Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Comfort from the Pantry

Early this week, I woke up with a sore throat and, as the day went on, I began to feel worse and worse. Sickness calls for soup. But I was snuggled up under a duvet on the sofa and in no shape to trudge to the market. The solution: a comforting, hearty tomato soup made entirely from ingredients on hand and in the pantry. This is a simple recipe that can easily be made grand with the addition of a fancy garnish. It is a very happy dinner served with open face cheese toasts and a glass of milk. I'm feeling better already.

Pantry Tomato Soup

1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 springs fresh thyme
4 14-ounce cans chopped tomatoes
1 32-ounce box chicken stock
1/2 cup cream or half and half

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter in the olive oil. Saute the onion over medium heat until translucent. Add the tomato paste and the garlic, and saute for one minute until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes, chicken stock, and herbs, and heat to a slow simmer. Cook, uncovered, for half an hour. With an immersion blender, whiz the soup until velvety smooth. Add the cream and heat through. Serve.

Lovely garnishes (choose one): chunks of feta cheese, homemade croutons, a drizzle of basil oil....

Monday, October 05, 2009

Autumn Delight

The weather is turning cool, and I am turning to stews and soups and other warming comfort foods for dinner. I stopped at the Chicago Farmstand on the way home from work this afternoon for inspiration, and found a nice butternut squash and a pretty bunch of rainbow Swiss chard. Pulled some arborio rice and a box of chicken stock from the pantry, and I whipped up this soothing (and inexpensive!) meal. The sweetness of the roasted squash pairs nicely with the slight bitterness of the greens. The kids scraped their bowls clean and pronounced it a winner.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Swiss Chard

1 butternut squash
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups arborio rice
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel and core the squash and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread in a single layer on a large sheetpan. Sprinkle with olive oil and mix until the pieces are well coated. Salt and pepper. Roast until the edges of the squash cubes begin to brown, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, trim the stems off of the chard and chop them into small pieces. Chop the leaves and keep separate.

When the squash is finished roasting, remove from the oven to cool. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat and saute the onion and the chopped chard stems until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the rice and cook until the rice begins to absorb some of the oil. Add the stock, about 1 cup at a time; stir while the rice cooks; when most of the liquid has been absorbed, add another cup of stock. When the stock has been fully absorbed, add 1 cup of the water and cook down. Just before adding the last cup of water, add the chopped chard leaves; cook and stir. When the water has been mostly absorbed, add the roasted squash and heat through. Add the Parmesan and stir until well incorporated. Taste for seasoning and serve, passing additional Parmesan at the table.

Serve six; less if your children are voracious eaters like mine.