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"My meal was in the making of the meal …"

I think that people think I'm simply playing coy when I cannot crisply recount for them a recipe. I honestly never really quite remember, for I rarely follow a recipe and I never take notes. I follow my instincts instead, always starting with something threatening to spoil. I'm a little girl when it comes to throwing out food, so the edgy and almost questionable serves as the basis of all my food. This time, like almost every time before, our guests at last weekend's supper simply insisted upon knowing. The Muse further reinforced their requests when she reported that her boss had reported that the soup was simply the best ever, so The Muse suggested that I might at least try to recount how I'd made what I made.

I made a soup. I wanted something hearty but also something which would not offend all those with dietary restrictions.
This condition seems to accompany almost everyone who comes to supper, whether averse to meat or fish or bread or gluten, everyone brings their culinary religion to the table these days. Wanting a widely inoffensive yet hearty soup, I selected Vegetarian, a genuine contradiction. So, my recipe recounts that the cook should start with an authentic contradiction, and with no clear understanding how to resolve it, for this sets a context within which something memorable might result; but just maybe. Visions of a Tuscan Bread Soup came floating through my mind, though mine would just have to omit the bread and the typical hock with rind. For mine, I'd layer flavors to build up a decent stock. I visited the family greengrocer to see what sort of dodgy they had.

Stock wants the dodgier produce, the stuff with withering skin, isolated on the discount shelves with one leg already in the dumpster. I refer to it as Ugly Veg, anything from the season just passing. I found a half peck of dodgy red onions, and an equal measure of blemished small potatoes, and another of sprouting garlic, and a two buck bag of quartered red cabbage heads, cores and all. I spent all of six bucks on that stuff. But they'd had no dodgy mushrooms, the ones with the wilting caps, so I went to the regular supermarket and bought some fresh figuring I could roast them into near putrification. So I then made stock, quartering those red onions and leaving on the skins which would dye the liquid a deep dark red like a joint of beef had bled all over inside it. I chopped cabbage, removing all the cores, for I'd learned before that cabbage core contributes heartiness to stock. I peeled about half the garlic, retaining the skins for the stock, and added a couple wilting carrots I found in the bottom of the overflow larder fridge.I also added two plastic produce bags filled with frozen veg peelings, the remnants of the prior week's suppers. Their contents included Brussel's sprouts butts and leaves, parsnip peelings, yellow onion skins, and Lord might know what else. I threw all these refugees into my largest stock pot and brought it to a slow boil while I roasted those mushroom until they began to exude a meaty soul (about forty five minutes in a 425 degree F oven), so their caps were scorched. I added the 'shrums to the slowly boiling mess, which I then transferred into a 300 degree oven overnight.

The following morning, I drained off that mess, reduced by a third thanks to slow-roasting evaporation. I strained the liquid through a dishtowel to yield a fine-tasting but weak-looking veg tea; clearly unacceptable to me. The absence of meat and marrow glaring as the stock could not produce that essential glimmering. I set the stock aside in a slightly smaller pot, and left it to freeze out in the snowbank on the deck. Freezing stock seems to make it heartier somehow, though I just wanted the conundrum out of my face for a while. I decided that a double stock might help, but that I'd have to sort of start all over to succeed, so I set a second collection of vegetable cast-offs to roast in a very hot oven, hoping char might provide the heartiness I sought. I included a couple parsnips and a couple more carrots, celery stalks and celery root peel, and a handful of garlic cloves. While that panful charred, I blended two pint jars of home-canned garbanzo beans into an emulsion. I'd read somewhere that garbanzo water could turn veg tea into more robust stock, so I whipped that gunk into the pot. Once the veg had started blackening in the oven (char deepens color), I added that mess into the pot before setting it into another overnight oven. I also added an entire package of dried exotic mushrooms, Black Trumpet, Porcini, and such, which I'd found on a back shelf of a dry goods store, figuring the more mushrooms, the meatier the resulting stock.

Next morning was the day of the affair. I drained off the mess through a strainer this time, wanting to retain the garbanzo thickness in the stock. I had too much, so I set the result back into the oven to reduce into a manageable volume. Two hours before supper time, I chopped two more carrots and two more parsnips along with a whole celery root and a fennel bulb into small dice, and several of those red cabbage quarters, thinly sliced, then roasted them in a very hot oven until they started sweating before adding them into the stock. I chopped a whole head of Frisee kale and threw that in there, too, also adding a few, eight or ten, finely chopped garlic cloves. I had the night before boiled off about a half dozen parmesan butts by suspending them in a mason jar filled with nascent stock, and setting that jar into a pan of lightly boiling water for an hour or two, just to soften them up so I could more easily chop them. The trick worked pretty well, and I easily created about two handfuls of tiny cubes of chewy umami Parmesan butt, an ingredient I love recounting. These went into the pot, too. Finally, I added four cans of Cannelloni beans, two of which I whirred into an emulsion in the blender. I left that business to lightly consider itself while simmering on the lowest possible flame until I filled the tureen with boiling water, like pre-warming a tea pot, before discarding that water and replacing it with my soup.

I've doubtless omitted an important step or two. Olive oil was introduced when I emulsed the beans and whenever I oven-roasted veg. I know it's common practice to drench Italian-ish soup in olive oil, but I didn't. I left a bowl of homemade croutons next to the tureen and they disappeared, and also a bowl of freshly grated Pecorino, which was heavily dented. No, I didn't salt the soup, for I have no taste for salt. I left that chore for The Muse to perform, which she did just before I ladled the result into the tureen. What about spices and herbs? I think I added some whole dried juniper berries and perhaps an eighth of a cup of dried licorice bark, and probably a small handful of fennel seed to the first stock iteration, along with two dried Serrano peppers and a slice of dried seaweed to amp the resulting heat and umami. I dressed the finished soup with altogether too much sage, which produced a fine bouquet. The final product displayed the shimmer common to any great stock. It also featured greater depth than any veg stock I'd previously produced. It was not redolent of star anise, cardamom, or cinnamon, to my mind, signs of some desperation on the part of the cook.

I told The Muse that it was a once-in-a-lifetime soup, never to be replicated, as it depended so heavily upon whatever was festering in the greengrocer's larder when I happened in. Also, my memory tends to forget to kick in when I'm cooking, so my after action accounts should be taken with more than a spare spoonful of skepticism. Some of what I've recounted above might more accurately report what I'd intended to do rather than what I actually did. I spent part of three days producing the soup, starting on Wednesday night for a Saturday night supper, this practice probably more a testament to my temperament than any true necessity. I fuss over my suppers, and continuously re-sort my concept, before finally more or less backing into a result. My dishes feature less volition than accident, and I've learned to warmly welcome accidents when a serving deadline looms. As I reported elsewhere, as is usually my practice, I did not myself eat even a cup of this soup, and I gave away all the leftovers. My meal was in the making of the meal, not in ever filling myself up on the result.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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