Peanut Butter and Purple Onions

Sounds crazy until you try it.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Chill in the Air

It's finally getting cold here. The leaves are turning in Central Park, the sky veers from steely blue to iron gray and back again. On the streets, the fwick-fwick-fwick of sandals has surrendered to the softer thumping of boots. I walk to work with my cheeks glowing and my hands balled up inside my pockets.

As a transplanted coastal Californian, regular daytime temperatures of below-50 are new to me, and I've been eagerly awaiting the falling thermometer. The summer weather here was dreadful, worse than I had anticipated, and it seemed to last forever. I know I was a terrible trial to Dimples, who grew up in Florida and found summer in New York to be no big deal. I whined, I grumped, I pouted next to the blasting air conditioner. I never seemed to learn that while it is true that overcast skies in a San Francisco July suggest sixty-five degrees, the same phenomena in a Manhattan July suggest something rather higher. But at last! My first East Coast autumn! I'm giddy!

I'm also, apparently, somewhat wimpy. A few days ago, a visitor at work eyed my sassy green coat and murmured, "Hmmmm, breaking out the wool already?" This may not bode well for when it gets really cold here, but whatever. I can't wait for my first snowfall!

In celebration of the brisk air, I present a quick and fabulous tomato soup recipe, with cubed bread to give it some heft. We slurped up huge bowls of this with grilled cheese sandwiches while sitting on the couch, wrapped in our extra quilt. Now how cool is that?

Tomato Soup with Pancetta
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

I rarely cook with pork, but this recipe does need the pancetta to give it a savory base. I've also tried this recipe with vegetable broth rather than chicken broth, with poorer results.

1 T. olive oil
4 oz. pancetta, chopped roughly
1 sm. onion, chopped finely
3 (3/4 in. thick) slices rustic bread, cubed (I used leftover slices of Peppered-Cheese bread)
6 c. chicken broth
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (lower to 1/4 tsp. if you're sensitive to chiles)
salt and pepper
1/4 c. mascarpone
1/4 c. nonfat sour cream

Take the mascarpone and sour cream out of the refrigerator. Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until crisp and golden, about four or five minutes. Add the onion and saute until tender. Be careful not to let the onions and pancetta get too dry. Meanwhile, toast the cubed bread, then add the cubes and toss with the pancetta and onion. Cook until the bread is crispy and the pan drippings have disappeared, about 3 minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes, basil, oregano, and red pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the flavors blend, about ten minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir the mascarpone and sour cream in a small bowl to blend. Ladle the soup into bowls and dollop a spoonful of the mascarpone mixture atop each bowl.

Serves 4 to 6, depending on how many grilled cheese sandwiches you serve alongside.


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