Monday, March 20, 2017

Put Some Spring into your Step... er, Soup
What’s cooking? Spring Vegetable Soup with Orzo

Yup. It’s here. At 5:28 this morning (that would be Central Daylight Time), Spring arrived. Certainly cause for some celebration. I know you want to put away your quilts and your sweaters, throw open your windows, and head out looking for pansies or lettuces or whatever it is you like to plant once the ground thaws.

Trouble is, the ground hasn’t really thawed in most places. And you’ll wish you had those quilts and sweaters available, at least for the next few weeks. Unless, of course, you live in Texas, where it actually is warm enough to plant the garden, but still not necessarily warm enough to put away the sweaters.

KG’s kitchen garden: lettuces and sorrel.
The KG’s kitchen garden: basil, tomatoes, arugula and pansies.

In the meantime, the Kitchen Goddess recommends... Spring Cleaning. Very satisfying and way more fun than doing your taxes. I was making Sticky Toffee Pudding for a St. Pat’s celebration this weekend and was chagrined to find that my self-rising flour carried a use-by date of August 27, 2016. I wasn’t sure how critical that window of opportunity was, so I checked on the web, where I noted that the flex-time was 4-6 months. Let’s see...[counting on fingers] Sept-Oct-.... Well, it appears that I reached almost the 7-month mark. Still, in a desperate effort to avoid that last-minute run to the store, I thought there must be a way to decide if it was really no good.

Then I remembered that the difference between self-rising flour and all-purpose flour is salt and baking powder. Well, I reasoned, if there’s baking powder in the stuff, I can tell by putting some in water if it’s got any life to it. You do remember, don’t you, that baking powder will bubble in water if it’s still working? So I threw a little into a small bowl of water. Nothing. Maybe I didn’t put enough in, I thought. So I put a little more in. Nothing. I poured the whole mess out and tried again. Nothing. Folks, that self-rising flour was as dead as the mice my cat used to bring me. So into the trash it went and off to the store went the KG.

Which is why I spent a bit of time this morning checking other use-by dates in my pantry. I found Melba crackers that should have passed on last March, cake flour in the same condition as my self-rising stuff, and microwaveable popcorn with a best-buy date of September 21, 2015. Yikes – how did I miss that last year?! And others I don’t dare tell you about for fear that you’ll get the wrong idea about me. But it’s a great way to clear some of the shelf space in your pantry. Tomorrow I’ll be giving my spices their annual sniff test.

When you’ve finished that little survey, you’ll be feeling noble and energetic. What to do with that energy? Why, cook! (Notice the difference the comma makes in that little sentence – it’s a totally opposite sentiment without the comma. The Kitchen Goddess loves the nuances of good punctuation.)

For you, I have just the dish. Yes, it’s early for most veggies. But you can pretend. And some – like sugar snap peas – are now in stores, fresh! So even though most of what’s in the soup is fairly standard, it doesn’t cook for so long that the veggies mush up; those sugar snap peas still have a bit of crunch. The real key is the basil and arugula, which give this delightful soup all the freshness of spring, without sacrificing the warmth you need for a while. See how clear the broth looks? Perhaps because the orzo tends to maintain a firmness without dissolving in the way that rice or some other pastas might. And once you get the veggies chopped, it takes very little cooking time. Add some orange slices – it’s still citrus season! – and some French bread with melted cheese, and the meal is complete.

Welcome spring!

Spring Vegetable Soup with Orzo

Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine, March 2017.

 Serves 4.

Somehow, I left out the peas and avocado. But they’re in the soup.
¾ cup orzo
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium carrot, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 small turnip, cut into ⅜-inch dice
1 small sweet onion, cut into ⅜-inch dice
1 small fennel bulb, cut into ⅜-inch dice
1 celery rib, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces sugar snap peas, sliced diagonally into ½-inch pieces
6 cups good quality chicken stock
½ cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
½ cup frozen peas
1 small avocado, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
2 ounces arugula (about 2 cups packed), thinly ribboned
½ cup basil leaves, thinly ribboned

In a medium saucepan, boil the orzo in lightly salted water until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside, covered.

In a heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the carrot, turnip, onion, fennel, celery, and garlic, along with ½ teaspoon of salt. Sauté the vegetables for 6-7 minutes, and stir in the sugar snap peas for another minute.

Add the chicken stock, and bring the soup to a simmer. Stir in the tomatoes and frozen peas, and return the soup to a simmer. Cook partially covered over medium-low heat, for 12-15 minutes, or until the vegetables are fork-tender. Stir in the avocado, and continue to cook the soup for another 3-4 minutes. Stir in the orzo, and adjust seasoning with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place a generous portion of basil and arugula into each bowl, and ladle the soup on top. Stir and serve hot.

If you want to make the soup ahead of time, follow directions down to just before the avocado. (The orzo tends to clump a bit if it sits on its own for long, so you may want to break it up before stirring it into the soup. Or you can cook the orzo at the last minute when you’re getting ready to serve.) When you’re ready to serve, reheat the soup, add the avocado, and proceed from that point in the directions above.

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