Saturday, January 16, 2021


The secret to better vegetable soup: double the quantity of olive oil.

I’m big on soup. While the weather stays cold, I make a new pot of soup a couple times a week: Last week there were turkey-mushroom-barley; black bean-green chile-vegetable, and puree of broccoli, cauliflower and cheese. My go-to favorite soup is an all-vegetable soup, a Spanish take on minestrone, with beans, lots of different vegetables and either pasta or a grain. My soups, some vegetarian, some not, are delicious, satisfying.

But I just stepped up my soup game. I came across a recipe clipping for Niçoise Vegetable Soup (Gourmet, June 1977) that called for a half-cup of olive oil, eight cups of water and about 10 cups vegetables and legumes. The soup was finished with a pistou made with another ½ cup of olive oil. That’s more than twice as much oil as I’ve been using in vegetable soup. What a revelation! The results were about twice as good as my regular soup.

Picking kale from the garden for soup.

Today’s soup is made with vegetables I’ve got in the garden and the fridge. There’s always onions or leeks, carrots and celery. I’m picking kale from the garden. Towards the end of cooking time, I’ll add diced potatoes, squash and zucchini, vegetables that would turn to mush if cooked longer. At the very end, I add a handful of broccoli florets for a crisp finish.  

Slice, dice or julienne the vegetables? It’s your choice. If you shred or cut them in julienne matchsticks, you can call it sopa juliana. Personally, I like the veggies diced. I like to chop the onions finely (food processor avoids the tears) and melt them in the olive oil. 

Slice, dice or shred the veggies?

Vegetable choices. (8-10 cups of diced vegetables) Onions, Leeks, Carrots, Turnips, Celery, Celery root, Rutabaga, Squash, Zucchini, Shallots, Red and/or green bell pepper, Kale, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Escarole, Green beans, Fava beans, Peas, Chard, Spinach, Potatoes, Beets.

Legumes. I have cooked black-eyed peas in the freezer (cooked in quantity for New Year’s), so they’re the legume of choice. Any cooked (or canned) beans can be used: cannellini beans, butter beans, black or pinto beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils. A Spanish home cook might use leftover chickpeas, vegetables and soup stock from a previous day’s cocido for a tasty and quick vegetable soup.

Herbs and spices. The Spanish manifestation of vegetable soup usually is flavored with pimentón (paprika), either regular, not smoked, or smoked pimentón de la Vera. Smoked pimentón is especially good in vegetarian soups. Parsley and maybe a bay leaf are the principal herbs. In the winter, when fresh herbs are slim pickings, I like to use dried basil. No, it’s nothing like fresh basil, but it gives an appetizing sweetness to the vegetable mélange. Herbs (fresh or dried) and spices to use: oregano, basil, sage, thyme, rosemary, parsley, pimentón, chile powder, cumin, ras el hanout, curry powder—

Choose a carb. Vegetable soup needs a grain or another carbohydrate to make it more substantial. Whole grains such as barley or brown rice are terrific, because they don’t overcook. Or, double the quantity of diced potato. I like soup pasta such as small elbow macaroni. If the soup is going to be made and reheated over several days (perfect for a household of one or two persons), I cook the pasta separately and add it to each portion of soup.  

Add-ins. A big pot of soup is a good excuse to use up leftovers in the fridge. Cooked spinach, peas, green beans can get thrown in when the soup is nearly finished. Other add-ins: hummus, mashed potatoes, gravy, sausage, chorizo, ham, bacon, meatballs (raw or cooked)

Liquid. The vegetables cook in water, but, if available, chicken stock, bone broth, vegetable stock or tomato juice can be substituted for all or part of the water. 

Toppings. Finish the soup with flavorful add-ons or toppings. A few suggestions: garlic-pimentón oil (recipe below); grated cheese; alioli (garlic mayonnaise); pistou or pesto; fried garlic croutons; harissa (Moroccan chile paste); chopped hard-cooked eggs; chopped scallions; chopped fresh herbs; guindillas (pickled green chilies).

Use 1/2 cup or more of extra virgin olive oil for the soup.

And, don’t forget the secret ingredient for building a better vegetable soup: extra virgin olive oil, lots of it. Olive oil contributes flavor, texture, richness and, yes, calories. Good, healthful calories.

Serve soup accompanied by bread or toasts "buttered" with olive oil. 

Add a topping of olive oil with sliced garlic, chile, pimentón and parsley.

Vegetable Soup
Sopa de Verduras

Substitute stock or broth for all or part of the water. 

Top each serving of soup with a spoonful of spicy Golden Garlic and Pimentón Sauce. Accompany with bread or toasts. 

