SWEET’NING UP THE CHILI – BUT NOT TOO MUCH: PUMPKIN/SWEET POTATO CHILI WITH BEANS & CHICKEN

At home, we ate our pumpkin chili with melted cheddar cheese atop!

It’s that time of year again- food, food, food. The holidays aren’t just about gifting and – for church, synagogue, mosque and temple goers – celebrating a holy event. They’re about gathering together of family and friends, enjoying each other’s company. And that means, “Feed ’em!” But this also entails remembering that not everyone lives in the best of circumstances, especially in these tough economic times. We may struggle to keep up with the bills and pay for transportation to work or the grocery store and other basics, but not everyone has a job to go to or even enough to eat. So it’s important to somehow “pay it forward” (as that movie so poignantly advised). Today’s recipe, in honor of all holidays from Thanksgiving through the end of December, is the chili recipe I created for daughter Kristen’s workplace chili & bake sale / raffle & silent auction – an event that raises money for charity.

Last year was the first year I contributed a large batch of chili for the sale, and this year I decided to bake as well. Cheesey Cornbread (with extra cheese) to go with the chili and Cardamon Risotto Cookies (a twist on my regular Risotto Cookies, with sugar-cinnamon also replacing the frosting). Then, at the last minute (several hours before we were to deliver food to the office), I decided to throw in some Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (bananas too ripe for me to eat on cereal – I like ’em when there’s a little green left on the peel!). The muffin recipe will follow in another blog entry.

A busy, delicious two days (well, you didn’t think I was going to whip up all that good stuff and not indulge myself?!), and a lucky time too. After the sale was over, Kris called. I thought she was simply letting me know how much they’d brought in. This year’s proceeds are being split between the local food pantry and agencies providing aid to New York City and Long Island victims of Hurricane Sandy. After Kristen told me they’d raised well over $5,000 (eventual total was $5,700), I was about to hang up when she called out, “Wait! You won one of the raffle baskets!”

Not only did I win a raffle basket, it was The One I’d hoped to get, if I won anything at all (which I wasn’t expecting). The huge plastic container included a 19” television and a ROKU with 6-month subscription to Netflix. We already enjoy Netflix so that’s a nice credit on our account, but I was thrilled to acquire a small TV for my downstairs office/artroom (for when it is finally remodeled, which Bill promises will happen after Christmas, although other work on upstairs might take precedence). It won’t be anything fancy but homey enough for me! Oh yeah—the theme of the basket was “Holiday Movie Night” and the box was also packed with things like a warm (red) throw, peppermint cocoa mix, a Santa mug, a dark & white chocolate peppermint bark candy bar, and microwave popcorn. (The candy bar did not last long. I love peppermint bark.)

In addition to such good fortune, I was pleased to hear that all of my chili disappeared into the mouths of many of my daughter’s co-workers. Kris said there were plenty of positive remarks. Apparently, several of them are interested in seeing the recipe on Kitchen Cauldron when posted. One woman made a point of approaching Kristen afterward to say it was the best chili she’d ever tasted! I have to agree with that statement because I think it’s the best chili recipe I’ve ever conjured up. Bill and I enjoyed it immensely at dinner that night.

Here’s hoping you give it a try and really like it too. Don’t be put off by what looks like a long list of ingredients. Once the peeling and chopping is done, it’s mostly about getting the stuff into the pot and simmering. Really easy, as chili generally tends to be.

PUMPKIN/SWEET POTATO CHILI (WITH BEANS AND CHICKEN)
Yield: Depending upon quantity of beans & if including chicken, makes 8-10 quarts of chili

