It seems to be the season for soups. First I made a peanut sweet potato soup, and then a mere week later I found myself inspired when thumbing through a supermarket sponsored cooking magazine. You never know when or WHERE you’ll find an intriguing recipe… I found not one but several recipes that I decided to incorporate into the menu this week. The soup was the star of the show. I had feared it would be plain and watery, but I reduced the amount of broth called for (converting it to be vegetarian, of course), omitted the suggested celery (icky), and added some fresh tomatoes (the last of the harvest, sniff) for added oomph. The polenta cubes were just plain genius, adding flavor, texture and interest to the soup, the chard gave it extra flavor AND nutritional value, and all in all it was a perfect soup for a cool fall night. Unfortunately the night I happened to make it was a warm fall night, but such is life in sunny northern California.
As an accompaniment, I made the intriguing recipe for Spaghetti Twirl Bites found on the same page. These clever little bites involve half a package of boiled spaghetti mixed with 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, crushed red pepper flakes and two eggs. You mix them all up together, then spray two mini muffin tins with nonstick coking spray and twirl little spaghetti “muffins” into each tin. A little time intensive, but the results are tasty and interesting. It would be a good way to use up some leftover cooked spaghetti, and fun for parties.
Of course dinner wouldn’t be complete without dessert, and so I threw together one of Carol Fenster’s basic recipe for fruit pizza. To change it up a bit, I altered the toppings drastically, following a recipe for “Sweet Grape Focaccia” found in my Nob Hill magazine. I sprinkled the dough with brown sugar mixed with chai spices, and then topped it with fresh, halved grapes and pecans, sprinkled it with some more of my “chai sugar” and then baked it for 25 minutes at 350. It was very good, but needs some tweaking, so I am not ready to post the recipe just yet. If you’re wondering… something unfortunate happened to the toppings when I, um, dropped half of the pizza in the cat’s water dish (not good for desserts- who would have thought) so, um, these photos have some fresh grapes placed on the sad little spots where grape used to be. And yes, I’m a little bitter about the whole sordid affair. (I threw away the half that snuggled the water dish. Too bad cats don’t care for sweet chai pizza.)
Savory Chard and Polenta Soup
5 cups vegetable stock (or no-chicken broth: I used Edward and Sons bullion)
1/4 cup polenta meal
2 tbsp parmigiano-teggiano cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, halved
1 large fennel bulb, sliced and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 cups chopped assorted mushrooms
1 28 oz. can tomatoes
1 cup or so fresh chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp of basil, 1 1/2 tsp marjoram
1 parmigiano-teggiano cheese rind OR thick slice of cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste
3 cups chopped red chard
balsamic vinegar, to taste
Lay wax or parchment paper on a baking sheet or square plate.
Put 1 cup of stock into a pan and bring it to a boil, gradually stirring in polenta. Let it thicken and simmer until you have a good consistency. Remove from heat and stir in shredded cheese, mixing thoroughly. Then spread your polenta on the wax sheet evenly, creating a thin polenta “cake”. Reserve and let cool.
Meanwhile, heat you oil in a large soup pot. Throw in the onion, fennel, and garlic and cook for 5 minutes or so. Then add your carrots, mushrooms and cook for another 5 to ten minutes. Stir as needed. When onion look translucent and lightly browned, add your broth, tomatoes, herbs and cheese rind or cheese slice.
After bringing to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Don’t forget to season with salt and pepper! Next, cut your polenta into cubes and put them in the soup, being careful not to break them, and simmer for another 5 minutes or so.
To serve, drip a little balsamic vinegar into each individual serving soup. Yummy!
DH, who hates chard, ate it with gusto and pronounced it “very good.” Whahahahah.