Sunday, May 1, 2011

Toscana soup and Country Crêpes

To be honest, the only reason I am posting about these dishes instead of all the others I've made over the past few weeks is that these were the only two I could photograph during daylight hours. That statement should indicate at least two things: a) that I've been trying to document our meals with some photography and b) that we have not made it home for dinner before sunset except for 1/7th of the past two weeks. But, digressing... as soon as the weather warms up I get an unsustainable urge to chow on fresh vegetables which is not fulfilled until they start appearing at the local farm stand. Until then, plenty of vegetarian gado-gado and bagged salads with grilled chicken.

This past week I picked up a bunch of kale at the COOP. I don't mind the occasional slow-cooked kale or collard greens with flavorful fatty meat but this time of year I like a little green still in the kale when I eat it. My go-to recipe for kale under these circumstances is a simple toscana soup.

Now, my family is ethnically many things, but none of them are Italian. We started eating toscana soup at home after my mom grew addicted to it from too many soup and salad dinners at the Olive Garden. Her one complaint about the restaurant's toscana was the minimal and sometimes complete lack of toothsome pieces of kale. She eventually picked apart the dish, like my Oma used to do with so many other dishes, and created a convincing version in the kitchen with a high kale concentration. I don't think I had ever eaten kale before this soup. She taught me how to make her version some time in high school and, after comparing it to various online recipes, I have found it very similar. But, since I grew up with my mom's version, so to speak, I like hers a little better (recipe below).

I am proud to confess that I've done a little recipe development of my own and it resulted in something that I am now encouraged to make regularly with accolades from the one man peanut gallery. It started with a half-full carton of buttermilk left over from... well, I honestly can't remember, but seriously how are two people supposed to use a quart of fresh buttermilk up in a week unless they subsist exclusively on pancakes and biscuits? Granted one of my roommates in college would drink buttermilk straight up (and I subsequently never had the problem of leftovers), but that's not my style.

Anyway, at the end of the week I try to do something easy which also uses up what scraps are left in the fridge. It was going to be a breakfast-for-dinner night and I had some fresh sausage links and eggs awaiting a starchy counterpart. Pancakes were sounding a little heavy, though, so I searched around for a buttermilk crêpe recipe and found this one. Crêpes are delicate, though, and I didn't really feel like handling them (can you begin to see how meals depend largely on my mood?) so I thickened the recipe and cooked them, without flipping them, in a covered and well-seasoned pan. As they finished frying/steaming, I grated some cheddar on them and added the cooked diced sausage, folding them over as I plated. I topped them with a fried egg, the yolk still runny. The result: Country Crêpes (recipe below). Maple syrup could have been used, but I like them as is.

The remaining crêpes were slightly sweetened, stuffed with cinnamon applesauce and dusted with powdered sugar for dessert. Very yummy. Now I need to figure out what to do with a half-full 24oz jar of applesauce.

Recipe: My Mom's Toscana Soup

1 large sweet onion,diced
1 fennel bulb, finely chopped (optional)
a couple garlic cloves, finely diced
1 lb each of hot and mild italian sausage (if you like it hot, go hot all the way. Similarly for mild.)
red pepper flakes (optional)
2 lbs of well-scrubbed red or yukon gold potatoes, sliced ~1/4-1/8' thick.
3 liters of chicken stock, lightly seasoned
big bunch of kale (I use this kind over this kind or other kinds), washed, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
oil for frying (I alternate between vegetable and olive)
salt for seasoning
milk and Parmesan cheese for serving

In a large pot (big enough to hold all of these ingredients), heat the oil and sweat the onion and fennel under medium heat until translucent and soft. Add the red pepper flakes, garlic, and sausage, casings removed, and brown slightly until the meat is cooked and all the nice fatty sausage oils come out. Add the sliced potatoes and sautée for 5 minutes. You can deglaze with a cup of white wine at this point. I don't because my chicken stock usually has white wine in it. Pour in the chicken stock, enough to cover everything, adding water to make up the difference. Let the pot come to a boil, covered, then reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are just tender. Mix in the kale and simmer for an additional 5 minutes or until the kale is just cooked. Season to taste.

To serve, pour a little milk or cream in a bowl and ladle the soup in on top so the two mix well. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese. The soup without milk can last in the fridge for about a week and even longer frozen. I steam and store the kale separately in these cases, mixing it in at the end for ultimate green-y flavor.

Recipe: Country Crêpes

Ingredients (adapted from here):
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp melted butter, plus more for frying
1 and 3/4th cups buttermilk
2 tsp sugar (double this for the applesauce filling)
2 eggs
pinch of salt (two pinches if the butter was unsalted)

to fill:
cooked sausage links, diced
grated white cheddar
sweetened cinnamon applesauce

to garnish:
runny fried eggs
cinnamon and powdered sugar
maple syrup

Blend all crêpe ingredients together in a blender or combine them by mixing the dry ingredients together and adding them staggered in tandem with the buttermilk to the beaten eggs. Add the melted butter last. The goal is a lump-free batter. You can chill the batter for at least 30 minutes at this point (or overnight), but I use cold buttermilk and rigorous mixing until the batter resembles runny pancake batter and skip the chilling step. Ladle a thick amount (enough for 4 regular-thickness crêpes) onto the medium-heated greased frying pan, tilting the pan to spread it out, and cover, allowing the top to steam-cook. Once the top of the crêpe is dry, cover with grated cheese and sausage links, allowing the cheese to melt a little before folding over and sliding onto a plate. Top with fried egg and maple syrup, if desired.

For the applesauce variant, skip the cheese and sausage and spoon a few heaping tablespoons of applesauce into the center of the crêpe, folding over as you plate. Apply a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon-mixed powdered sugar and maple syrup, if desired. These crêpes can be filled with anything, but the applesauce reminds me of æbleskivers.

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