Tomorrow I go to Maine to visit Kurt and Emily, she of the biscotti pictured above and the delicious fresh-ginger ginger cookies sent for the holidays (no photo but trust me on this one). The last time I saw them in Maine was June 2010 for their wedding, and the last time I saw them in California was this past fall for my wedding, so, y’know, it’ll be nice to just hang around and talk about other things like … I don’t know … food.
Actually, we’ll probably talk about food most of the time. And the rest of the time we’ll be cooking it. I always learn something new when I cook with them — Kurt got me into red cabbage one February, and I feel foolish I’d never really tried it before I love it so much now — and I always leave filled with inspiration or at least a new way of looking at things. I forget that cooking with the right people is one of my favorite past-times. Too often I am solitary in the kitchen – or with a sous-chef to chop the garlic – gulping down water after a run and throwing the quinoa on to boil before jumping the shower. Vegetables are stir-fried quickly, a glass of wine is poured while the silverware is assembled, and dinner is served. We – or, to be honest, me – often see food as fuel around here, which it is, no doubt about it. I can be a terribly utilitarian cook. But given the opportunity I also like to slow it down and talk and experiment along the way.
So when I say I am very much looking forward to my week in New England that would probably be a bit of an understatement. I cannot wait, in fact. My bag is mostly packed, my books decided upon, my ipod fully charged. I’m looking forward to frigid mornings, the deep blue of the river across the street to accompany me on my walks, a new cat to meet and snuggle with, early bedtimes, an exhale into the quiet and peace that I always find there. There isn’t much planned other than to hang out (I hope this will help my poor legs to rest and relax themselves after all the prodding they’ve endured lately (chiropractors are fantastic but, ouch)) and, yes, to cook. Maybe some ice skating, too, if I’m lucky.
I hope to write a bit from there; New England has a special hold on my heart and it’s been far too long since I’ve made my way ‘cross country. But before I set off to Boston in the morning I wanted to leave a recipe for a soup I made the other night. I meant to write about it more poetically but I just got back from a swim and my mind, like my muscles, is all loose and warm and not so good for prettily stringing words together. But I will tell you that it was the exact thing I needed last night after an amazing, hard(ish) yoga class stretched my hamstrings to their edge and all I wanted after was shower, vegetables, sleep.
I started making a chard and white bean soup this fall with the last of the tomatoes, and I’ve moved on into winter with a variation of such but with the main ingredient being cabbage. My husband jokes that cabbage has replaced cauliflower as my favorite vegetable lately – and indeed they are of the same family – but I scoff at that. Cauliflower and I are tried and true, forever and ever amen. Still, I do love my cabbage. I’ve been stir-frying heads of green cabbage from Richard, who grows gorgeous things at Firme Farms, with a chopped yellow onion and lots of garlic and white beans plus some thyme or basil (dried) if I feel like it. Then I make a pot of polenta and pile it all on top and it is just! the perfect winter meal. (And come to think of it, perhaps inspired by my brother). The soup is very similar, but with more vegetables and in soup-like form; there’s onion, garlic, carrots, celery, white beans, cabbage, and a little chard, too. It’s nourishing and healthy and brothy and salty and full of good vegetables and damn, if I hadn’t eaten the last bowl for lunch I’d be slurping up some right now …
This means, of course, that I must make it for my Mainers when I see them. What kind of guest would I be if I didn’t cook dinner a few times? The rest of it hopefully we’ll cook together, with that brilliant view of the sunset outside the kitchen window to keep us company.
Catch you on the east side.
Cabbage, Chard, and White Bean Soup
This is a versatile soup, meaning you could also add chopped potatoes or even little pastas to make it more hearty. Or try substituting chickpeas for the white beans. The main thing is to cook down the chard and cabbage, which makes for a flavorful, silky soup with a bit of bite from the beans. Feel free to add more water and seasonings if you like a brothier soup.
Makes 4 servings.
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 pieces celery, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 bunch of chard, washed and chopped (roll lengthwise then chop from the top down and cut those pieces in half)
1 medium-size green cabbage, sliced into long, 1/4-inch-thick pieces
3 cups vegetable broth
3 cups water
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
In a large, heavy bottom soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium flame. Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, reducing the heat and simmering until the vegetables are soft. Add the carrot and celery and cook another 5 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, water, and chard and bring to a boil, add the tomato paste and stir well to combine, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add the cabbage and a little more water if necessary, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until very soft. Add the white beans and test the vegetables to make sure they are soft. Add the thyme, salt and pepper, adding more to taste.