Ingredients

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 or 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into ½” to ¾” pieces (optional, especially if you’re a vegetarian)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 medium-to-large onions, peeled and chopped (large or small pieces, whatever your taste)
  • 3 celery stalks, peeled and chopped (including leaves, if any on stalk)
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 6 peppers (I used 2 yellow and 4 green), seeded and chopped
  • salt & pepper to sprinkle over veggies
  • 4 or 5 garlic cloves, peeled and diced (I had roasted some, so I used the paste from those cloves)
  • 1 29-oz. can pumpkin purée (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
  • 2 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 4 cups vegetable stock, plus 4 cups chicken stock (or use any combo of these stocks, or just one type; homemade preferred by not required)
  • 3-4 tablespoons chili powder (more if you prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 generous teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon mace (optional, but I would always use it; if you don’t have it, could increase nutmeg)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional; I meant to add this & forgot!)
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • a few sprinkles dried marjoram (optional- not required if you don’t have on hand)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons salt (I used combo of table salt and sea salt)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 4 to 6 cans beans – I used dark red kidney, black, great northern, aduki and pink beans, as well as chickpeas
  • additional salt and pepper, if desired
  • possibility: more stock (or water) or some tomato paste, if a thinner or thicker chili is desired

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Place sweet potatoes in an oven-friendly dish or pan, dab with the butter and sprinkle with dried parsley. Bake until fork slips through chunks but they aren’t likely to disintegrate after additional cooking in chili sauce. I use a spatula to turn once in a while. (I also cover with aluminum foil for first 15 minutes or so, then remove so they get a bit browned.) This should take perhaps 30-40 minutes but begin checking earlier. Remove from oven and set aside until ready to add to chili. NOTE: this can be done the day before, if you like.
  2. In a large stock pot, heat the oil plus butter on medium level. Add chicken and sautée just to lightly brown (don’t worry if completely cooked through). (About 4-5 minutes.)
  3. Add onion, celery, carrot and peppers. Spinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sautée for about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add garlic to pot, sautéing for another minute (be careful – garlic easily burns).
  5. Stir in pumpkin purée, tomatoes and tomato sauce, combining well.
  6. Stir in chicken and/or vegetable stock.
  7. Add chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace (if using), clove, cardamom (if using), parsley, marjoram (if using), salt and pepper.
  8. Simmer over medium-low heat for about an hour.
  9. In the meantime, drain and rinse the canned beans.
  10. After the contents of the stock pot has simmered for the suggested time, stir beans into chili. Bring back to a simmer and continue to cook for another 20 to 30 minutes.
  11. Add roasted sweet potatoes. Simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes.
  12. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and/or pepper, if desired.

Serve with cornbread on the side or some excellent artisan bread. Nice with shredded cheddar cheese atop, or a dab of sour cream.

In my experience, chili tastes even better as a leftover. Like any tomato-based dish, the flavor deepens as it sits in the fridge. It also freezes really well. Make some for a crowd, and reserve some for you and yours too!

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Guest Blogger: Alice Orr and her “Sauce of Life”

I’m proud to introduce my first Guest Blogger to KitchenCauldron: Alice Orr, a writer friend I met many years ago, probably at my very first summer conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild, attended in 1995. Only in more recent years have Alice and I begun to connect on deeper levels, and our foodie interests seem to enhance that friendship. It’s only natural that my very first Guest Blog should be written by Alice.

Alice also gifts us with a bonus – a writing prompt following the recipe! Even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer (and I have to say that you’re wrong if you believe that’s the case because we’re all storytellers), her suggested tale-telling/memoir-writing exercise is Food for Thought. Which brings me to another innovation for KC: if you write something, perhaps you might like to share it with KC readers? That happens to be what KitchenCauldron’s “Food for Thought – Getting Literary” Page is all about (see righthand column). If you write a short piece from Alice’s prompt (preferably up to 500 words, but no longer than 700), you can submit it via e-mail it to me at wmnwords@nycap.rr.com and I’ll consider adding it to that page (or subsequent pages, if I decide to create a “Volume 2”). Hey—if there’s a recipe with it, maybe you too might become a KC Guest Blogger!

But back to Alice Orr.

I first realized that Alice was somewhat of a foodie while she was still living on Vashon Island, in the state of Washington. I can’t recall whether it was during her bout with cancer (mentioned below in her story-intro to the recipe) or just afterward, but I have a strong memory of an e-mail in which she bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t find any place in her area that made good meatballs; and she didn’t have a decent recipe for them either. Having moved to Washington from New York City years before, she was somewhat spoiled by the tasty convenience of many an authentic Italian restaurant within walking, subway or taxi range, including a few in formerly Italian-immigrant sections of the city. I know this is not the reason she and her husband once again reside in The Big Apple, but I’m sure it has to be the “icing on the cake” regarding their return to her home state and beloved NYC. Or should I say, “the meatball in the sauce”?

