Marcella’s Broccoli and Potato Soup

Each year I look forward to making this recipe with the first broccoli from the fall garden. I’ll make it several times from mid-autumn to early winter. It requires but a few humble ingredients which, when combined in the soup pot, are as satisfying as knowing you have an uncommitted hundred dollar bill in your pocket.

As with many soups of few ingredients, it requires attention to detail, your best technique, as well as quality ingredients. But if you are anything like me, you find as much enjoyment in the process as the reward.

fall vegetables

The process for me starts with chicken stock made from scratch. I use old hens from my flock each year to make my stock, but any bones would work great. From the carcasses I make a very richly flavored stock which I preserve by canning. I use the homemade canned stock for many soups throughout the cold months. I urge you, if you don’t already, to learn how to make good stock even if you don’t preserve it by canning.

The next step for me is in my garden. I walk the rows of heirloom broccoli looking for tight, almost purple in color, florets. I give them a delicate squeeze for firmness and if they make the grade I get out my pocket knife and cut the stalks. It doesn’t stop there: there are the firm, yellow-fleshed potatoes and the pungent basil leaves stripped from thick, late-summer stalks.

All the ingredients are laid out on the counter top. I have an urge to stick close to Marcella’s original recipe, I want her book close at hand and set it next to the cutting board. Even though I have made this recipe from memory I want to make it as Marcella has it written. I like to do this occasionally, to refresh my memory and taste.

I clean the vegetables. With the exception of the potatoes, I cut everything and collect up the ingredients setting them neatly on a sheet tray. Then I move them close to the soup pot so they are at hand.

I came late to Marcella’s books in my cooking, even then it took time for her to grow on me. She was a champion of home cooking and I was more interested in preparing fancy and complicated restaurant food. I never met her; even so I often call her Marcella as if I knew her. I bet lots of people do this.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We did have a conversation once through social media. She called me out on a picture of a branzino, a Mediterranean sea bass. I had this fancy picture, a great photograph of the fish on a bed of greens with prosciutto and I posted it. I received lots of positive comments and likes. Then later that Saturday night Marcella asked me, “What are you doing to this poor fish?”

She may as well have rolled up a wet kitchen towel and snapped me on the ass. She called me out. What proceeded from the sting was a weekend-long exchange of messages, me going to the grocery to get another branzino and her teaching me how to simply poach the fish in aromatics and serve it with a simple aioli. Her recipe was by far the better.

What was important wasn’t that she taught me how to cook a branzino, or that she shared a recipe with me, but that she reeled me in. In one fell swoop she made me realize the importance of simple home cooking, that making restaurant food at home is silly, often wasteful and that great home cooking isn’t about chasing trends and being a foodie but more importantly how to cook wholesome good food for your family.

It might have taken culinary school to make me a chef but in a single Saturday night Marcella turned me into a home cook.

Marcella’s Broccoli and Potato Soup (adapted from Marcella Cucina)

Makes 6 servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups yellow onion, julienned
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, medium dice
2 1/2 cups broccoli florets, no stems
3 1/2 cups stock, chicken or vegetable
6 smallish fresh basil leaves, torn
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated

  1. In a 3 1/2-quart heavy-bottomed pot, combine the olive oil and half the butter. Place the pot over medium heat. Once the butter begins to melt, add the onions. Season them with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Saute the onions until they become golden. Don’t rush this step and adjust the heat as necessary to keep them from browning too fast. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
  3. Add the potatoes. Stir them to coat with oil and let them sizzle away for a minute or two. Add the broccoli and do the same as you did with the potatoes. Add the stock.
  4. Bring the stock to a boil. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning. Go easy on the salt though because the Parmesan has lots and will act as seasoning as well.
  5. Simmer the soup until the broccoli and potatoes are tender. The broccoli is not going to remain vibrant green, but if it is good broccoli it won’t be olive drab either.
  6. Once the potatoes have cooked through, add the parmesan, the remaining butter, and the basil. Stir to combine and serve with more black pepper.
Advertisements

Cheese Lasagne

While this technically is vegetarian I don’t think I would call it that. Vegetarian leads me to think there are some vegetables involved. I will call it meatless though.

This lasagna takes me straight back to my childhood. It reminds me of everything I loved about baked pasta growing up and guess what, it is a favorite of my kids too.

It really comes together easy since you use the no boil pasta sheets. I like to make the sauce but if you have a favorite great quality variety in a jar that you want to use, well, just go for it. You could easily make this in advance and cover it and keep it in the fridge for a day. You can go straight from fridge to oven just add another 15 to 20 minutes to the initial bake time.

Serves 6 to 8

extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, peeled and chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses

one 28oz. box pomi strained tomatoes

one 28oz. box pomi chopped tomatoes

1/4 teaspoons fennel seed, ground

2 teaspoons oregano

2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 pound no boil whole wheat lasagna noodles

12 ounces low moisture mozzarella , grated

12 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into eight rounds

1 pound cottage cheese, drained in a strainer

2 eggs

1 cup parmesan cheese, grated

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Place a 3 1/2 quart heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan liberally. Add the onions and season them with a healthy pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper.

2. Sweat the onions until they are soft. Add the garlic and once it is fragrant add the pomegranate molasses, tomatoes, fennel, oregano, parsley and tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer.

3. Occasionally stir the sauce to keep it from sticking. Taste the sauce and if you think you need to add a teaspoon of sugar.

4. While the sauce is cooking combine the cottage cheese, eggs and parmesan in a mixing bowl. Season it with pepper and a little salt. Usually parmesan is salty so it shouldn’t need to much. Combine everything well and set aside or refrigerate.

5. Cook the tomato sauce until it has reduced down and has thickened. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

6. If you choose to cook the lasagna now preheat the oven to 375˚ F. If you want to wait to cook it finish up the remaining steps and assemble the final product, cover and store it in the fridge.

7. Drizzle some lines of extra virgin olive oil into a 9 x 13 casserole. Take a spoon and spoon about a half cup of tomato sauce on top of it and spread it around to make a thin coating on the bottom of the pan.

8. Lay out a layer of dried noodles across the bottom of the pan. Spoon some sauce over the dried noodles. This layer should be heavy. Spread it with the back of the spoon to even it up. Sprinkle half the grated mozzarella over the sauce then lay on another layer of noodles.

9. Another coat of tomato sauce on top of the noodles then spread the cottage cheese over the middle layer. Lay out the last layer of noodles and put down a thin coat of sauce, more then a coat of paint, then top with grated mozzarella and finish with the fresh mozzarella rounds.

10. Cover the casserole tightly with foil. Slide it into the oven and bake it for an 45 minutes. Remove the top, turn the heat to 450˚ F and bake another 20 minutes or until the cheese has browned.

11. Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. This is really important. It lets everything meld real nicely, the noodles absorb juices and it just makes lasagna better. Cut into portions and serve.