By the Fireside

Yes, we live in Tucson. Yes, it is in the Sonoran Desert. Yes, we get more sunshine than most places in the world. But, alas, from time to time we also get cold and rainy days... well, relatively cold and rainy for us. Several weeks ago we had a whole weekend of gloomy, gray, wet weather. When we first moved here, a three-day stretch of clouds and rain would have sent us into therapy. But, having been here six years now, we find the clouds and rain delightful, and it helps us to know that these winter rains will bring good spring wildflowers. Also, we are confident that abundant sunshine is just around the bend. As for the cold? No longer hardened Maine-iacs, we now whimper a little when the mercury plummets below 50º Fahrenheit, and then we light a fire in the fireplace.

Incidentally, back East, when the mercury would finally reach 50ºF (10ºC), we'd run around the house and throw open the windows and doors to admit the "warm" spring air. My, oh my, how times have changed! We would have been laughed out of Maine had we lit a fire when it was a mere 50ºF!

To me, one of the most perfect fireside meals is a bowl of hearty soup, with homemade bread and a glass of wine. That is exactly what we have done this weekend.

I will start with the bread, as you need to begin the process early in the morning. One day I was going through my recipe files and found five recipes for "no-knead bread." I think one of the versions originated in the NY Times, but I don't know for sure. The funny thing is that each of the five recipes is different in its details. (By the way, I don't think there is anything wrong with kneading dough to make bread, but when I am working, bread making during the week is impractical.)

The recipe below is a little culinary miracle. First, it requires no kneading, and second, it sits unattended all day while I am at work. Third, and truly most important of all, after years of attempting to replicate my mother's French bread, I stumbled across this recipe which is close to hers, both in crust and crumb.

The basic equipment for this recipe a Dutch oven, or covered kettle that can be pre-heated in a 450ºF oven while empty. Be very careful to choose a glass, ceramic or cast-iron vessel that won’t crack under such heat.

I have modified the recipe using bits and pieces of the five different recipes and added my own two cents where I feel it makes a difference. I cannot recommend this bread highly enough!

On to the star of the post: the soup! For my birthday in August, our friends Susan and Towny (The Modern Trobadors - great post this week about French pharmacies!) sent me a grain which looks similar to farro, or spelt. It is called petit épeautre. And, while related to spelt (they are two different species in the wheat genus Triticum), petit épeautre - or einkorn - is genetically somewhat different. You can find more information on the website for the Syndicat du petit épeautre de Haute Provence.

This little grain makes a wonderfully hearty soup, akin to the Italian zuppa di farro. The website contains some recipes, too, but having made farro soup in the past, I decided I would simply create something with ingredients I had on hand.

Soup making isn't rocket science, so my only real concern was the cooking time of the épeautre. Happily, the package states clearly, "Cuisson: 30m." I gathered my vegetables for the soffrito, some basil from the garden, some chicken stock and started to put together my first soupe d'épeautre.

As I said, making soup is easy, and you can follow the steps below to make any kind of hearty vegetable soup. I used chicken broth because I had it on hand, but water, vegetable broth or any combination would work well, too. A dollop of sherry or wine might be a nice addition. All you need to do is make sure your vegetables are cooked to the right consistency (not too mushy, please) and that your grain of choice is also done to perfection. If you don't have access to épeautre/einkorn or farro/spelt, other good grains to consider are barley, rice and quinoa.

I managed to time the day perfectly. The bread came out of the oven about 15 minutes prior to finishing the soup, which gave it just enough time to rest and slice well.

And now it's time to stoke the fire, slather the bread with butter, pour the wine and ladle the soup.

Stay warm and cozy!

- David

Soupe d’Épeautre

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 Vidalia onion
2 celery stalks
1 leek, white and light green part only
4 medium carrot
1 cup épeautre (may substitute wheat berries or farro)
1 (12-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup tomato purée
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
4-6 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, water or a combination
3 cups slices kale, loosely packed
1 cups frozen green peas
15-20 fresh basil leaves, cut into slivers
extra virgin olive oil for garnish
Parmigiana-Reggiano, for garnish

Chop the onion; slice the celery lengthwise and then cut into a quarter-inch dice; slice the leek lengthwise in quarters and then slice crosswise; slice the carrots lengthwise in quarters and then cut into quarter-inch dice.

In a soup kettle, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, leek and carrot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and light golden brown – about 10-12 minutes. Add the tomato purée and cook 2 minutes, or until it darkens slightly. Add the épeautre, beans, salt and pepper, stirring to mix well. Add 4 cups broth, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let the soup simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Add the kale and simmer an additional 20 minutes. Add the peas, stirring to combine, and continue to cook for another 20 minutes, adding between 1 and 2 cups of broth or water as necessary to keep the soup from getting too dry.

Just before serving, add the basil and stir. Divide evenly between 6 warmed soup bowls, drizzle with olive oil and top with slivers of Parmigiana-Reggiano.

Serves 4-6.


No-Knead Bread

3 cups bread flour

1/4 ounce yeast (not rapid rise), or 2 1/4 teaspoons
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
Olive oil spray

First thing in the morning, mix the flour, yeast, salt and water in a large bowl. It will be a raggedy, sticky dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put in a warm, draft-free place for the day (I turn on the oven for a minute and then turn it off, and I put the bread in the slightly warm oven for the day, especially useful for those who live in drafty antique houses).

When you get home from work - or at least 8 hours later – put the empty Dutch oven with lid in the oven and pre-heat the oven to 450ºF (if you’ve used the oven to rise the dough, make sure you take it out before pre-heating it!). Spray a cutting board with olive oil spray and turn the dough out onto the board. Fold it once or twice and then let it rest, in a covered bowl, for 30 minutes while the oven pre-heats.

After 30 minutes, the Dutch oven will be very hot. Carefully remove it from the oven and take off the lid. Scoop up the dough, keeping the seam side down and drop it into the hot Dutch oven. The dough will hiss as it hits the hot surface. Using pot holders, shake the kettle from side to side to even out the distribution of the dough. Return the cover to the pot and place in the oven to bake.

After 30 minutes, remove the lid and bake an additional 15 minutes uncovered until perfectly browned on top. Turn bread out onto a rack and let cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Makes 1 boule.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,