This recipe, however, isn’t about the meatball(s). It’s about where the meatballs usually wind up, in the sauce, although this version is marinara. Connected with the recipe are special childhood and other memories, including the source of the recipe – a hometown restaurant. Alice has made it her own, as most foodies do. She says, “I feel okay calling this Alice’s sauce because I have added my tweaks to the original. They are part of the story too. For example, I picked up the paste sauté trick from an actor named Charlie a long time ago. It adds a depth of flavor and aroma that makes me and my kitchen smile.” She advises reader-cooks to “Feel free to add your tweaks – and your stories – also. Stories make kitchen life as rich as this sauce and then some. So be sure to spin your yarns as you stir your pots.”

Without further ado (and saving Alice Orr’s short “bio” for the end of the blog), please enjoy – and hopefully cook up – a  potful of…

The Sauce of Life
by Alice Orr

I dedicate this to my Grandma – Alice Jane Rowland Boudiette – because she gave me my first Warm Kitchen Memories.

Grandma cooked on a cast iron stove so massive it had to be cut apart with a blowtorch to get it out of her house after she passed away when I was seven years and three days old. A circle of heat radiated around that stove the same way a circle of tranquility radiated around my grandmother. I basked in both through many frigid Northern New York winter days.

I would sit at the small wooden table between the kitchen window and the door to the storm porch at the back of Grandma’s house on West Main Street in Watertown NY. The storm porch was where I stopped to knock the frequent blizzards off my buckled rubber boots before going inside. It was lined with cupboards stocked to overflowing during August canning season with Mason jars of peaches and pears – corn and tomatoes – jams and jellies – chili sauce and pickles.

To be honest I do not remember Grandma’s cooking anywhere near as clearly as I remember what it felt like to be with her. Not just safe and accepted but at the center of the essence of safety and acceptance where I was simply Ali Bette, and that was plenty enough to be. I have no doubt that the reason I find calmness in cooking and peace in preparing meals hearkens back to the heart of my Grandma, at the heart of her house, which was always her warm kitchen.

Twenty-some years after Grandma was gone, I inhabited another warm kitchen. I had been married by then and had become a mom, only to be unmarried again and become a single mom. My friend Gayle was in the same boat and our boat was floundering financially. We shared a house and pooled our resources, but that pool was pretty shallow and our grocery budget suffered accordingly.

We had a big battered cooking pot with a lid that bounced to a clattery rhythm when the contents boiled. This pot was residence for the three main staples of our diet – potatoes for mashing, macaroni for cheese and spaghetti for sauce. Our kitchen on Moffett Street, also in Watertown, had its own small table near the window. The top was covered in off-white Formica with a pattern of gray wavy lines.

Our kids sat there every morning before school, each with a different brand of breakfast cereal in their bowls. They ate fast and slopped cereal and milk onto the tabletop. Gayle and I were also hurrying to make it to work and had little time for cleanup. We came home most nights to a mosaic of cereal flakes and shapes glued so tight to the Formica that they had to be soaked in soapy water, then pried loose with a spatula before supper could be served.

The greatest gift Gayle and I gave our children and each other back then was our ability to laugh amidst the hurrying and our lack of money and, of course, the mess on the tabletop. That laughter is at the heart of my Warm Kitchen Memories from that time when the hands-down kids’ favorite among our battered pot meals was Spaghetti with Sauce.

One particular Italian restaurant in Watertown was renowned for its sauce. Canali’s sat oddly off the main road which rose above it as an overpass. My family could not afford to go out to eat much when I was young. Cooking and eating happened at home. The same situation prevailed for Gayle and me. When I finally did get to Canali’s for a meal, their Spaghetti with Meatballs embedded itself in my taste memory forever. The sauce especially took my taste buds by surprise – subtle and full-flavored, with just the right amount of garlic.

