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Sunday, January 16, 2011

SOUP + polenta

My last two cooking projects have been soup oriented and I think they have been interesting/instructive enough to post about. Also cold weather and soup seem to go together well.

Let's start with a general method:

1) Take an onion and some garlic and cut them up. They will turn to mush anyway so you don't need to obsess over the size of the pieces. Also if you are carnivorous cut some meat (of your choice) up into small pieces.
2) Fry these up in oil until they start to brown. You want some bits to stick to the pan, they'll add to the broth (and also make it possible to make soup without going through all the fuss of making stock or alternatively the expense/fuss of finding a prefabricated stock that is both delicious and worth the money).
3) Fill your pot with water (or stock from some source, or just add a bouillon cube) and bring everything to a boil. Then you turn the heat down and wait. At this stage you should also put in seasonings: herbs, salt&pepper, red pepper pods, bay leaves and the like.
4) Put in slow cooking veggies: things to go here would be potatoes (these could also go a little later as they will thicken the broth considerably as the soup boils), carrots, parsnips, turnips and their ilk.
5) Gradually add more of your veggies, keeping an eye on their cooking times. Red peppers go before eggplant which goes before cabbage and green beans. Mushrooms cook quickly but also maintain some of their shape when cooked over long periods of time.
6) Adjust seasonings. If you want to put wine in now's the time. Keep going until the broth has a good amount of flavour and is well reduced. If you go too far you can put more water in.


That is the basic template. The two details I did are the following:
Beef with potatoes, eggplant (which turned to glop), peppers, cabbage, madeira wine (a good cooking wine because it keeps indefinitely, it's also delicious by itself).
Pork with carrots, mushrooms, lots of cabbage, vinegar, and polenta added at the last minute. The vinegar and the polenta are inspired by romanian food that I had last winter when I went there on a lark for J-term.

Polenta is cornmeal mush that's been pressed into a cake. It's common in southern Europe and I had bought some, fried some of it and then put my trusty sausage, onion, mushroom concoction on top. It's delicious, relatively inexpensive and very filling. I had some left and decided to put it in this soup.

Final note: this sort of cooking takes a while, but you can also do other things while the pot's on the stove. Just don't forget about it because then you might end up boiling out all the water and that's very bad. Have fun with what you put in. This sort of cooking is very much about using what you have to make something interesting.

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