Ladle Women

My father and uncles have a summer garden at my Grammie’s house. Rows of eggplants, jalapeños, zucchinis, cherry and plum tomatoes are poking out of every corner of the little plot of land. It’s an exploding tangle and a bit hard to tame.

However, sometimes the things that appear wildest can be the most beautiful. As Jo March, the most dynamic sister in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, demonstrated, a sprawling landscape can also mean endless possibility and direction. The overflowing tomatoes in the Grammie garden are wonderfully flavorful and have so much complex depth.

Take this colorful soup, for instance. Like adventurous Jo, this dish breaks boundaries. Crossing the seasonal expectation of autumnal and wintry soups, the garden fresh flavors keep this soup light and summery. The hearty tomatoes, bright basil, and tangy goat cheese garnish take something seemingly overwhelming like an untamed garden and turn it into an absolutely delightful experience.

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Roasted Tomato Basil Soup:

8 ripe tomatoes

1/2 onion

5 garlic cloves

2 cups chicken stock

1 tbsp dried oregano

2 tbsp dried basil

1/2 cup fresh basil

2 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Instruction:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Core tomatoes and slice in half. Toss in olive oil, dried oregano, dried basil, salt and pepper. (Leave a bit of the herbs, spices, and oil to the side.) Spread in baking dish.

2. Make a small tin foil pouch. Toss garlic cloves and remaining herbs, spices, and oil together; seal in the pouch and tuck in a corner of the baking dish. Roast tomatoes and garlic for about an hour.

3. When tomatoes and garlic are finished roasting, set aside to cool a bit. In the meantime, in a large pot sauté onion in olive oil and a bit of salt until softened.

4. Add tomato, garlic, and all of the liquid, herbs, and spices from the baking dish. Add chicken stock and bring contents of pot to a boil. Reduce to simmer and let cook uncovered for about fifteen minutes.

5. Turn off heat, and ladle the solids out of the pot into blender. (Save liquid, as consistency of puree will vary.) Add liquid as necessary – the soup should be moderately thick.

6. Strain through a sieve for an extremely silky texture.

Whipped Goat Cheese:

150 g goat cheese, room temperature

1/8 fresh basil, chopped finely

1/2 tsp salt

Instruction:

1. Using an electric beater, whip goat cheese, basil, and salt for about 30 seconds, until creamy and combined.

2. Use a cookie scoop to dollop goat cheese onto each bowl of soup. Garnish with fresh basil.

Enjoy roasted tomato basil soup and herbed goat cheese with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

The Girl with the Dragon Cashew

Over the weekend, we hosted an open house so that I could see family and friends before moving to London. From Saturday morning until well into the Sunday brunch hours, people from various walks of life came and went. In the midst of the haze of food, wine, laughter, and plenty of hugs, I began thinking about how each person at the party had influenced my life and my decision to begin an adventure across the pond. Every guest differs in age, personality, and role in my life, but they’ve all contributed a bit to what happens next.

Cooking is like solving a mystery. As a chef’s job is to find the perfect flavor combination, a crime novelist must make multiple seemingly random elements come together in the end. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, Stieg Larsson introduces multiple characters, each with a complex history that contributes to the plot. Like a fiery red pesto with surprising flavors, this novel’s many elements make up a delectable story. The audience may not understand throughout the creation process, and to the outside eye, some of the ingredients may seem bizarre, but the end result makes perfect sense.

SONY DSCPesto:

1/4 cup cashew nuts

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (I used the jarred kind soaked in olive oil, drained.)

1/4 cup basil

1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt, to season

1/2 pound angel hair pasta

Instruction:

1. In food processor, combine cashew nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and red pepper flakes. Slowly add olive oil and allow it to incorporate as processor is still going. Season with salt.

2. Cook angel hair pasta in boiling salted water. Mix with pesto and thin out with a few tablespoons of pasta water, if necessary.

Enjoy fiery pesto and angel hair with Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!