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calendar   Monday - January 31, 2011

Eat While You Can

I read an article in the Telegraph that suggested that the political turmoil across northern Africa was driven by empty stomachs. With the surge in the commodity price of staple foods this year, the rise in the price of corn from the American silliness to turn grain into gasahol, the crop failures in Russia and several keys areas of the Middle East and Asia, plus the rising demand for actual protein in the newly middle class China, food prices are up everywhere. When prices rise, the poor suffer first. And, outside of Haiti, you can’t get much poorer than the regular people along the southern coast of the Mediterranean. Thus the article, which is partly conjectural, wonders if this is a sign of things to come. Of course the author throws in Global Warming, and I’m rather glad that the rioting Tunisians and Egyptians weren’t also making demands for GameBoys, Nintendos, and another Miley Cyrus tour, or else the article would have been all about Bread And Circuses, Round II. It’s something to think about.



But while you’re thinking, let’s have something to eat. Here’s a very simple yet elegant meal to chase away winter’s chill.  You can impress your guests and yourself and call it crème vichyssoise glacée chaud avec rondes de jambon, gruyere, et les asperges, or you can call it hot farmer’s soup with nibblies. It’s the same either way, and it tastes great. The French eat this soup cold. Good for them, and maybe you’ll want to try it that way if you make it in July. Right now it’s 23°F outside, so I’ll be damned if I’m serving cold anything.

So let’s get to it.

Creamy Farmer’s Soup, aka Cream of Potato Leek Soup, aka crème vichyssoise glacée, served hot (chaud)

1 stick unsalted butter (8 tbs)
12 leeks
6 medium clean skinned potatoes - Yukon Golds are perfect - skinned, halved, and cut into thin slices, about 1/8”
6 cups of chicken stock
1 large yellow onion, skinned and roughly chopped
1 pint heavy cream
2 tbs salt
fresh ground pepper

Take out a whole stick of sweet butter and let it warm up. Cut the root end off the leaks but try to save as much of the white stalk as you can. Cut off the green leaves leaving just the white stems with just a small amount of the green transitional area. Halve these stems lengthwise, then slice them into 1/4” pieces. Rinse thoroughly under cold water in a colander, breaking the chunks apart. Leeks are often dirty, so rinse them well. Let drain.

Melt half a stick of butter in a large soup pot. Add the drained chopped leaks and the chopped onion. Under medium high heat, stir them around for about 9 minutes until the leeks have started to soften. Do not have the heat so high that the leeks or the onions start to brown. They will steam, and the aroma is heavenly. Pour in the chicken stock and add the potato slices. Add the salt and a generous grind of black pepper. Bring to a boil while stirring, then reduce to a strong simmer and let cook for half an hour. Now go make the nibblies.

Nibblies, aka rondes de jambon, gruyere, et les asperges

1 long loaf of fresh French or Italian bread, or 2 shorter loaves
several (4 or so) 1/4” slabs of tasty ham from the deli, or slices off of a nice bone in ham, brought up to room temperature
12 stalks of asparagus
8 slices of Swiss cheese, or actual Gruyere

Clean the asparagus and start it steaming or boiling. You want to remove it just before it’s done.

Cut the bread into 3/8” slices. Take a knife and lightly butter one side of each slice. Try to get 2 dozen slices from each loaf, but don’t fret about it. You want to be able to serve 6-8 of these to each person.

Put all the slices on a cookie sheet, butter side up. Set the oven to medium, about 350-375°F. Cut the ham and the cheese into bread slice sized pieces. Put a ham piece on each bread slice. Drain off the asparagus and blot it dry with a kitchen towel, and let it cool a little. Cut the asparagus into short pieces, and put 2 of them onto each ham slice. Swiss cheese on top, then into the oven for 5 minutes to melt and just lightly brown the cheese.

Now let’s get back to the soup. When half an hour is up, taste the soup and add a little more salt if necessary. The soup is done when the potato slices break easily against the side of the pot when pressed with a wooden spoon. Turn off the heat. Get out a medium saucepan (3 qt size) and your blender. Add a cup of heavy cream to the soup and stir it in. Add a bit more. Call it a cup and a half total. Ladle the hot soup into your blender, getting the bowl about 3/4 full. Put the cover on and set the speed to maximum. 15 seconds of blending will create a smooth creamy mixture. Pour it into the 3 quart saucepan, refill the blender with the raw soup, and repeat. Repeat until all the soup has been processed.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Pull the jambon nibblies tray from the oven and give it a quick grind of black pepper. Put half a dozen on each plate and serve.

There ya go. A light dinner for 3 or 4, start to finish, in less than 45 minutes. Start off by pouring your guests a nice large glass of a crisp fruity white wine, maybe have some raw veg with a gently seasoned dip on the side ... there will be no leftovers, but there is enough here for seconds for most. Plus, making more of the nibblies is dead easy. The aromas of the steaming leeks and onions will have everyone drooling, and then when the ham and cheese start to wake up in your oven ... let’s just say this meal usually never makes it to the dining table.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 01/31/2011 at 06:23 PM   
Filed Under: • Fine-Dining •  
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