On Friday I made Melissa Clark’s tomato soup from the New York Times online Food & Wine section. The recipe is interesting; it’s part of an article about how to serve a satisfying and hearty vegetarian meal. I like how she notes it’s tempting, when serving meatless food, to add lots of fats like butter and cream to make up for the lack of meat. With these recipes, though, she eschews this route, and you’d never miss those ingredients, at least in the tomato soup. I love a good cream-spiked tomato bisque, but I’ve been getting ample amounts of butter in my diet from the cookie streak I’ve been on.
I mix up the dough, bake a few, then roll up the excess into waxed paper, slice it into neat slices and chuck them into the freezer, pleased with myself for not foolishly saddling myself with a load of tempting cookies. This strategy, while excellent on the surface, isn’t any more effective for me than baking them all at once, in terms of calorie reduction. The freezer isn’t an out-of-sight, out-of-mind storage vault…I’m all too aware of those frozen pucks of buttery goodness, and the ease with which I can toss a few onto a parchament-lined baking sheet and into the oven.
But I digress. It’s cookie fixations like these that make healthy, hearty autumnal soups all the more appropriate. This one is a cinch. I cut it in half, to avoid wasting leftovers, but it was so good I almost wish I had made the full recipe, and gone the freezer route with them, too.
You start by boiling farro, or in my case, barley, in salted water with some fresh basil leaves. I didn’t have basil, so I skipped it. Then you drain the softened barley, reserving the liquid. Next, toss a sliced leek and minced garlic into the same pot with olive oil, and let it soften into a silken pile of delicate oniony goodness.
This stage is where I diverged from the recipe slightly. Clark instructs to use fresh tomatoes, but I decided to roast the majority of mine. I thought it might heighten and intensify the flavor somewhat…plus, I like roasting things. So while the barley was simmering away, I simply halved my little plum tomatoes and nestled them in a silicone pan, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and gave them a little roast.
After your leek is softened, then, you pour some of the reserved barley cooking liquid, half of the barley, and the roasted or unroasted tomatoes in and let it cook at a simmer.
Here’s where the brilliance happens: you take that lovely mess of soft fragrant tomatoes, leeks, and barley, and puree it in batches in a blender, and it whirs into a thick bisque. The barley blends and dissolves mostly but imbues the soup with heft and nutty flavor. Return it to the pan, and add the rest of the barley for some texture and chew. If you’re me, stir in some dried herbs like thyme, to make up for the lack of basil, and maybe a shot of paprika while you’re at it, because it looks so pretty and vibrantly red in its little jar, and you love its subtle kick.
That’s it! Done. Hearty, filling, completely healthy, and packed with flavor. Next time I’d probably throw in some white wine with the sauteed leek, because I can’t resist adding wine to most things I cook (except cookies…but wait, that could be interesting…!)
We ate it with hearty slices of olive oil toasted bread, and a spinach salad with roasted wedges of baby potatoes with a lemon mustard caper vinaigrette.
And for dessert, cookies, of course. Brown butter coconut cookies with dark chocolate chunks. Sheer decadence. The only thing that could’ve made the meal better would have been a nice glass of wine–maybe a Spanish or Italian red. But I’m laying off all that for a little while, for the time being. Soon and very soon, I’ll be back to imbibing, and by extension wine and food pairing. I’ve been listening to a podcast called The Crush, and it’s made me really want to drink wine in earnest. I want to try natural wines, and orange wines, and Portuguese and Croatian wines.
The selection of wines in Beijing seems a bit limited, and I really have no idea if I could get my hands on some of the fascinating, small-produced, vintage wines they talk about. Still, there is enough here to delve deeper than I have in the past. This is a major city, after all, and though China in general is kind of clueless about wine, the market is exploding and people are curious, and drinking to satiate their curiosity.
And really, I’m clueless too, much as I love wine, and wine with food especially. I have so much to learn, and Beijing’s wine bars and supermarkets (albeit with their steep import-taxed bottles) can provide me with a decent introductory course.