Serves 6.

½ cup (or more) olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped onions and/or leeks
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
¼ cup chopped red bell pepper
1 teaspoon smoked pimentón (paprika)
½ cup grated tomato pulp or crushed canned tomatoes
1 ½ cup cooked or canned beans or chickpeas
8 cups water, chicken stock or bone broth
1 ½ cups chopped kale, chard or spinach
1 bay leaf
Dried herbs, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup diced butternut squash
2 cups diced zucchini
1 cup diced potatoes
1 cup soup pasta, such as shells
Broccoli florets or sliced romano green beans
Golden Garlic and Pimentón Sauce to serve (recipe follows) 

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add the onions, leeks and garlic and sauté them on moderate heat until they begin to turn golden, 10 minutes. Add carrots, celery and red pepper and sauté 3 minutes more. Stir in the pimentón and immediately add the tomato pulp and cooked beans. Add the water, kale, bay leaf, herbs, salt and pepper. (If using water rather than stock, season with at least 1 teaspoon salt or to taste.) 

Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer, covered, until vegetables are almost tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the squash, zucchini and potatoes. Either cook the pasta in the soup or else cook it separately and add to the soup before serving. Bring the soup again to a boil and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are cooked, about 10 minutes. Add the broccoli or sliced green beans during the last 2 minutes of cooking.

Golden Garlic and Pimentón Sauce
Ajada para Sopa

Omit the diced ham for vegetarian soup.

¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
1 red chile, sliced crosswise (or to taste)
1 tablespoon diced serrano ham
1 teaspoon smoked pimentón (paprika)
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a small skillet. Fry the sliced garlic until it begins to turn golden. Do not let it brown. Add the chile and ham. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the pimentón and immediately add the vinegar. Keep the sauce warm. Immediately before using, stir in the chopped parsley. Use 1 or 2 teaspoons of the sauce for each serving of soup.

More vegetable soups:

Saturday, January 9, 2021


The TV weather persons are on a roll. Their shivers of excitement are palpable as they announce “historic snowfalls,” “minus-15ºC temperatures” (centigrade),” “gale-force winds” and, in the south where I live, “aviso naranja” (orange alert) for heavy rainfall. Considering that most of the year the weather in Spain is so benign—blue skies and warm temps, day after day--that the forecasters might play a tape and go home early, they might be forgiven for thrilling to the extremes.

I’m shivering, too, just viewing the meter-long icicles hanging from weathered roofs in northern Spain and heaps of snow blocking the Puerta del Sol in the center of Madrid. So I looked to the northern cuisines for what to cook to ward off the chill. Zamora, a province in northwestern Spain in the Castilla y León region, is known for a robust rice dish chock full of meat and sausage. A far cry from sunny paella, arroz zamorano contains sausages, pork, ham and not a bit of saffron.

Zamora-style rice,  with pork and sausages, bakes in a cazuela. Just the meal for wintery weather.

When the rice is made for the annual matanza, or hog slaughtering, when hams are salted for curing, sausages hung to air-dry and fresh pork loin conserved in confit of lard, it might contain various pig parts—belly, feet, ears, snout—boiled to make a flavorful broth in which to cook the rice. An everyday version, without the feet and ears, can be made with pork loin, ham and sausages 

Pork belly (panceta) is fresh, unsalted, unsmoked bacon. It adds unctuousness to the rice. Chorizo adds more fat as well as color—ruddy pimentón with which the chorizo is seasoned. 

I started with a thick shoulder pork chop (chuleta de aguja). I cut out the bone and used it to make pork broth for cooking the rice. The meat I cut in bite-sized pieces and cooked with the rice instead of loin. The shoulder stays juicier than loin, in my opinion. 

A cazuela—earthenware cooking vessel—can be used, with great care, on a gas flame or, rustic style, in the hearth on a wood fire. Since I switched to an induction cooktop, I can no longer use my clay cazuelas on the stove. Two alternatives—cook the rice in a metal pan (such as a paella pan) on top of the stove or fry the meat and make the sofrito in a skillet and transfer them to a cazuela to bake in the oven. On this cold and rainy day, I’m opting for turning on the oven.

Calories to keep you warm! Pork belly and shoulder meat, link sausages and chorizo cook with the rice. A simple sofrito is the starting point.

A Tempranillo wine from D.O. Toro, Arribes or Tierra del Vino (wine regions of Zamora) would be perfect with the heart-warming rice dish.

