Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mediterranean Soups in America

We are a lucky nation to have so many different cultures and ethnic groups creating an American food. The Portuguese who settled in southestern Massachusetts have given us a wonderful soup from the Old World. It's from my new book THE BEST SOUPS IN THE WORLD

Portuguese Kale Soup
It may be called Portuguese kale soup or caldo verde, but this dish is a classic of Portuguese-American cookery as found from Fall River and New Bedford, Massachusetts, east to Cape Cod, where many Portuguese immigrants settled in the late nineteenth century. This version is my attempt to approximate the one I ate regularly at P.J.’s Dari-Burger in Wellfleet on the Cape during our summer vacations. The key ingredient here, besides freshness, is the fresh linguiça sausage. Supermarkets usually carry it on the East Coast, but elsewhere you may need to substitute the fully cooked version, and if you can’t find that, then sweet Italian sausage or kielbasa.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound (about 1 link) fresh Portuguese linguiça or chourico, casing removed
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 pound kale leaves, heavy stems removed, laid on top of one another, rolled up, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 1/2 teaspoons salt or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more to taste
1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the sausage and onion and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up the sausage but leaving largish chunks, until the onion is softened, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the chicken broth, water, potatoes, and kale. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to low and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are softened and almost falling apart, about 1 ½ hours. The potatoes are meant to fall apart and thicken the broth. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Break up the potatoes further in your bowl to make it thicker.
Makes 4 to 6 servings

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Garlic is a Spice

In the Middle Ages, the term spices was applied to all costly goods (except gems) imported to Europe from the East, and extended to items no longer commonly called spices, such as dyes, drugs, perfumes, textile fibers, aphrodisiacs, and sugar, as well as what we today call spices, like pepper (meaning peppercorns), cardamom, ginger, turmeric, various herbs, the chilies (newly arrived from America), garlic (called the peasant’s theriaca by the thirteenth-century doctor Arnold of Vilanova), and saffron, a true luxury.

Garlic is a spice, yet even though its history in the Mediterranean is very old, the mad desire of Europeans for the exotic spices of the East led them to overlook garlic. Europeans traded gold and silver for the spices of the East, a fact that displeased kings and finance ministers, who thought it a poor trade. Ferdinand of Spain tried to stop the importing of cinnamon and pepper in exchange for silver by saying, “Buena especia es el ajo” (Garlic is a perfectly good spice). However, popular opinion held that garlic “sempre è cibo rusticano” (always is a peasant food), although with the right preparation it could become gentlemen’s food. Perhaps garlic is the “plant of civilization.” It enlivens food.

In the meantime, try this garlic soup. More garlic soups are in my latest book Best Soups in the World.