Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sweet Corn and Chanterelle Soup

I have a serious weakness for simple pureed vegetable soups. Done correctly, they capture the essence of their main ingredient: sweet spring peas, creamy butternut squash, or roasted red pepper, for example. Some people's eyes light up when they see artisanal cocktails or a great cheese selection on a restaurant's menu, but spotting a sweet corn soup with smoked shrimp is what set my stomach rumbling on a recent excursion to Frances, a newish restaurant in Castro that's been getting rave reviews. It was by far the best course of the evening, and not one week later, I found myself craving another bowlful of summery corn soup in the worst way.

For my base, I used a recipe by Alice Waters. Cooking a seasonal soup with just a few ingredients screamed of her style to me, and this recipe really delivered. I added my own little twist, garnishing the soup with a dollop of creme fraiche and chives, and a handful of sauteed chanterelles. The result was like summer in a bowl.

Sweet Corn and Chanterelle Soup (adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters)
2 tablespoons butter
4 ears of fresh shucked corn
1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced
1 quart (4 cups) of water
Two large handfuls of chanterelle mushrooms
Splash of olive oil
3-4 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 tablespoon snipped chives
Salt to taste

1. Melt the butter and cook the onion over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot for about 15 minutes. Do not allow the onions to brown. Season with a healthy pinch of salt.

2. Meanwhile, in a prep bowl, hold a shucked ear of corn upright and remove the kernels with a small, serrated knife. Repeat with the remaining ears of corn.

3. Add the corn kernels to the onion/butter mixture and cook for 2-3 minutes. Cover with 1 quart of water, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

4. While the soup is cooking, clean and slice the chanterelles. Heat up a splash of olive oil in a small frying pan and cook the chanterelles with a pinch of kosher salt for about 3-4 minutes, or until they are soft.

5. Puree the soup in batches. Waters suggests passing the puree through a mesh strainer, but this step is a little too "restaurant-y" for my style, so I left it as is. Salt to taste. I added about three more pinches of salt.

TO SERVE: Place five or six mushrooms in the bottom of a bowl and spoon over about a cup of soup. Then add a generous dollop of creme fraiche and scatter some chives over the top. Some fresh cracked black pepper is excellent here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Green Garlic and White Bean Bruschetta

Is there anything better than a farmers' market on the cusp of summer? After a long winter of squash, potatoes, and winter greens, suddenly the market is overflowing with the season's first tentative tomatoes, soft fuzzy peaches, tender asparagus, and sugar-sweet English peas. Some late spring treats, like green garlic, show up only briefly and disappear by the time summer is in full swing.
Green garlic has a milder taste than the mature bulb, with a hint of grassy greenness that's similar to a spring onion. You can use the whole plant, stem and all. I bought a bunch and used it all week, in any dish where I would have normally used garlic: fried rice, pasta primavera, and this delicious white bean bruschetta. I splurged and topped the bruschetta with bottarga, which lent a welcome salty tang, but this would be equally delicious with massive, fluffy heaps of grated pecorino.

Green Garlic and White Bean Bruschetta
1 15 oz. can or jar of good quality cannellini beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 stalk green garlic (Note: if green garlic is not in season, you can substitute 1 fat clove of garlic)
Pinch of sea salt
½ ounce of bottarga (optional) or 1 cup grated pecorino cheese
8-10 leaves of basil
Large batard or similar loaf of bread

1. Slice the bread into 1-inch thick slices and place the slices in a grill pan over medium-high heat for about 4-5 minutes a side. You can do this dry, or you can brush olive oil on each side, depending on your preference. You will need somewhere between 6-8 slices for 1 can of beans.

2. Cut off and discard the root end of the green garlic. Mince the bulb and stem finely. In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil and cook the green garlic for 3-4 minutes over medium-high heat, until it is soft and fragrant. Do not brown the garlic.

3. Add the cannellini beans and warm through. Blend the cannellini/garlic mixture in a food processor or blender, adding a pinch or two of salt to taste. I left the consistency a little chunky.

4. Chiffonade the basil by rolling all the leaves into a fairly tight roll and cutting them into thin strips. Wikipedia has a helpful visual.

5. To assemble the bruschetta, spread a couple of tablespoons of the white bean puree on the toasted bread. Then sprinkle on a few ribbons of basil. Lastly, grate a generous amount of bottarga or pecorino cheese over the top.