Monday, October 5, 2009

Golden cheddar cheese soup with roasted tomato bread

One of the great things about having a food blog is it keeps us working.

I mean, it's easy to fall into a rut, to discover that though you meant to keep a variety coming, you've been eating the same thing or variations on the same thing, for weeks. Tell me if this sounds familiar: as you get busy doing other things--I don't know, life things, whatever--cooking takes a back seat. Food goes through that less than magical transformation from fascination to fuel, you find a couple of dishes that are fast and tasty enough and you stick with them. As we've been working with the almond harvest and living--let's face it--kind of hand to mouth, we've been guilty of succumbing to this trap. It's been like this lately around the house: cereal for breakfast, a hot dog for lunch, a wrap for dinner. I'm not talking microwave burritos here but still, anything taken often and without pleasure is a chore. This sort of thing used to happen to us a lot, actually, we're prone to it, but since we started ETH we feel just enough responsibility to you, the people reading this blog--our bleaders, to steal a phrase from Julie & Julia--that it can break us out of this rut.

So here is this week's rut-breaker, a quickish dinner that is familiar but still outside of our everyday menu: Golden cheddar cheese soup and roasted tomato bread.

The soup comes from a recipe in Moosewood Cooks at Home (can you tell we have an affinity for these books yet?) and is creamy and wonderful and just tastes... well, Moosewood. At their best, they can manage to make a bowl of vegetables--which is really what this soup is--taste both like itself and like something you want more of. As someone who didn't grow up a huge fan of vegetables, this is a revelation to me. The soup is pretty simple:

Golden Cheddar Cheese Soup
Serves 4 good-sized bowls
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium potatoes, thinly sliced (I didn't even peel them, frankly)
  • 1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium yellow summer squash, thinly sliced(though I used like 4 small)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)
  • pinch of turmeric
  • 2 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 cup buttermilk or milk (we used nonfat and it still turned out super creamy)
  • 1 cup grated sharp yellow cheddar cheese (the quality of the cheese makes a huge difference here so go for some big flavor, you won't regret it)
  • salt to taste
  • minced fresh scallions, chives, or parsley for garnish
In a 3-5 quart soup pot over medium heat, cook the onion in the oil until translucent. Then add the squash, potato, carrot, and broth along with the black pepper and turmeric. Simmer for 20 minutes until vegetables are soft then add milk and cheese and, using either a standard or immersion blender, blend until silky. Salt generously, throw on some chives, and serve.
As you can see from the ingredients, the soup is well named. The pinch of turmeric and the cheese combine to make a lovely golden hue specked in places by bits of darker potato peel and orange dots of carrot and the two cups of dairy make for a very filling, very rich bowl.

The bread, though, is what I really wanted to tell you about.

Last time we made focaccia, it was kind of a mini-disaster. Even after we got the fire alarms to stop screeching like jungle birds gone mad, we were left cleaning piles of charred oil out of the bottom of our oven for months. This time, armed with a thick rolled-edge sheet pan and the steely eyes of true determination, we managed to not only deliver a sheet bread sans catastrophe, it came out really beautifully to boot.
Though this bread shares the dense olive oil flavor of a traditional focaccia, I found the consistency and ease of it to be more akin to a biscuit, especially given the addition of milk as a major liquid ingredient.

Roasted-Tomato Bread
from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
makes one 17-by-12-inch bread
  • 4 pints cherry tomatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tsp coarse salt
  • 3-1/2 cups milk
  • 1-1/2 lbs AP flour
  • 10 oz semolina flour (I used bread flour because I didn't have semolina on hand. I'll definitely have to pick some up, though, as its graininess would be welcome here)
  • 1-1/2 oz fresh yeast (frankly, I don't even know where I can find fresh yeast so I subbed in a tsp active dry yeast and doubled the rise time)
What you do is lay out the tomatoes in a couple of pans, drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil, and sprinkle with 2 tsp salt. Roast the tomatoes in a 300 degree oven until they're shriveled and the juice on the pan has reduced, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring milk to a simmer over low heat. Combine 2 tsp salt, the flours, 3 Tbsp olive oil, and the yeast. If you're using active dry, it might be a good idea to proof the yeast beforehand in a bit of water but I didn't think of it until too late. Mix on low speed with the paddle attachment, gradually adding the hot milk bit by bit. When it's combined, increase speed to medium and mix for a minute.

Transfer to a heavy baking sheet brushed with a bit of olive oil. Spread the dough to fill the pan and cover tightly with plastic wrap.
Let rise for 30 minutes to an hour then, using your fingers, dimple the dough in an uneven pattern leaving a little space between. Arrange half of the roasted tomatoes on the dough, drizzle with 1/4 cup of olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt.

Bake at 425 degrees until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle with remaining oil and cover with reserved tomatoes.
So, there you have it, a way out of the ordinary meal that's totally scratch and totally ready for company in maybe an hour of active time. Not bad for a rut breaker, eh?


Lickedspoon said...

Oh this looks so delicious. The pictures are beautiful.It's 9.25am here and I'm already longing for dinner.

Dana said...

I keep looking at this and wanting more of it. Soon, yes? We can make this again soon?

Jaclyn said...

Ooooooh. Those pictures make me wanna holler in way that's just, well, a bit inappropriate. I am so making this for dinner.

By the way, glad to see you made a delightful culinary discovery on the long drive to our wedding!

Jackie (Darrouzet-Nardi)