fridge clean-out minestrone

autumn, dinner, lunch, main dishes, soups, spring, vegan, vegetarian, winterRachel SandersComment
fridge clean-out minestrone | field + forest

One of my New Year's resolutions from like, 2012, was to get better at using up all of the odds and ends that accumulate in our fridge. For the most part, we've failed. We still fill up a little compost container with past-their-prime veggies/fruits/cheese ends/what have you every month or so. 

But, had I known the recipe for building this skill was one part Richard saying "I want soup" and two parts us being too lazy to travel 2.5 blocks to the store, we might have cracked this fridge clean-out thing a loooong time ago.

I feel funny sometimes when I share these kinds of recipes with you because they aren't flashy or profound or beautifully styled. This is base-level practicality at its core. But geez, there is so much gorgeous food inspiration among the cookbooks and the Instagram and the Pinterest that I sometimes really need someone to slap me across the face and say "put down the pea shoots and make some goddamn food with what you goddamn have."

(I picture this someone as one (or both) of my economical depression-era grandmas, which makes me feel happy in spite of the slapping.)

I'm guessing your fridge looks different than my fridge, and since this is about making the most of what's available to you in the moment, you shouldn't feel constrained by amounts of things or by particular ingredients. An onion, some olive oil, an acid, and maybe a little meat will be enough to carry any veggies pretty far along, and you can even get away with using water if you don't have veggie/chicken/beef broth hanging out somewhere. This soup will not be French Laundry soup by any means but it will be inexpensive and healthy and nourishing and soul-satisfying and delicious.

Pretty much everything we need.

fridge clean-out minestrone | field + forest
fridge clean-out minestrone | field + forest

olive oil
2 leeks, halved lengthwise, cut into 1/4-inch slices, and rinsed (white and light green parts only), OR 1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch carrots (~5 carrots) (alternately, use parsnips/sweet potatoes/what have you), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 cloves garlic, chopped
a few sprigs of thyme or 1 of rosemary
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups broth, water, or a mixture of broth and water
1 can chickpeas (alternately, use cannellini beans or other canned/cooked beans), drained and rinsed
1 cup ditalini (or other small) pasta (alternately, break up long pasta into small pieces)
1/2 bunch red Russian kale, chopped (alternately, other robust greens, chopped, or whole leaf baby spinach)
black pepper
zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
(optional: cooked sausage, bacon, or shredded cooked chicken)

To serve: shaved parmesan, red pepper flakes, olive oil

In a pot set over medium-low heat, melt a small knob of butter (a tablespoon or so) and add a quick swig of olive oil. Add the leeks (or chopped onion) along with a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring frequently, until they become soft and translucent. Add the carrots and garlic and cook for 5  (adding more oil or butter if the vegetables are sticking to the pot) until the carrots are just beginning to soften.

Turn the heat up to medium and add the wine. Let the wine cook down until the pan is almost dry again, then add the water or broth. Bring the pot to a boil, add the chickpeas and pasta, and cook for 5 minutes. Lower the heat to maintain a brisk simmer, add the kale, and continue to cook until the greens have softened and the pasta is al dente. (If you are including leftover cooked meat in your soup, add it along with the kale.)

Taste the soup and season with more salt, a little pepper, and the lemon zest and juice. Serve immediately, with shaved parmesan, red pepper flakes, and olive oil on the side.

fridge clean-out minestrone | field + forest

yellow tomato and beet gazpacho

dinner, lunch, soups, summer, vegan, vegetarianFieldandForestComment
yellow tomato and beet gazpacho | field + forest

I still remember my first gazpacho, the way a person remembers her first crush or her first pair of really good jeans. I ate my inaugural bowl during the summer after my 15th birthday, during a brief foray into Ashland, Oregon, while en route to Canada. That was a trip of firsts. It was my first time reading a book written outside of the country in the exact edition in which it had been published (so that I learned about things like "ice lollies" and "servos" and "kelpies"), which I read while listening to the first cool CD I had ever purchased for myself, while eating what would be my first of many bowls of fresh blueberries with softly whipped cream (I don't believe I had ever before eaten a blueberry outside of a pancake). We were at a café in Ashland having an early dinner after a many-hour drive from California, when I ordered gazpacho. I don't know why I ordered it - maybe I was trying to seem worldly and fancy while serving my role as the token teenager on a family vacation - but I did. It came in a large, glass bowl set on a plate, with a sprig of parsley in the center, looking very much like tomato-based vegetable soup. I took a bite, and was shocked to find that it was COLD.

