Saturday, April 30, 2011

Italian Sausage and Lentil Soup

And this is how it began.  Clockwise from top left:  brown lentils from the Palouse; my homemade "passata"; my quickly defrosting chard from my garden; my homemade mild Italian sausage out of the casing; my sausage in the casing; my friend, Marsha's, beautiful garlic and onions; kosher salt; and sour cream.  All together they make soup.

I once had a soup similar to this at La Cucina, Cucina in Spokane, WA.  I loved it and this is the duplicate I came up with at home.  The sausage is so flavorful that I don't add any other herbs to the soup.  The heat from the sausage is just enough.  It is a soup in which every ingredient has its separate place on the tongue so that each individual flavor can be found but the overall flavor is rich and mellow with just enough hot spiciness and deliciousness that it's hard to stop eating before that feeling of being sated sets in.

To make the soup, I saute one large or several small onions, garlic (at least five or more cloves, crushed), and sausage (I take it out of the casing).  Then I add the chard, followed by the passata and enough water to allow the lentils to expand with a bit more for a soupier texture.  After it cooks for a while, I check for seasoning.  If it needs more salt, which it usually does, I salt to taste.  Actually, I bring it to the saltier side because after adding the sour cream some of the saltiness is absorbed by the cream.

I usually make a large batch of soup because I like to put the excess into one pint glass canning jars, screw on any old lid, and stick it into our chest freezer to have at some future date.  The one pint jars are just enough for one person because, of course, I have to leave at least an inch of head room so that the frozen soup doesn't break the glass.  For this batch I used one pound of lentils, three medium onions, eight cloves of garlic, about three cups of frozen chard, two heaping tablespoons of passata, twelve cups of water, and about a half to three quarters cup of sour cream.

Italian Sausage and Lentil Soup

Spinach or any other flavorful green can be substituted for the chard.  The sour cream is added at the end to help blend the flavors and mellow the contrasts in flavors.  I call my canned, roasted, pureed tomatoes a passata.  In my mind it's a true passata but I've seen other definitions.  At the end of summer, just before the big frost should hit, I strip my tomato plants of all tomatoes no matter what color they are.  The under ripe greens are separated from the rest of the tomatoes and allowed to ripen in my sun room.  I can usually make some last into the very first days of December.

The passata is the perfect dish to make in the evening and finish the next morning.  The ripe tomatoes are rinsed, dried, and ready to cut.  I cut out the stem end and any flaws.  Into a large casserole or baking dish, I drizzle some olive oil.  Then I add the tomatoes, and whatever else moves me that evening.  Sometimes I also add some garlic or onions or even balsamic vinegar.  I cook it all at 325 F until about half the juice of the tomatoes is gone.  The tops are always dark and well carmelized.  Then I leave it to cool in the oven until the next morning.

Whenever I get around to it the next morning, I throw the whole mess into my Cuisinart so that I don't have to worry about skins and seeds.  I pack it into sterilized, wet canning jars with some lemon juice (depending on the size of the jar).  The lemon juice insures that the tomatoes have enough acidity so that they don't spoil.  I always check my Ball or Kerr canning book to remind myself of how much lemon juice.  Yes, I have reached a point in my life when so much is in the very gray brain cells that it's always easier to just re-check my memory because I certainly don't want to kill myself eating my own canned goods!  Finally, I finish off the canning in a boiling water bath.  The tops seal and they go into my root cellar (a cool, dark place).  I use the "passata" in soups, stews, sauces, and even as a topping for crostini.

I have to have bread with my soup.  I make my own bread.  The one pictured happens to be Jim Lahey's (Sullivan Bakery, NYC) No Knead Bread.  I make it with sourdough starter, water, beer, and whatever flour I'm in the mood for.  The one pictured has unbleached white, kamut, and flax seed meal.  It loved the soup and I loved it all!  Yummy!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Smoked Out

Smoked, Moroccan spiced pork loin with olives/lemon.
 I finished up my brief, albeit somewhat obsessive, Charcutepalooza smoking challenge. I learned a lot about smoking. I learned that a smoker with an attached thermometer is much better than one without. I own the one without. Not being able to really know the temperature of the smoking chamber, except in approximates, makes smoking much more of a challenge than a pleasure. Greatly reinforced during this challenge is the knowledge that I should always, always check the meat's doneness with a thermometer. I use an instant read thermometer.  I learned that I much prefer brining over dry rubs, because the dry rubs become too cooked or too dry.  Then again, I've been brining for so long that perhaps that taken-for-granted knowledge helps me to produce a better product.  Maybe I could learn to love dry rubs too, but I'd have to use them more often. I learned that I like some foods smoked, but it's not fun to smoke everything in sight because not everything tastes better smoked. I am looking forward, however, to a smoked wild turkey next Fall.   We always have many winter squash in the garden each year and I did love the smoked flavor in the squash.  Smoked bacon has never been high on my list of cravings, and now that I've made pancetta, I'll take that first any day. Finally, I learned that after smoking I not only need a shower but my hair needs big-time scrubbing.  Maybe that's an indication that I'm doing something wrong???