Alice's former home on Vashon Island

I had never experienced sauce like that before and would not again until Cousin Robin reappeared in my life. We hadn’t seen each other since we were kids in Watertown. He was a towhead back then, a few years older than I with a big personality like so many of us in the Boudiette clan. His presence had not shrunk when my bout with cancer brought him to my house in Washington State a couple of years ago.

His robust frame filled our large dark green chair near the living room window. I languished nearby on my couch-turned-recuperation-bed. I could tell he loved to talk and let him do that. Robin is a raconteur with a memory for detail. His stories of our family washed over and through me as I drifted on the pleasant flow of his Texas-Oklahoma transplant drawl. Then he said two sentences that brought me to full attention.

“Do you remember Canali’s Restaurant in Watertown? I have their sauce recipe.”

He went on to unwind a tale of wheedling the recipe out of a chef there. I can easily imagine Robin wheedling anything out of anybody. On the other hand, he is a yarnspinner and I understand that the facts of a yarn are often embellished in the spinning. Nonetheless I was happy when a few weeks later he e-mailed me the recipe. I was amazed by the simplicity of the ingredients and cooking method, but the preponderance of canned components made me skeptical about Cousin Robin’s claims. I needed to test this out.

Vashon Island kitchen

I was feeling better by then – well on my way to the positive verdict my oncologist would soon bestow on me. I was ready to return to the warm circle of my own kitchen at the heart of our yellow farmhouse at the heart of Vashon Island. I was also eager to feel the reassurance I knew I would find there, where my wooden spoons – worn smooth by years of mixing – waited for me to pick them up again and mix some more.

I did not yet have the strength for anything requiring lengthy preparation. Cousin Robin’s recipe would be perfect and the ingredients were so basic I had them on hand. I pulled out my favorite sauce pot – a flame red Le Creuset with stove stains on the bottom – and began opening cans. Soon after, I was stirring with my long-handled wooden spoon while rich aroma wafted through the house that must have missed the comfort smell of cooking as much as I did.

I held off on the tasting. I looked forward to a happy surprise and dreaded disappointment at the same time. Finally I gave the thick darkish red sauce one more stir scraping in all of the bits from the bottom. Then I lifted the spoon to my lips. My taste buds leapt with delight just as they had back in Watertown at a booth in Canali’s Restaurant many years before.

Memory and longing collided in that moment at the very center of my being – from Grandma through Gayle to my Vashon Island kitchen – and I was profoundly grateful to be alive and present for the collision. Plus this was the best sauce I had ever made in my life.

ALICE’S SAUCE OF LIFE
Yields one large pot of marinara sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of minced garlic (from a jar is fine)
  • Two 6-ounce cans tomato paste
  • Two 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • One 23.5 or 26.5-ounce can or jar of meatless spaghetti sauce, preferably tomato-basil
  • 2 tomato paste cans of water
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 medium size bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt. (Kosher salt tastes best but is bad for the blood pressure, so I don’t use it.)
  • Sprinkles of cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Sprinkles of allspice, not more than ¼ teaspoon
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Fresh parsley and chives, snipped into the pan (optional)

Process

  1. Heat olive oil to sizzling in bottom of sauce pan. Add garlic and stir until aroma begins to escape.
  2. Add tomato paste to pan, blend into oil and garlic and stir constantly until paste begins to brown and smells delectable.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend together well.
  4. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat until the sauce is simmering at a comfortable bubble.
  5. Simmer for two hours, stirring every fifteen minutes. Be careful not to let the sauce stick to the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat and stir more frequently if that begins to happen.
  6. Allow sauce to sit for a while or refrigerate overnight before serving so the flavors can come into true harmony with one another. Or – if you are in a huge hurry – serve it straight off. It will be delicious any way your time may dictate.

An Exercise for the Storyteller in You

Warm up as spring approaches by writing about an experience we have all had in some form or other. In my writing workshops, I do not usually specify what the mood of a piece should be. But this time I am going to ask you to make the mood of what you write WARM.

