March 18, 2012

A Winter Cheat: Roasted Tomato Soup

Just about this time of year, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. The symptoms are all there: lack of energy and the ability to concentrate; slow, lethargic movement; social withdrawal; irritability. Except the cause is not what you might think. I'm perfectly fine with grey skies, and every day after the winter solstice gets reassuringly longer.

No, it's not the weather, tempting as that may be to blame. The cause of my winter doldrums is quite simple. No tomatoes. After the glory of late fall's harvest, I'm left leaden by the hard and unyielding, artificially red orbs in the produce section. Mexico's harvest doesn't tempt me, and even the baby tomatoes that grow up in greenhouses seem somehow wrong and out of place next to the kale and cabbage.

While it's noble to wait until the seasons spin around again, I still imagine there must be some easy way to extract a kernel of flavour from what's at hand. And just as the secret to a summer tomato is the heat of the sun, so too is heat the trick to bringing life to the seemingly lifeless winter tomato. This delicious soup almost manages to make you think that the sun shining outside is smiling down on leafy tomato plants and not a blanket of snow.

Roasted Tomato Soup
from Gourmet Today
serves four to six

4 lb tomatoes, halved lengthwise
6 garlic cloves, left unpeeled
3 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ tsp dried oregano, crumbled
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
½ cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. 

2. Place tomatoes and garlic in one layer on a rimmed cookie sheet, tomatoes cut side up. Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Roast for one hour, and allow to cool.  Once garlic is cool enough to handle, peel and set aside.

3. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over moderate heat.  Add onion, oregano, and sugar and sauté, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about five minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, and stock and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

4. Let soup cool slightly and then purée in batches.  Put the soup through a sieve, discarding solids, and place in a medium saucepan. Stir in cream and salt and pepper to taste and simmer two minutes.  Sprinkle with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano, if desired, and garnish with a fresh sprig of basil.

The addition of cream gives this soup an almost carroty colour

If the thought of using winter tomatoes still doesn't appeal, wisely do what the Italians do and use canned tomatoes, sourced at their height of juicy goodness.

March 12, 2012

Simply Supreme: Blood Orange Marmalade with Star Anise and Ginger

Cooking is full of oddities.  Funny measures, like a a pat of butter or peck of peppers.  Archaic techniques and even stranger ways to describe them.  Baking a pie crust blind.  Bringing water to a rolling boil.  Coddling eggs. 

I love the specificity of these words, carrying with them the collective wisdom of hundreds of hands doing the same task, perfecting them and capturing their meaning in a "just so" way.  And like an amateur sleuth, I ferret out new methods and the words to describe them, collecting them like so many shells along the shore.

Here's my latest acquisition.  Supreming. A lovely word to describe a rather onerous and mundane task: that of separating the pesky membrane from a citrus fruit.  Not so bad if you're making a smallish fruit salad but a bit more daunting when faced with several pounds of citrus waiting to be transformed into marmalade. 

I first made blood orange marmalade last winter, and with the last of the jars scraped clean and a new crop of the beauties at the grocers, I wanted to try my hand at it again.  Serendipity in the form of Food in Jars smiled upon me, with this brilliant and time saving method that eliminates the need to supreme the fruit.  I added my own twist in the way of exotic spices that heighten and complement the sweet and slightly mysterious deep red oranges from way down south.  While you may not need supreme the fruit, I can assure you the results will still be quite divine.

Blood Orange Marmalade with Star Anise, Ginger and Cardamom
adapted from Food in Jars
yields approximately 6 ½ pint jars

The secret to this brilliant technique that eliminates the need to supreme is an overnight soak of the citrus fruit.  This breaks down the pith, and softens the fruit, with glorious results.

2 lbs blood oranges
2½ lbs sugar (about 5 cups)
3 star anise pods
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thick slices
5 green cardamom pods
8 c water

1.  Wash the oranges well.  Trim each end, exposing the fruit, and cut in half.

2.  Using a very sharp knife, cut out the orange cores, removing any seeds at the same time.  Preserve both cores and seeds.

3.  Cut the orange halves into thin slices, and cut each half into three segments. You want the fruit to be as thin as possible, with small bite size segments.
4.  Take the reserved cores and seeds and tie them up securely with kitchen twine in cheesecloth.

5.  Put orange segments and cheesecloth bundle in a large bowl and cover with water. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.  If time and life interfere and you need to soak the fruit longer than a day or two, do so with impunity.

6.  To cook the marmalade, remove the cheesecloth bundle with the cores and seeds and discard. Place the fruit and water in a non-reactive large pot (preferebably wide and shallow), and stir in the sugar. Place the star anise, fresh ginger and cardamom in cheesecloth, and tie securely so that none of the spices escape.  Tuck the spice bundle amongst the fruit.

7.  Bring the marmalade to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the marmalade is reduced by half or reads 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer (about 40 minutes).  Test the marmalade to ensure that it has "gelled".  Ladle marmalade into prepared jars, wipe rims, apply lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Enjoy this delightful marmalade in a variety of ways, and not just on toast.  Try it on roast pork or as a side to a cheese plate too.