Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Creamy chard-stem soup

I've decided to return to posting recipes on this blog, since maintaining two blogs seems a bit too much work for me, and I'm getting too old for MySpace.

Chard has become one of my favorite vegetables this summer, mostly because one of my favorite Joy of Cooking recipes, the chard tart, has become a favorite of the kids' as well. But this recipe, like so many chard recipes, calls for removing the stems, which seems a bit of a waste. What to do with the stems alone? I've chucked them into stir-fries and curries, but — at least for the red-hued chard — they sometimes bring a neon-pinkish color which is not always appetizing. In Spain, the stems are breaded and deep-fried as tapas, but deep-fat-frying is not something one should be doing that regularly.

I instead started making a creamy soup with them, which has worked out well — the kids even love it. It can be served hot or cold, and like almost all pureed soups, loves homemade croutons. I've never measured the amounts, just pretty much used what I've had of each, and eyeballed the milk/cream at the end:

1. Melt some butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add chopped onions and cook slowly and gently until translucent. The smell of onions cooking slowly in butter is one of the great kitchen smells of all time. If you're really ambitious (and want an even better smell), substitute a leek for the onion.

2. Add a good chunk of chard stems, chopped. Last night I used the stems from 1 1/2 lbs. of chard. Stir and cook for a few minutes.

3. Add some starchy (yellow or white) potatoes, chopped into 1/2" cubes, and water to cover. Last night I used 3 egg-sized potatoes, skin and all. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until potatoes can be broken up with a wooden spoon, 20 minutes or so. It would probably be a nice touch to add some fresh basil to the soup right at this point, but I've never done it.

4. The best Christmas gift ever — I got one from my mother-in-law a year or two back — is the handheld stick blender that you can stick into a pot to blend up hot liquids (which otherwise have a tendency to misbehave and splatter all over the kitchen in standing blenders). If you've gotten to this point in cooking and don't have one and have $60 to spare, turn off the stove, go out and buy one, come home, and whiz up the soup into a nice puree. If that's not an option, let the soup cool, blend it in a blender, then reheat and proceed with the recipe.

5. Add enough cream or half-and-half to lighten the soup a few shades. If it's too thick for your liking, thin the soup with milk. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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