Write your own Warm Kitchen Memory scene. Something that has happened to you at some time in your life in a kitchen. Something you remember with warmth and fondness.

Do your best to make this scene come alive. The people who were there. What was said. What was done. And especially the feelings. Your feelings as you experienced this scene.

The first scene that comes to your mind and memory is probably the best one to write. It can come from your past or from this morning. There are no right or wrong choices.

Start by calming and centering yourself with some long deep breaths. Then – just write. Do not worry about how you write – just write – from the center of yourself and that Warm Kitchen.

If you have any questions about how to do this or if you would like to share the results please do not hesitate to email me at aliceorrseminars@gmail.com.

In the meantime – Keep on Stirring Pots and Spinning Yarns, Whatever May Occur.

Alice Orr has spent her career life as a publishing professional –
literary agent, book editor, published author.
In her workshops she teaches writers
how to give their writing work and their writer selves agent-editor appeal.
At her blog http://publishingsensefromaliceorr.blogspot.com,
Alice shares practical tips and pragmatic advice for writers
who want to be published or better published.
At her website http://www.aliceorrseminars.net/, she shares herself.

Tomato Soup, with secret ingredient revealed

Have I mentioned that I love soup? I mean, I LOVE soup.

Why? In most cases, it’s relatively easy to make. Often quick too, with any time-consuming aspect almost always turning out to be the prepping of vegetables – rinsing, peeling, chopping, maybe rinsing again. Sometimes it’s great for using up leftovers. And a simple way to pack in all those “colors of the rainbow” in foods that we’re told aid us in providing adequate nutrition for our bodies. Soup is comfort food, good for the soul (however you might define that word, whether mystical or creative or both). Hot soup warms the innards; cold soup makes a hot, humid summer day seem less oppressive.

So I was going to visit my Aunt Pat earlier this week (see KC post of November 25, 2011, if you missed it, to learn a little about her), and I’d promised to bring soup for lunch again. She was providing the sandwich filling. I would stop for a good bread and a variety of potential toppings for the soup.

Uncle Doug, in naval uniform

There was a purpose to this visit this time around, aside from the usual checking in with a special relative. I would be interviewing her about Uncle Doug, her deceased husband, one of my mother’s older brothers, for a short write-up about his service during World War 2. My husband has nominated him to be honored at an Albany County “Honor a Vet” ceremony (a monthly event), and the “bio” is a prerequisite to scheduling him for one of the slots this summer. Given the fact that my uncle served on the USS Intrepid during a good part of his wartime experience, Bill thought he was an excellent candidate for this. Anyone who spent WW2 time on the Intrepid – known as “indestructible” since the aircraft carrier survived five kamikaze attacks – did a tough stint.

Uncle Doug & Aunt Pat, 1961

I remember that, as kids, all of the cousins loved it when Uncle Doug would pull out his Intrepid “souvenirs” to show us. Since my immediate family lived in a flat across the hall from Aunt Pat and Uncle Doug, we felt privileged to be able to peruse his “logbook” from the ship (no, not like the captain’s logbook!). It was like thumbing through a high school yearbook, examining all the pictures, except that this was serious stuff. These men had helped to “save the Free World” and many of the men in those photos hadn’t survived to enjoy the victory. They’d died for us. Of course, our chests would puff out with pride because our uncle – the soft-spoken, everyday guy across the hall who loved to fish and sometimes hung out at Leo’s Tavern – was there, and he lived to tell about it. Except, like many a war veteran, he didn’t talk about it much, not even with his wife. Still, he’d point out where he stood in a formal photograph of the crew; and then he might pull out the huge silk Japanese flag he’d brought home, with its gigantic red rising sun, and allow us to run our fingers over its smooth surface.

In the early 1990s, when our daughter Kristen was a student at School of Visual Arts in New York City, we made a point of touring the USS Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on a weekend while visiting her. Our kids too had perused Uncle Doug’s Intrepid book by then, and Kris was definitely gung-ho about making it to the museum. It was awesome for my mother, Bill, Kristen and me to be walking the same deck that Uncle Doug must’ve trod thousands of times, to see where he would’ve eaten and slept, to imagine what life must’ve been like in those crowded quarters for sailors in mortal danger on a daily basis. I felt bad that Aunt Pat had never been able to get to NYC to see it (she still hasn’t – and it’s a lot of walking, so I’m not sure she could at this point). I felt proud that my uncle had been a crew member on the Intrepid.

Kristen & Mom (Dolly) on deck at the Intrepid Museum

Since she and Uncle Doug never had any children, Aunt Pat has passed on many of those “souvenirs” to nieces and nephews. Originally, I had the Intrepid’s “logbook” but I gave it to my brother George’s son, Matt, who is a history professor at a local community college (in fact, he focused on military history in college, having taken many of his undergraduate credits, and I think his Master’s, at Oxford, Kings College, in the UK). Aunt Pat gave Matt a few other wartime items as well. During our interview, I learned that cousin Doug got the Rising Sun flag. It’s like the disbursement of goods after the war’s over with – however, our generation didn’t bring about the victory; we merely inherited the great gifts hard-won by generations before us: years of freedom, ever hopeful for a brighter future.

**********
Maybe I should call this Victory Soup, or Intrepid Soup. Intrepid after all, does claim amongst its synonyms (according to Rodale’s The Synonym Finder) the words bold, undaunted, dashing, audacious, daring. It’s #1 synonym is fearless, and I could say I had to put aside fear as I experimented with this batch of tomato soup. For one thing, I’d promised soup, hadn’t made it ahead and frozen any, and then we were away for most of the weekend. I hadn’t checked cabinets for supplies beforehand and, when we returned home on Sunday night, I was too tired to cook anything anyway. I waited until morning to decide what to do….

Not lots of fresh veggies in the fridge. An inspection of the appropriate drawer, however, revealed three skinny carrots, lots of onions, about half a bunch of celery, and several vegetables that didn’t interest me for this project (actually a couple of the latter found their way into the garbage, a little overdue for trashing). On the counter in the garlic keeper, I found I still had garlic. No boxed chicken stock though. I nixed the beef and went for the vegetable stock. OK, the basics to start a soup – what next?

I thought I’d make pumpkin soup, minus the hollowed-out pumpkins used as bowls (see December 12, 2011 KC blogpost). Several cans of organic pumpkin stared down at me from the top shelf of the cabinet. Unfortunately, checking another shelf for the one sweet potato I knew was there, safely ensconced in a paper bag, I decided it wasn’t in great shape (it too met the garbage). I like texture in my soup, which sweet potato supplies, plus it adds a nice flavor twist. No sweet potato – no pumpkin soup.

My next thought was, I could stop at that terrific little café next to the Spectrum Theater, not far from Aunt Pat’s, and buy some soup. Well, nope. I’m just vain enough to want to bring my aunt homemade stuff, my homemade not a restaurant’s, no matter how good theirs might be. Then I thought, Ah, how about semi-homemade, like Sandra-What’s-Her-Name on Food Network? I noted that I had a couple cans of Wolfgang Puck’s organic tomato basil soup, purchased recently on sale, so I grabbed them, placing them on the counter.

Carrots, onions, celery, garlic. Butter and olive oil to sauté them in. Hmm, I grabbed 2 cans of organic diced tomatoes, plus a larger box of Italian-import tomatoes (diced also) I’d bought on a whim. I hadn’t made tomato soup in a while and now I was getting excited. Sea salt, fresh ground pepper, a bit of dried basil. Oh yeah—the fresh parsley in that drawer was still good-to-go! How about a touch of nutmeg? I was on a roll.

I opened the refrigerator door again, pulled open the drawer to the right of the vegetable drawer, where I usually store fruit. Tomatoes are fruit, despite having been labeled otherwise by governments, markets and more over the years. Voilà! Grape tomatoes! And one lonely, beautiful blood orange. Somewhere in my brain a few sparks were flying – I knew I’d seen recipes that combined tomatoes and oranges before, especially in soups. Yup the secret ingredient! Orange, plus I’d roast the cherry tomatoes and add them after the basic soup was puréed.