Smoked pork loin with Moroccan spices
I think this was my favorite smoked meat: pork loin with Moroccan spices.  I know, that is so NOT Moroccan.  I mean pork???  But I did it anyway.  I didn't have a local beef or lamb loin, but I did have pork.  My friend, Mark, gave me "his" Moroccan spice mix recipe.  It's not really his because he found it many, many years ago in some magazine.  But it's certainly yummy!  It contains  coriander, cumin, smoked Spanish paprika, salt, cinnamon, and cayenne. 

The pork loin tasted really good just plain.  The second time we had it with some sauteed vegetables with a Mediterranean twist.  I finished off the veggie saute with a splash of water so that I could add some leftover rice to the pot and have it be soft and fluffy .  Finally, I added the slices of the pork loin to the top of the veggie/rice mix just to steam the meat slightly for warmth.

But my favorite dish appears in the photo that begins this blog.  I cooked up some diced onion with a pinch of saffron.  Then I added some chopped, green French olives and the sliced rind of one of my salt cure, preserved lemons, and some water.  I salted to taste; obviously, it didn't take much.  Finally, I added several slices of the smoked, Moroccan spiced pork loin to the pot just to warm the meat.  I served it all with my combo tzatzakis/raita yogurt mix: Greek yogurt; cumin; fresh cilantro; seeded, chopped cucumber; a dash of hot pepper; and salt to taste.  It was so tasty that I started eating before remembering to take a photo; thus, the utensil accompaniment.

Spicy, smoked pork with pear chutney, aioli, and gouda cheese.
 Another favorite dish was the sandwich I made with the spicy, smoked pork loin.  Last fall I had made some pear chutney with our own Bosc pears.  On several occasions, Serious Eats has featured sandwiches, in New York and Los Angeles.  One of those sandwiches had a pairing of pork and pear, or maybe it was apple, and cheese.  Taking my cue from that, I bought a "ciabatta" (it came close in appearance but lacked a bit in flavor), spread some of my own aioli mayo on the bread for moisture, added some gouda, the sliced pork loin, and my pear chutney.  Now that was good!  I loved how I could taste each flavor but not one overpowered the other.  Now that's a keeper!

Smoked pork hocks
The pork hocks became the item that finally made me realize that I should have smoked them longer in order to bring the meat up to temp, but, I should also have kept the interior of the smoker cooler so that the smoke didn't brown the meat too much.  I wrapped and froze these to use with beans as a future soup.

Smoked baby back ribs
 The ribs were my most disappointing dish.  They were obviously smoked too long.  The rub overcooked.  The smoker's internal temperature was too high.  And yet they held such promise!  I rubbed them with a dry rub from Anne Burrell's Crispy Mustard Braised Pork Belly.  Then, after sitting in the fridge for 24 hours, I didn't wash the rub off.  Needless to say the ribs are a bit salty.  Because the herbs were overcooked in the smoker, I ended up throwing the ribs in boiling water.  That improved the flavor.  But they were still a bit salty.  I think the best thing to do with them now is throw them out - oh no, I cannot waste food! - or, cook them with some beans or cabbage or something.  I know an idea is brewing, but it has not yet come to fruition.

This post is a bit late because it is April 15th already, and Mrs. Wheelbarrow has just announced the new Charcutepalooza challenge: Grinding!  I am ready for this one.  Meguez sausage, bratwurst, Thuringer Bratwurst, Spanish chorizo, maybe even "Rotwurst," the speciality hot dog like wurst from Swabia where I once lived for a year.  Sausage is my junk food.  And now that I've finished with my temporary, 8-week substitute position, and no longer have six college classes upon my own three, I'm going to throw myself into, overindulge in, satiate myself with, and completely succumb to the joy of making sausage.  Caul fat, sheep casings, hog casings, weisswurst, chorizo, saucissons sec, kielbasa, andouille, oh, it will be heaven on earth.