Cold soup held the same mystifying power over my 15 year-old self that molecular gastronomy holds over the modern day foodie, where you pay an exorbitant amount of money to eat something that might look like a gumdrop, but tastes like a cheeseburger. The visual didn't match the experience. It was weird and borderline uncomfortable. I somewhat suspected that I had ordered soup and had instead been brought a large bowl of salsa, minus the chips. But the strange cold soup was somehow also incredibly flavorful and delicious and refreshing, and the combination of my waning discontent and reluctant, but growing delight made it nearly impossible to stop eating. No bowl of soup had ever been so INTERESTING.

Please now understand that I have been trying desperately to create a gazpacho without ascribing all of the buildup and feelings that first bowl impressed in my brain. And suffice it to say that many recipes simply haven't cut it. But I have been thinking about a yellow gazpacho for weeks this summer, one different enough from my first that there couldn't be a direct comparison, and this recipe was the end result. It is fantastic, and stands up to the pressures of my first bowl quite gracefully, while earning itself its own new, fond memories. I think that it owes much of its greatness to the quality of the ingredients and its simplicity. Each ingredient sings, and each is heard.

Is it the kind of fantastic that one accredits to a crush or great pair of jeans?

I'll leave that decision up to you, but for me? I think it might be exactly that.

Yellow Tomato and Beet Gazpacho
Yield: approximately 7-8 cups, serves 4-6

Part of the goal here is to preserve the brilliantly yellow color of the beets and the tomatoes. Using aji amarillo (yellow pepper) paste or a yellow chile will add heat without compromising color. The white balsamic, too, will preserve the color while still adding the acidity necessary in making a good gazpacho. While changing these ingredients for a green chile or darker vinegar will slightly desaturate the yellow soup, the flavor will nonetheless remain extraordinarily bright and complex.

2 pounds yellow beets, roasted until quite tender, cooled, and peeled (I roast the beets wrapped in foil at 425˚F for 30-60 mins)
2 pounds yellow tomatoes
1 medium-large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped (about 1 pound)
2 cloves garlic
1-2 tablespoons aji amarillo paste, OR 1 medium-hot yellow chile, OR 1 jalapeño pepper
salt, to taste
white balsamic vinegar, to taste
2-3 cups water, divided

To garnish (optional): Cherry tomatoes, olive oil, Piment d'Espelette, microgreens

Equipment: A stand-up blender A sieve or fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl

Cut the beets into 1-inch chunks, and place in the carafe of a stand-up blender. Cut the tomatoes in half, and squeeze out the seeds and liquid ("tomato water") into the sieve or strainer over the bowl. Add the tomato halves to the blender with the beets. Sharply rap the edge of the sieve to help any remaining liquid from the tomato seeds drain into the bowl, then add the liquid in the bowl to the blender. Discard the tomato seeds (or give them to someone you know with chickens!).

Add the cucumber to the blender, along with the garlic, aji amarillo purée, and a large pinch of salt. Add a splash (about 2 teaspoons) of white balsamic vinegar. Pour in 1 cup of water, and blend on low speed until roughly puréed (add 1/2 cup additional water if needed to help the mixture blend). Increase the speed to high, and blend for about 5 minutes to further purée the soup (if you have a Vitamix, blend at between 6-8 on variable speed, keeping a close eye on the soup to make sure it doesn't begin to heat up and cook itself). How much your soup is puréed is up to you; as you can see, mine still has a little bit of texture, which I like, but feel free to blitz the hell out of your soup if that's your preference.

Once the mixture is puréed, add additional water if necessary until your desired soup consistency is reached (I like my soup not too thick and not too thin - if I brush the surface of the soup with a spoon, I can barely see the path the spoon made, and the path fades after a few seconds). Chill the soup for at least two hours, and up to overnight.

Before serving the soup, taste and add additional salt and white balsamic vinegar if necessary. Serve garnished with cherry tomatoes, olive oil, piment d'espelette, and microgreens.

Other ideas for garnishes: chopped, roasted yellow or chiogga beets; diced avocado; finely chopped herbs such as parsley and basil.

roasted vegetable soup with brown butter and sage

autumn, soups, vegetarian, winterFieldandForestComment

I am a soup person 365 days out of the year, but if I had to limit my intake to one season, it would be winter. There is a place in my heart that goes soft for homely cabbages and cauliflower, and especially so for squash. While summer vegetables like tomatoes tend to play a harmonic role in soup, with a constant, identifiable presence, winter vegetables are melodic and subtle and infinitely supportive of complex flavors.  They can be gently nudged towards sweetness, or given immense savory depth.  I especially love swirling bright green, herby oils into creamy squash soups, a crucial addition to help stave off my longing for spring.

The following recipe is based on the classic flavor trio of butternut squash, browned butter, and sage, but the soup itself is basic enough that it can be drastically altered by the garnishes and flavorings.  I've included a few ideas below, and I would love to hear the ways in which you choose to enjoy this soup yourself.  But if I may offer a suggestion, I think you should make the sage breadcrumbs regardless of whether you plan to use them on the soup.  They keep for weeks, though they probably won't last very long since, if you're like me, you'll want to sprinkle them over everything.

Roasted Vegetable Soup with Browned Butter and Sage
serves 4-6 as a starter

1 butternut squash (weighing about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into large (1 1/2-inch) chunks
4 small parsnips, peeled, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 cauliflower, cut into florets
olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
2 cups sliced leeks (roughly 2 medium leeks; once sliced, rinse thoroughly to remove any grit, then drain before using)
lemon juice, to taste
salt, to taste

For the garnish:
A small knob of butter (1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons)
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage + 12 small fresh sage leaves
osher salt

Preheat the oven to 400˚F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Place the butternut squash and parsnips together on one baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil.  Place the cauliflower florets on the second baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil.  Put both baking sheets in the preheated oven, and roast, turning occasionally, until the vegetables are fork tender and beginning to turn golden brown (20-30 minutes).

Meanwhile, heat the 3 tablespoons of butter in a large pot over medium-low heat, and add the onions and leeks.  Cook slowly, stirring frequently, until the onions and leeks are soft, translucent, and taste mellow and sweet.  Add the butternut squash, parsnips, and half of the roasted cauliflower (reserve the rest) to the onions and leeks, plus a pinch of salt, and pour in enough cold water to just cover the vegetables.  Bring to a simmer, and cook for about 10-15 minutes to further soften the vegetables.

Once the vegetables are soft, turn off the heat and purée the soup using a stand blender or immersion blender.  Add additional water if necessary to create a soupier consistency, and season to taste with lemon juice and salt (you should not be able to taste the lemon juice, but it will brighten and heighten the flavors of the soup, as will the salt).  Divide soup among bowls.  Garnish with the sage breadcrumbs, reserved cauliflower, and fried sage leaves, and serve immediately.

For the sage breadcrumbs: heat most of the butter in a small frying pan over medium heat, and add breadcrumbs.  Cook, stirring frequently, until breadcrumbs color and begin to turn golden brown.  Scoot the breadcrumbs over to 1 side of the pan, add a small pat of butter to the empty space, and add the chopped sage leaves.  Let fry in the butter for a minute, then mix them into the breadcrumbs.  Season with a good pinch of salt, and remove to a dish to stop the cooking.  The breadcrumbs may be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

For the fried sage leaves and browned butter: heat butter in a small frying pan over medium heat.  Cook for a few minutes, paying attention when the butter stops foaming and begins to brown.  Keep cooking for a few more minutes until the butter approaches a golden brown color, then add the sage leaves.  Fry the sage leaves in the butter until they stiffen and crisp, but are still a bit green (they will darken a little).  Remove leaves to a towel or paper towel lined plate, and continue to cook butter until it reaches an amber color.  Immediately take butter off of the heat, and remove to a dish to stop the cooking.  The sage leaves and butter may be made a few hours in advance; gently reheat the butter on the stove or in a microwave before using it to garnish the soup.

Other ideas for garnishes/additions: Roasted chickpeas, yogurt, and harissa Toasted pepitas, salsa verde, and crema Toasted walnuts, fried sage, and crumbled goat cheese