Would Aunt Pat like this soup? I knew she liked tomato soup (usually out of a can), so I was counting on it. With time constraints (it was about 7 a.m. and I was expected by 1 p.m. – and it wasn’t just the soup that had to get done), I didn’t bother writing down ingredients or how I prepared it. That wasn’t all I didn’t bother with—or forgot to do. Later, I brought along my camera to take pictures but forgot all about it as we chatted and slurped away (pictures with this post come from the portion I kept at home for Bill and me to finish off – which we did, deliciously!).

I don’t feel at all guilty when I tell you that the bold-tasting, yummy soup recipe below constitutes, in a few instances, an approximation of what went into Marilyn the Soup Lady’s latest creation. That’s the way soup happens, in my opinion. You’ll go your own way, as Fleetwood Mac might say – do what you will with this recipe. Oh – you’ll probably have noticed that I didn’t wind up using the canned soup. Ol’ Wolfgang is back up on the shelf, ready for a semi-homemade day some other time.

By the way, both Aunt Pat and I enjoyed two helpings, along with olive-oil-and-rosemary bread slathered with the egg salad she’d prepared.

AUDACIOUS TOMATO-WITH-BLOOD-ORANGE SOUP
Yields from 12 to 16 servings, depending upon size of servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 small onion, skins removed, diced
  • 3 carrots (only 2 if they’re large and thick), peeled and diced
  • 2 or 3 celery stalks, ribs pared off, diced
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, skins removed, diced almost to a mince
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 2 cups vegetable stock or broth (chicken stock will do just as well)
  • 55-60 ounces of canned or boxed (not fresh), diced tomatoes, low or no-salt added
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (can substitute with 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
  • zest of one blood orange (any other kind of orange would also work)
  • juice of ½ of one blood orange (eat the other half! it’s sweeter than most oranges; if can’t find blood oranges, use any kind of orange)
  • grape tomatoes, halved (I had about 18-20 of them; use more if you like)
  • a pinch or two of nutmeg and/or cinnamon (optional – and I think I even used a pinch of ground cardamom too!)
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Optional toppings: sour cream, crème fraiche or Greek yogurt; croutons or other crunchy topping (I had tortilla strips) for contrasting texture

Process:

  1. Melt the butter in the olive oil in a large pot (I used my Dutch oven).
  2. Sauté onion, carrot and celery for about 3 minutes, salting and peppering lightly when first added to pot.
  3. Add the garlic to the onion mixture. Sauté for an additional minute or so, taking care not to burn the garlic.
  4. Add a cup of the vegetable broth and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the diced tomatoes, including all juice from the can or box. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes, when all the vegetables should be thoroughly cooked and tender.
  6. While the tomato mixture simmers, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (400 if your oven runs cooler).
  7. Spread the halved grape tomatoes out on a small, low-rimmed pan. Sprinkle or mist them with olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with some of the dried parsley and sea salt.
  8. Roast the tomatoes for about 10 to 15 minutes, until they soften and perhaps begin to brown a bit in places (I turn them over once, shifting them around). Remove and set aside on a trivet or wire rack when done.
  9. Once tomato mixture has sufficiently simmered, stir in the orange zest and juice, basil, and parsley.
  10. Using an immersion blender (the easiest method), food processor or standard blender, purée the mixture to the texture you prefer (I like it to actually have some texture, not be totally smooth).
  11. If the soup is too “soupy” for your taste at this point, simply simmer it for a while longer. If thicker than you’d like it, carefully stir in more vegetable broth, a little at a time; simmer for a another 10 minutes or so just to blend the flavor in.
  12. Add the roasted cherry tomatoes.
  13. Stir in the nutmeg, cinnamon and/or cardamom, if using.
  14. Salt and pepper, to taste.
  15. Scoop into bowls and add optional toppings, if you desire them.

I was tempted to add some light cream to the soup, but the flavors were so perfect it seemed almost sacrilegious to think of it. As mentioned above, my aunt and I indulged in two helpings each. And we tried it with both crème fraische and sour cream. Delectable and comforting both ways!