Rice in Cazuela, Zamora Style
Cazuela de Arroz a la Zamorana
Use Spanish medium-grain, round rice, the same type as for paella, preferably the Bomba variety. Bomba rice is forgiving, cooking “al dente” without becoming mushy as other varieties can do if not carefully timed. Use double the quantity of liquid to the volume of rice, e.g., 3 cups broth to 1 ½ cups rice to produce a “dry” rice. If you prefer the rice a little juicier, meloso, add another ½ cup of broth during the last 5 minutes of baking. Don't stir the rice once it is distributed in the cazuela.

Vary the quantities of meat and sausage to suit yourself. Use loin instead of shoulder, if preferred. Include ham, if you like. Pieces of cooked and deboned pigs’ feet are authentic. 

Use either regular pimentón (paprika) or smoked pimentón. (I used ½ teaspoon sweet (dulce) smoked pimentón and ½ teaspoon hot (picante) smoked pimentón.)

If fresh tomatoes aren’t available, use 2 tablespoons of canned tomato sauce (tomate frito) or 2 teaspoons of concentrate stirred into ¼ cup of water. Canned pimiento can be substituted for the red bell pepper.

Serves 4-6.

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 links fresh pork sausage (6 ounces)
2 semi-cured chorizos (5-6 ounces), sliced
1 ½-inch slab of fresh or unsmoked bacon (panceta) 
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
8 ounces boneless pork shoulder
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
¼ cup white wine 
½ cup grated tomato pulp
1 ½ cups rice
3 cups pork bone broth or chicken stock (+ additional if needed)
Spigs of thyme
1 bay leaf

Brown sausages and panceta.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Fry the pork link sausages and sliced chorizo until they are browned. Remove them and reserve.

Slice the panceta crosswise into ½-inch strips. Fry them in the fat remaining in the skillet. Skim out when they are browned. 

Add the onion, garlic and red pepper to the skillet and sauté on medium heat 2 minutes. Cut the pork shoulder into 1-inch pieces and season with salt and pepper. Add the pork to the skillet. When the pork is browned, stir in the pimentón. Immediately add the wine. Let the alcohol cook off. Add the tomato pulp. Cook the mixture 5 minutes, until most of the liquid has cooked away. 

Sofrito of onions, garlic and  red pepper.

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Bring the pork broth to a boil.

Stir the rice into the sofrito and pork in the skillet and cook 1 minute. Scrape the rice, pork and sofrito into an oven-safe cazuela. Spread it out. Tuck the link sausages, sliced chorizo and strips of panceta into the rice. Pour in 3 cups of the hot broth. Taste the liquid and add salt if necessary. Add sprigs of thyme and bay leaf to the cazuela. Very carefully transfer the cazuela to the oven.

Bake the rice, uncovered, 20 minutes or until most of liquid is absorbed. If you taste the rice it should be tender, but al dente. Remove the cazuela from the oven. Cover it with foil and allow it to set 5 minutes before serving.

More recipes for rice in cazuela:

Everything you need to know about chorizo here.

More about cazuelas and clay pot cooking here.

Saturday, January 2, 2021



A cake to serve for Three Kings' Day (January 6)

For years now, I’ve stubbornly avoided buying or making the traditional roscón de reyes, the cake/bread served on the Twelfth Day of Christmas (January 6), for the holiday of Tres Reyes. I despise the candied fruit on the top and, although I’m crazy about whipped cream, I dislike the usual gloppy filling for the cake.

But, when a friend passed along several dozen packets of baker’s yeast, I figured I needed to start baking. With the upcoming holiday, the Kings’ Day cake was an obvious place to begin. But I was determined to reinvent the wheel.  

The cake, shaped as a large ring (roscón), is basically an egg-rich brioche dough with butter and quite a lot of sugar. The standard flavorings are dark rum, grated orange zest and orange blossom water. 

I cut the sugar to a minimum (yeast needs a little sugar to facilitate fermentation); swapped sweet PX wine for the rum; extra virgin olive oil for the butter; dried fig compote for the yucky candied cherries. I added some cardamom seeds, just because I like cardamom. Half of the ring I left “savory,” for toast or sandwiches, and half I split and filled with whipped cream and figs. And, because I didn’t have any harina de fuerza, high-gluten bread flour, I used all-purpose flour. I’m so pleased with the results that I think I’ll make it again! And, no need to wait for Reyes to roll around. The roscón is a fine bread for many occasions.

The basic Roscón de Reyes with almonds--does not reveal that it's way down with the sugar and has olive oil instead of butter!  I'm making half the ring as a fairly traditional "cake" with filling. The other half is for breakfast toast.

