Thursday, November 17, 2011

Back to the Roots (Portuguese Kale Soup)

My sisters and I always looked forward to trips to see our grandparents. In the case of my father's family, that meant Meme and Pepe in Ludlow, Massachusetts. Meme was a grand housekeeper and avid gardener, with heady roses and prolific tomatoes always leaning over the fence. The bees buzzed heavy in her yard, looping overhead like acrobats on hidden strings. Pepe was a retired milkman, ready with a joke and rather fond of cigars.

Dip in for more
Both my father's parents came from somewhat recently immigrated families, but our cultural roots weren't something that was ever made overly prominent, except when it came to food. Pepe always made sure that, when we came to visit, they'd be stocked up on soft, fragrant Portuguese rolls. There was also ubiquitous linguiça, a sausage spiced with garlic and paprika, of which I was always (baselessly) somewhat averse. What I consider the premiere highlight of our Lusitanian heritage, however, is the kale soup, or caldo verde.

Bowlful of color
This was especially a favorite of my father's, made slowly over the day on a lazy weekend. I'd always complain vociferously, of course, because of the linguiça. I don't know what was wrong with me. Palates develop over time, though, and one cold, gray day I must've been homesick, because I felt the need to try and recreate my father's recipe.

I don't mean to throw shade on my forebears, but my hesitation toward linguiça remains. I like it better with chouriço. Chouriço is also an Iberian pork sausage featuring garlic and paprika, which makes me sound crazy, but I feel that it's spicier and the smaller size offers improved texture.

This dish is actually somewhat similar to my chicken soup recipe from our first post. I consider that instructive: work with what you know. Layering new alterations upon a basic foundation can help you express your creativity.

Stripping it down
Caldo verde (Portuguese Kale Soup)

As with the chicken soup, a heel of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese slipped into your broth as you simmer the ingredients adds hearty, subtle flavor. It deepens the harmony of the other ingredients.

2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 chouriço sausage (Spanish varieties, called chorizo, may be easier to find)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots and their greens, chopped
3 ribs of celery and their greens, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped
2 quarts good chicken stock, warmed
3-6 sprigs fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1 heel of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (slice off the thick, rindy side from a wedge)
4-6 red-skinned potatoes, washed and chopped
1 15-oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 lb fresh kale, washed and chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Warm the oil in the bottom of a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once it sizzles lightly, add the chouriço and saute for one to two minutes, until the fat is just beginning to render out, staining the oil brilliant paprika red and filling the air with spicy garlic fragrance.

Mighty mirepoix
Add the mirepoix (onion, celery, and carrots) and saute an additional 2 minutes, until the onions are beginning to go translucent. Then add the garlic and saute for another 2 minutes. It will smell really garlicky, but that's traditional. Dial back as you see fit.

Now, add the stock in a slow stream, stirring to incorporate. Slip in the herbs (I leave mine whole as a bouquet garni to be removed later), kidney beans, potatoes (keep the skin on!) and heel of cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and turn back the heat to low. Allow to simmer for at least 30 minutes or as long as up to four hours. The flavors will mellow, deepen and meld with time, so it's a delicious quick meal, but a revelation as leftovers or a slow weekend dinner.

When you're ready to serve, shred the kale into bite-sized strips right into the bowls, then ladle the hot soup over them. Allow the bowls to sit for about one minute so that the kale wilts while retaining its color and body, then stir and serve immediately.

As a serving suggestion, I recommend some variation of "The Bread." Yes, it is that simple and, yes, it is that good. My variation exploits the tactical deployment of some Herbes de Provence.

Is butter a carb?
The two make inseparable companions. As noted above the "dipdip" is an honored trend we celebrate with our nephews. You're never too old for it.



Robin said...

These posts make me anxious to have our kitchen back together. Beautiful pictures - what is it about celery, onions, and carrots that is so aesthetically pleasing?

J said...

I think it's the aesthetic balance they provide: organic shapes of roughly the same size in contrasting colors. I read an article that claimed many movie posters exploit an amber/aqua color scheme because it's considered so striking and visually pleasing. Celery isn't exactly aqua, but I think its mellow green against vivid carrot orange provides a similar harmony.