First Fall Soup and a Note to Tricksy Mother Nature
The weather certainly is keeping me guessing these days. This past weekend I could have sworn the heat of summer was gone gone gone, replaced with the cool dampness of fall. But look out, today the air was downright swampy, and it is supposed to be in the EIGHTIES day after tomorrow.
When I hear things like, “Hey Stephanie! Guess what? On SEPTEMBER 23rd it’s going to be 87 degrees outside!” do you know what I think? It goes something like this:
“Dear Mother Nature,
The UPPER 80s in late September? Seriously?!?!?! What are you trying to do to me? Flannel doesn’t just quietly return to the back of the closet in my house. One taste of scarves and sweaters, and it’s all over. Don’t even get me started on how excited I was to bust out my pumpkin hat for a walk on Saturday (yes, I own a pumpkin hat, and yes, I really do wear it). And now you give me the 80s?
What about the squash risotto I was going to make Thursday night? Who wants to eat a squash risotto when squash is the flannel of the mouth? Combine it with arborio rice and it’s like wrapping your tongue in a wool blanket- which no one in their right mind would do in the middle of summer. But wait, it’s almost October? I am up to my elbows in winter squash? I have already busted out the bread baking books? It isn’t July with a sweltering humid EIGHTY SIX Degree Day? You could have fooled me, if I weren’t so freaking bitter about it.
Anyway, I’m still a huge fan of yours. Please don’t smite me with a lightening bolt, or punish me come March with a thousand extra days of winter.
… Yep. That’s how I roll, composing letters to the elements in my head.
While it was still grey and chilly I was inspired to make my first batch of fall soup. Taking a cue from my current culinary obsession, Deborah Madison, I made Scallion, Sweet Corn and Swiss Chard Soup with Birds’ Nest Dumplings. It was pretty much my finest soup moment to date. And believe me, this lady makes a good bowl of soup.
Here is my take on Deborah Madison’s Scallion and Swiss Chard Soup. I really can’t recommend her book, Local Flavors, enough.
Swiss Chard, Sweet Corn and Scallion Soup with Birds’ Nest Dumplings (adapted from recipe by Deborah Madison)
2 bunches Swiss Chard
2 bunches cilantro
3 ears fresh sweet corn, kernels removed from the cob
7 3/4 c. water
1 tsp. salt
1 giant bunch of scallions… or 2 regular bunches
For the Birds’ Nests:
1/3 c. raw milk Jack Cheese, grated (we used Organic Valley’s)
2 eggs, separated
3-4 oz skinny fresh pasta (we used RP’s Pasta angel hair egg noodles)
3 T. finely chopped cilantro
I am a big fan of preparing my ingredients ahead of time, and I especially recommend doing so with soup. It makes the cooking process so much easier to have everything you are going to need ready and waiting, instead of desperately scrambling to chop one thing while frantically stirring another.
Trim the scallions, leaving 2-3 inches above the end of the white portion of the onion. Finely chop the scallions. Remove corn from cob- set to one side in the same bowl as the scallions. Coarsely chop the 2 bunches of cilantro, making sure you have at least 1 cup (packed tightly). More cilantro is just fine- it works out wonderfully in the soup. Tear the swiss chard leaves off of their stems. Tear or chop them into large pieces. The large pieces make for a pleasing texture and appearance in your soup.
Assemble the ingredients for your birds’ nests. I recommend making these first, since they are a little bit more involved and they keep really well overnight. First, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Just when you think they’re stiff enough, beat them a little bit more. Stir in the other ingredients, except for the peanut oil. Heat enough peanut oil in a pan to allow your soon to be formed birds’ nests to float a little- about 1/3 an inch. Once the oil is hot, scoop out about 1/4 c. of birds’ nest into the pan. Fry that little bundle of flavors until golden brown on one side, than flip it over and do the same for the other side. Each side will take approximately one minute. Lay them on paper towel until you are ready for them.
Now, the soup. Heat 1-2 T. olive oil in your large soup pot. Once the oil is warm, toss in the scallions and corn. Keeping the heat at medium high, stir the scallions and corn frequently, until the scallions become soft (about 4 minutes). Add in the cilantro, along with about 3/4 c. water. Keep the heat on medium high and let the scallions, corn and cilantro stew together a little bit. Add the teaspoon of salt, and let them stew for another minute (about 3 minutes total). Add in the swiss chard leaves along with another cup of water and stew until the leaves wilt. Once they have wilted, add the additional 6 cups of water and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add the birds’ nests and reduce your heat to simmer for another 10-15 minutes. The peanut oil from the birds’ nests will add a wonderful flavor to your soup, and the nests themselves are like the offspring of a one night stand between egg foo yung and noodle kugel (aka Awesome).
When all is said and done you have a beautiful, simple and mostly healthy soup that is perfect for those chilly fall days (whenever they make their triumphant return 😉 ).