Not cake. Slices of the roscón are toasted, "buttered" with olive oil and served with fig compote and orange marmalade.

Sliced roscón is topped with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Gorgeous. (A medium-dry Sherry would go nicely with this.)

To finish as cake, the roscón is split and filled with whipped cream. Instead of candied fruits on the top, I've filled the layers with fig compote. On top, a few red currants for pretty and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. (As pictured at the top, the cake is served with raisiny-sweet PX wine. For the kids, accompany with hot chocolate.)

Kings’ Day Cake with Variations
Roscón de Reyes con Variaciones

½ cup milk
Strip of orange zest
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ tablespoons (0.5 ounce) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
6-8 cardamom pods, husks removed (optional)
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 tablespoon PX (sweet) wine
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Almond, dry bean or oven-safe trinket 
Sliced almonds
Pine nuts
Candied fruits
Whipped cream
Sherried fig compote (recipe follows)
Powdered sugar
Red currants

Place the milk and strip of zest in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove and discard the strip of orange zest. Pour half the milk into a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Allow the milk to cool to warm (you can comfortably stick a finger in it). Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and stir to combine. Allow the yeast to proof for 15 minutes, until it is foamy.

Put the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl. Add the grated orange zest and cardomom seeds, if using. Stir to mix.

Mix wet ingredients into the flour.
Reserve ¼ cup of the flour. Place the rest in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and mix. Make a well in the center. Beat 2 of the eggs and add them to the flour. Pour in the remaining warm milk, the yeast mixture, the sugar with zest, the PX, orange blossom water and oil. 

Using a large wooden spoon, begin mixing the fluid ingredients into the flour. When all the ingredients are combined, sprinkle some of the reserved flour on a work surface. Turn the dough out onto the board and knead it, adding additional flour, as needed. The dough will be very sticky at first, but gradually becomes smooth. Use as little added flour as possible. Knead the dough about 8 minutes. (Use a mixer with a bread hook, if you have one.)

Gather the dough into a ball. Put it in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a dampened kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free place (turned-off oven is perfect) to rise until the dough has doubled in size, about 2 ½ hours.

Shape dough into a ring.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Knead it again briefly. Shape into a ball, flatten it slightly. Insert a thumb in the center. Gradually, using the fingers, widen the center hole and stretch the dough to form a ring approximately 10 inches in diameter. 

Transfer the dough ring to a baking sheet lined with parchment. (If using the optional almond, bean or trinket, insert it into the dough from the bottom and pinch the dough closed.) Place the baking sheet with the ring in a draft-free place to rise again, 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl (you will only need half of the egg). Use a pastry brush to brush the top and sides of the ring. Scatter the top with sliced almonds and pieces of candied fruits, if using.

Place the baking sheet on a rack in the bottom third of the oven and bake 15 minutes. Turn the baking sheet back to front and bake 5 minutes more or until the ring is golden-brown.

Remove and cool on a rack.

To fill the roscón, split it in half horizonatally. I have inadvertently revealed the almond hidden in the dough. The person who finds the "prize," almond, dry bean or trinket, is assured of good luck for the coming year. 

To finish the roscón in the traditional way, split it horizontally. Spread the bottom with whipped cream (sweetened or not) and, if desired, fig compote. Replace the top. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Add red currants, if desired. 

If not to be served within a few hours, the roscón with cream should be refrigerated.

Sherried Fig Compote
Compota de Higos con Vino Dulce

Fig compote is almost like jam. 

This thick fig compote is almost like jam. Use it on toast or as a filling for layer cake. Or just serve it with a dollop of whipped cream or Greek yogurt. (I used a spoonful of the fig compote to sauce rare-cooked duck breast. Wow.)

I used Pedro Ximénez sweet wine from Montilla-Moriles—not actually a Sherry, which comes from Jerez de la Frontera. But a sweet Sherry or sweet Málaga wine could be used just as well. 

Small Málaga figs.

12 ounces dry figs
Strip of orange zest
3 allspice berries
2-inch cinnamon stick
2 cups water
4 tablespoons PX wine or sweet Sherry

Wash the figs. Remove stems from figs and, if they are large, cut them in half. Place in a saucepan with the strip of zest, allspice, cinnamon, water and 2 tablespoons of the sweet wine. 

Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until the figs are very soft, 30 minutes. Stir occasionally and make sure the figs don’t scorch.

Remove and discard zest, allspice and cinnamon. Place the figs and any liquid remaining in a food processor with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sweet wine. Pulse to process until figs are desired consistency.  

Keeps, covered and refrigerated, up to a week.

Recipe for Spanish hot drinking chocolate is here.