Through the chilly days of winter (yes, there were a few chilly days this past weird winter) comfort food comes into its own. Pot roasts and cassoulet, roast chicken and turkey, dumplings and pastas, root vegetables and hearty soups: these are the meals that have provided Canadians with cold weather sustenance through the years.
Now that spring is here, we begin to transition to lighter fare in preparation for the salads and barbecues of summer. One of our favorite springtime meals… call it a transition meal… is soup with fresh bread and cheese. We have several favorite soup recipes, but at this time of year when colds and flu are so prevalent, our favoured concoction is garlic soup. We are convinced that the spicy version that we make wards off colds, flu, and other winter/spring maladies just as effectively as it wards of vampires. Even people who are not really big fans of garlic (poor souls) will enjoy this soup; we have served it to guests who had no idea it was garlic soup, even though they were sipping a broth with a whole head of garlic in it!
Another favorite is Borscht. Valerie specializes in this recipe, based loosely on the soups she remembers her Ukrainian grandmother making. It is thick, with large chunks of beets and vegetables and meat, and is always served with a large dollop of sour cream. This winter we enjoyed an evening at a Ukrainian New Year’s party (Malanka), but were shocked when the Borscht that was served was a thin pink broth with no chunks of anything… and no sour cream. I guess, as with so many traditional recipes, variation is the norm and there is no agreement on what the standard should be. (At the same dinner there was a heated argument on cabbage rolls: thick or thin, with meat or without, tight or loose.)
The best summer-time soup in our repertoire takes advantage of all the lovely local veggies at the Pelham Market, but can be a welcome treat at this time of year, using some imported produce along with winter vegetables and some frozen produce. It’s Soup au Pistou, the fragrant vegetable soup from the South of France.
1 litre of chicken stock (preferably home-made)
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves, peeled and cut in half
1 dried hot pepper, crumbled, or a teaspoon of hot pepper flakes
4 slices of day-old sourdough or country-style bread, crusts removed
Put the garlic cloves and the pepper into half of the chicken stock and simmer until very soft (about 20 minutes).
Meanwhile, tear the bread into chunks and immerse in cold water until it is soft and gooey. Squeeze the water out so that you are left with a paste. Pour the garlic and chicken stock into a food processor and process, adding the bread paste a bit at a time. When it is smooth and consistent, pour the mixture into a pot, add the remaining chicken stock, and heat. Season to taste and serve hot.
Soup au Pistou
¼ C olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 leeks, trimmed and minced
4 carrots in ¼ inch rounds
2 ribs of celery in ¼ inch pieces
2 potatoes, cubed (about ½ inch dice)
2 C navy beans (soaked overnight, drained, and rinsed)
12 C water
1 lb. frozen or canned tomatoes
2-3 young zucchini in ½ inch rounds
½ lb. green beans, cut into ½ inch pieces
½ lb. pasta… either small pieces, or broken up into small pieces
Pesto… garlic, basil, and olive oil paste available at food stores, or (better) home-made.
Heat the olive oil and add garlic, leeks, carrots, celery, and sauté until softened (7 minutes). Add potatoes and navy beans. Cover with water, add tomatoes, and simmer for about 40 minutes. Add the green beans, zucchini, and pasta and continue simmering until the pasta is cooked and
the vegetables tender… about 20 minutes.
Serve with a large dollop of pesto.