I am writing this on the fourth straight day of firestorms that are ravaging our beautiful countryside and towns of Northern California. The destruction has been massive and swift, leaving behind entire communities stripped of home, employment, everything. Our hearts are heavy as we do what we can, donate food, volunteer, open our homes...none of it seems like enough or anything really. In the meantime we also go about our own daily lives thirty miles to the south of the flames, cook dinner, exercise (indoors), run errands. It seems a bit surreal.
So I decided to make some soup. It's either a soup or a bath that cures most of my mid-week ailments, and I didn't have any good magazines to read in the tub so soup it was. My fridge was filled with an indian summer mash-up of produce - tomatoes, collards, zucchini, eggplant, leeks - along with my favorite chicken bone broth and some whole grain pasta. The best thing about these sorts of soups is that anything and everything can go in the pot. Each batch is different and unique and reminds you of just that very moment.
What I did differently this day was to prepare the vegetables separately, intensifying their own individual flavors, before throwing them all together. For the zucs and eggplants this meant chopping and roasting, tossed together with olive oil, salt and dried oregano. I started roasting the eggplant first and threw the squash in after about ten minutes.
As for the collards, I always have to remind myself of how tough these buggers are. They need some serious cooking to release their silkiness. So I removed the stems and blanched them in salty boiling water for at least ten minutes. After draining I sliced them into thin ribbons to be added to the soup at the last minute. (PS by this point I was boiling the pasta. Once cooked it is also added last minute to the soup.)
Time to build the flavors. Leeks go in the pot. Tomatoes in the pot. Cook it down. This has always been my number one beef with soup recipes. Either they have you throw the vegetables raw right in to the water or stock (?!!), or they have you just barely warm them before adding the liquid. I say down with bland soup! Why would it not get the same treatment we give to all of our dishes? A little caramelization, a little browning, it all goes a long was toward building flavor and gaining depth. Dammit!
Once the leeks and tomatoes are properly cooked, soft and lightly caramelized, I deglaze with the stock. After it all comes up to temp finishing the soup is as easy as adding in the roasted vegetables, the sliced blanched collards, and the cooked pasta. Adjust the flavors by adding salt, chile flake, etc. I usually top with a swirl of olive oil, or pesto of some sort if you have it around. And of course crusty bread.
So this week my soup was prepared with a little prayer. For all of the communities up to the north, may you find some measure of peace this week. Whether it come in the form of a good night's sleep, the kindness of a stranger, or a bowl of warm soup.