Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Warm Welcome (Chicken Soup with White Beans and Escarole)

Hello, ladies & gents! With warmest wishes we welcome you to the new and improved blog: GourmetGents. A and I want to take some time for ourselves and spend more time in the kitchen; to that end (and to try and add some discipline to that commitment): I lend our voice to the wider blogosphere.

This is going to be a space for us to share our thoughts on all things urbane, domestic, and, most especially, gustatory. You can look forward to weekly recipes and their related musings as well as semi-seasonal offerings for home design, housekeeping, holiday planning, the works. Ever the aspirational and ardent dilettantes, we think we have a lot to offer in these areas.

The old blog? Well, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. As it turns out, after making that first, tremulous, exploratory post, my non-cyber life got a bit more hectic. With three years, a career change, and a transplant to Pennsylvania under my belt, I think I'm ready to buckle down and actually start handing out some recipes.

The proof, so they say, is in the pudding, so let's get down to business:


Okay, perhaps not the most alluring of gastronomical vixens to have tempted your eyes today. If you're like me, though, the sky for the past week or so has been a whole lot of this:

Watch out for dementors

Now that's a much less pleasing image. That's what brings us to our talk of warming. The first weekend of Autumn gives us each our gifts & challenges. Like many people, A and I need to set our garden in order and prepare for the long winter ahead. In today's case, however, that didn't mean outdoor gardening so much as repotting a violet to go upstairs and into the lounge.

Even so, that brought me out onto the back deck and into the drizzly, gray-skied, and charmingly 50-degree weather Williamsport has been enjoying for days on end. I hopped back inside, besodden and shivering, faster than masculine dignity may have allowed and set myself to cooking something to warm the place back up.

Scout, of course, had to help

There's no chicken soup for the soul, in my opinion, like actual chicken soup. Now, I'd love to say today's item shall be a time-honored tradition handed down from my mother, a sovereign panacea for convalescence. Such is not the case today, but I offer up instead a personal favorite of mine adapated from the copious works of Rachael Ray.

Rachael takes her knocks and is probably among the first to remove herself from the "gourmet" echelon, but as a budding cook-to-be in 90s Mattapoisett, it was the Food Network that offered my primary access to the world of haute cuisine. Rachael is great at being accessible and encouraging people to get started and that, at least, should be admirable to all. In that spirit, I did what I usually do with a recipe: I tweaked it to be more my style.

Strive for five
With an added focus on more veggies, fresh herbs, and a repurposing of the cheese component into a subtler note, the soup becomes denser in flavor and more sophisticated. This fiber-packed one-pot meal pairs delicate, savory broth with toothsome strips of escarole. Lightly green and frilly-edged, you may recognize escarole as the fully mature leaves of the pale ivory endive. Oh, and of course there's the chicken.

Normally, I'd be all about starting things out with some pancetta, but every now and then I try and make things a little lighter, and a rotisserie chicken from Wegman's is easy protein with half the hassle. We may be gourmet, but that doesn't mean we can't take any shortcuts. For a flexitarian, I just really love pork fat, maybe because my parents always watched Emeril, maybe because we're part Portuguese. A good chicken, however, isn't exactly unappealing:

A little help from my friends
Believe me, the true charm of this recipe lies in the chicken. When the weather is gray, when you've had a hard day, or an even harder week, this soup simply throws itself together in no time and, with just a little effort, maybe one might have a sovereign panacea for convalescence, after all.

Chicken soup, white beans, escarole
Adapted from 30 Minute Meals

2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots and their greens, chopped
6 ribs of celery and their greens, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped
2 quarts good chicken stock (I use homemade or Kitchen Basics), warmed
3-6 sprigs fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1 heel of Parmesan cheese (slice off the thick, rindy side from a wedge)
1 15-oz. can white beans, rinsed and drained
1 whole rotisserie chicken, skinned and separated
12 oz. escarole, washed and chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Add the extra virgin olive oil to the bottom of a large, heavy Dutch oven or soup pot and warm over medium heat. Add your mirepoix (chopped onions, carrots, and celery), I use a rough, irregular chop for heartier pieces and a more varied texture. The oil should greet your mirepoix with an enthusiastic sizzle.

Cook, stirring frequently, for about ten minutes, I like to make sure the carrots get a chance to soften up and the onions become completely translucent. Then add your garlic and continue to stir for about five minutes more. The combination of aromatics will fill your kitchen with authentic homemade fragrance.

Pour in the chicken stock and add the herbs, bay leaf, white beans, and the heel of Parmesan. This is your secret weapon. A hard, dense cheese, the Parm will develop a somewhat mushy surface as it cooks but maintain its structural integrity. Unbeknownst to many soup-makers, this handy addition provides a rich, full flavor and satisfying umami note in the background.

Secret weapon
 Turn the heat down to simmer, cover, and allow the soup to coast for at least half an hour. The more time you choose to give this process, the more the flavors can develop. On a lazy, rainy, weekend afternoon, 3 hours is perfect. If you can still grab herbs fresh from your garden, so much the better.

Mint, the silent conqueror
Once the vegetables have softened and the beans infused with flavor, gently slip in your chicken. Over time in the hot broth, the meat will shred and break down, so I find it best to start with largish chunks. Allow the chicken to simmer into the broth at least 5 minutes more, then remove the sprigs of herbs and heel of Parmesan cheese and add the escarole. Stir until just wilted.

If you're preparing a large pot of soup to portion out over several days, I like to divide fresh escarole among the individual bowls, ladle the hot soup on top, and give them a quick stir before immediately serving. That way the greens retain more body and their bright, verdant color.

Serve with some crusty bread and fancy, higher-fat butter like Lurpak or Plugra, to those in need of warming.




Josh said...

Do you have any leftover?

J said...

A little, yes. :)

In a sealed container in the refrigerator, this keeps beautifully for about 3 days (remember the trick about individual portions of fresh escarole, though).

For vegetarians making this recipe, I'd substitute veggie stock and omit the chicken. A vegan would want to drop the Parm, as well. To bulk it back up and reclaim the deeper umami flavor, try adding baked tofu or sauteing crimini, shiitake, or oyster mushrooms in with your mirepoix.