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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Silky Shallot Soup with Crispy Pancetta

For the last few years, I have been engaged in a wonderful relationship with shallots. I've found their sweet, sophisticated flavor has improved my cooking immensely, and they have, in many cases, replaced onions in my kitchen.

When food52 recently chose onion or garlic soup for one of its contests, I considered French onion soup, a garlic chorizo soup (need to pursue this idea one day), but then, it became apparent that I needed to create a shallot soup. It's unique -- certainly not something I've seen in cookbooks or restaurant menus -- and it fits my cooking sensibility right now.

This light-bodied soup contrasts the delicate profile of shallots with earthy rosemary and a touch of cream for a velvety texture. Top with pancetta and frizzled shallots for a burst of salty crispness and to echo the soup's essence. The end result is a subtle, yet intensely flavored dish.

Serve this silky brew as a first course for beef or chicken dishes, or as a main course with the obligatory crisp green salad and crusty bread.

Note: this recipe was a food52 Editors' Pick.

Silky Shallot Soup with Crispy Pancetta

Serves 4-6
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
5 cups shallots, thinly sliced, plus a half cup
Salt, pepper and crushed red pepper, to taste
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon rosemary, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
20 ounces good quality chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
5 1/2 inch slices pancetta, cubed

Heat olive oil and butter in a large soup pot over medium, add 5 cups shallots, sweat until soft for several minutes.

Add salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and bay leaf. Cook until golden and beginning to caramelize, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and rosemary.

After another five minutes or so, deglaze with wine and reduce. Add chicken stock and simmer for at least 10 minutes, longer if you have the time. Remove bay leaf.

Meantime, saute pancetta in a stainless steel pan until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add remaining 1/2 cup shallots to pancetta fat and cook until crisp. Place on paper towels.

Remove soup from heat and puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor. Stir in cream and serve, topped with pancetta and frizzled shallots.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gingery Turkey Meatball Soup with Spinach and Tomatoes

When it's cold and blustery, as it is just about all over the country these days, I head to the kitchen to fire up a big pot of soup. Warming, soothing and comforting, a steamy bowl of soup eases the indignity of winter's grey, sodden days.

This rendition blends the concept of Italian Wedding Soup with Asian flavors such as ginger, sesame oil and spicy sriracha, to create an entirely new dish. The result is an assertive, vegetable laden broth with a burst of citrus and a streak of heat, studded with savory, tender meatballs. 

Gingery Turkey Meatball Soup with Spinach and Tomatoes
Serves 8-10

For Soup:
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 large carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 heaping cup of shallots, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
Sea or Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon sriracha
1/4 cup fresh basil, minced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
64 ounces good quality chicken stock
Zest of half a lime
Zest of half a lemon, preferably Meyer
5 oz. baby spinach leaves
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half

For Meatballs:
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon sriracha
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
Zest of half a lime
Zest of half a lemon, preferably Meyer
3/4 cup bread crumbs (I used whole wheat)
1.25 pounds ground turkey

1/2 pound ditalini, cooked al dente

For soup: In a large stock or soup pot, saute celery and carrots over medium heat for about five minutes. Add shallots and continue to cook, until vegetables begin to soften. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add garlic, stirring often.

After another 10 minutes, add ginger, sriracha, basil and cilantro. Combine well and add stock. Allow to simmer while you prepare meatballs. 

For meatballs: In a large bowl, add ginger, garlic, shallot, sriracha, sesame oil, basil, cilantro, lime and lemon zest. Combine well, then stir in breadcrumbs. Add ground turkey and fold until combined. Shape into 1.5-inch meatballs and drop into soup.

Gently stir in tomatoes and spinach and let soup to simmer until meatballs are cooked, about 20 minutes. Just before serving, add lime and lemon zest. 

In the meantime, cook ditalini in boiling salted water until very al dente, usually at least three minutes less then the package calls for, and add a small handful of pasta to each bowl when serving. Store leftover pasta separately from soup to preserve texture.