredients

  • 4 ears corn, shucked
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped finely
  • 3 cups water or broth (I use water with some extra salt to taste, but you can use broth if you prefer)
  • 1 pound waxy potatoes (red or Yukon Gold or fingerling are good), cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 2 medium-sized tomatoes, diced
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Crème fraîche or sour cream, for serving (optional).

instructions

1. Cut the corn off the cobs (Simply Recipes details a clever way to do this using a bundt pan). Squeeze the pulp out of the remaining cobs by running  the back of your knife along the cob.

2. Heat the butter (or olive oil for vegans) in a heavy saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, and saute until translucent. Add garlic after several minutes, being careful not to burn it. Add the potatoes, and saute for 2-3 minutes.

3. Add water and reserved corn cobs to pot, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, and leave for 15 minutes or so.

4. Add tomatoes and corn, and at this point, check to see if you’ll need more salt, and adjust accordingly. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Remove and discard cobs, and test for salt again. Turn off the heat, and add the basil and lime juice. Let soup cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve with creme fraiche or sour cream.

variation

Add 1 cup shredded zucchini when you add the potatoes in the saute phase. Reserve half the corn kernels when adding corn to mixture. After removing the cobs and turning off the heat, and before adding basil and lime juice, puree the  mixture. I use a stick blender for this step, but if you don’t have one, carefully transfer the hot soup to a normal blender and do it there, then transfer back to the pot. Turn heat back on to low, and add 1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half and the remaining corn kernels, and basil and lime juice. Let cool for 10-15 minutes, then serve garnished with basil (leave out the sour cream on this one).

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