All photos by Ted Axelrod/Axelrod Photography
My sizable cookbook collection is a source of some contention in our household. Depending on which of us you ask, it’s either an essential research library, or the kind of obsession that eventually lands people on “Hoarders: Buried Alive.” If you can look up nearly every recipe imaginable on the web, why do we still need cookbooks anyway?
The short answer: because cookbooks are more than just a assemblage of recipes, and as much as I love Pinterest, not all recipes can, in fact, be found online.
Case in point: community cookbooks, which I will eagerly pick up when I come across them at flea markets and garage sales. Compiled by hospital auxiliaries, school and church groups, these humble, spiral-bound recipe collections are treasure troves of the tried and true. As a bonus, they don’t take up a lot of space, which should help keep me off of reality TV.
It was in one of these community cookbooks, “Damariscotta Kitchens 2,” put out by the Miles Memorial Hospital League in 1992, that I found my most recent Sunday soup recipe.
I’ve always felt there was something special, precious even, about Sundays. When I was a kid, it was a tightly scripted day of church, followed by Sunday school and a big dinner. My grown-up Sundays follow a more secular schedule, with at least a couple hours devoted to lolling around in my PJs reading the newspaper. One of my few plans, at least in the winter, is making soup.
Unlike, say, baking a batch of cookies, cooking a pot of soup feels somehow virtuous, like I’m adding to a savings account for frugality and health. The soups I tend to favor are healthy combinations of vegetables, beans, good quality stock and minimal amounts of animal protein. Sure, a little cheese sneaks in sometimes, too.
A pot of soup simmered up on a Sunday afternoon can see me through a week of lunches; or to keep myself from food boredom, I might freeze half to enjoy a week or two later.
As often as I can, I make my own stock, which isn’t as much of a project as it might sound. We roast a chicken at least once a week and save the bones in the freezer, along with a plastic bag into which goes carrot and potato peelings, onion skins, the tops and ends of leeks, etc. When I have time, I dump the bones and vegetable bits into a large pot, cover it with cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for a couple of hours. Strain the liquid through cheesecloth and you have rich, delicious — and free — homemade soup stock. If you’re not inclined to make your own (and I’m not always, either), choose a good quality, low sodium stock or broth at the supermarket (Kitchen Basics is my go-to).
This potato and cheese soup is as comforting as a hug from an old friend. Serve it in mugs for Super Bowl; if you’ve got a big crowd, the recipe is easily doubled. The two soup recipes that follow it are equally wonderful.
Adapted from “Damariscotta Kitchens 2″ published by Miles Memorial Hospital League (1992)
5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
1 quart vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons butter
1 leek, well washed, white and light green parts sliced
5 sprigs parsley
3 cups milk (whole or 2 percent
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Rinse and peel potatoes. Slice four of them in 1/4-inch slices (you should have about 4 cups)
Cut the fifth potato into 1/2-inch cubes.
In a medium-to large pot, place the potato slices and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Pour enough vegetable stock to cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are tender.
Place the cubed potato in a small saucepan; add vegetable stock just to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until potato cubes are just tender. Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet. Add leek and saute until softened.
Transfer sliced cooked potatoes with their liquid, the sauteed leek, parsley and any remaining vegetable stock to a blender and puree until smooth.
Return the potato mixture to the soup pot. Add the milk, cheese, cooked cubed potato with any liquid in the saucepan and remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Heat over low heat until cheese is melted; do not allow to boil.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve, garnished with chopped parsley if you like. Or if you really want to go wild, topped with crumbled crisp bacon.
Adapted from a recipe by chef Melissa Kelly from “Cooking Down East” by Marjorie Standish
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 large leek, dice the white part and roughly chop the green
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 teaspoon saffron
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
6 Roma (plum) tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups white wine (chardonnay or chenin blanc are suggested)
1 1/2 quarts fish stock (can substitute vegetable stock or water)
1 tablespoon butter
1 pound fish (You can use just one type or a mixture; Harbor Fish Market sells a “fish medley” that is perfect for this soup) cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Torn-up pieces of crusty bread
Fresh oregano or parsley, chopped (optional)
In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots and leek greens and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes. Add the saffron, crushing with the tips of your fingers, then add the bay leaves and crushed red pepper flakes, and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and tomato purée and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the wine, stir well and cook until the liquid is
reduced by half.
Add the fish stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Cool slightly and strain stock through a mesh strainer.
Meanwhile, in another large pot, heat the butter and add the leek whites. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the cubed fish and the strained broth. Bring to a boil. Swirl 4 heaping tablespoons of rouille (recipe follows) into the hot soup and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
To serve, place pieces of crusty bread in a serving bowl. Ladle the soup over the bread. Garnish with chopped oregano or parsley if desired.
Makes 2 cups
2 red (sweet) peppers (or 1 cup drained jarred roasted peppers)
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
If starting with fresh peppers: Char the peppers over an open flame until black. While hot, place the peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let steam for 1/2 hour, then uncover and peel peppers. The skins should slide right off. Remove the stem and seeds.
In a food processor, add the peeled peppers, chopped jalapeno, garlic and bread crumbs and purée. Continue to purée while slowly adding the oil, then the lemon juice. Purée until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Adapted from “1001 Ways to Cook Southern” by Southern Living Magazine.
16-ounce, bone-in ham steak or 2 cups cut-up leftover ham, plus the ham bone.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 large carrots, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
2 15-ounce cans navy or red kidney beans beans, drained
3 15-ounces cans cannellini beans, drained
4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced (about 2 pounds)
1 6-ounce bag fresh baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
Trim fat from ham steak, coarsely chop ham. Reserve bone.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook ham in hot oil, stirring often, 6 to 8 minutes or until browned. Add diced onion, green onions, carrots and celery and sauté 5 minutes or until onion is tender.
Stir in reserved ham bone, beans and potatoes. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Remove and discard ham bone. Stir in spinach until wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste.