Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wyeth colors.

Roasted tomato and eggplant soup with sumac; Mafalda, black-eyed peas, toasted walnuts and escarole in brown mustard vinaigrette.

At Brillobox we roll out a spectacular half pound Wyoming free-range chuck whallop, which for my money is useless without bacon, pimento cheese and avocado. However, given my own dietary reforms and philosophical consideration it is frequently back to those meatless dishes that my thoughts travel. Mind you, there is no end of satisfaction to be found from blackening beef and gilding with bronzed pork. But some of the surest flavors lie in ascetic application, in dishes so conservatively conceived that there is little room for the overwhelming bluster of pork fat, of crisped chicken skin, of blood.

In another lifetime I was shown a way to make soups, one a day, without meat or the crutch of a prepared stock. The merciless and heedlessly articulate proprietor of La Cucina Flegrea in Squirrel Hill, Anna Fevola, swept together the wilted remainders of her pantry each day around lunchtime using the same unassuming motions one might expect from a janitor dusting the floor. Until you've tasted the clarity of a broth begun on carrot ends, onion skins and mushroom stems, having watched it culminate in a pale copper bullion that managed to--against the tide of a malnourished cynic's doubt, bear out the delicate accent flavor of field greens no longer crisp enough for the salad plate then its all just hot air. But the truth is there, it is anxious in basic things. And it is quite good.

Our Sundays can be problematic. The week draws to an end, the pantry is bare. We're all thrashed from the weekend crowd. To make matters worse Brillobox closes it all out with a Sunday Night Starving Artist Dinner. Five bucks gets you a respectably portioned and dutifully tasty platter of usually vegan, always vegetarian, eats.


Implicit in the aforementioned gripe is that people come out for this thing. In numbers. Cooking ravioli on Valentine's Day is nice. Blowin' minds on Christmas morning by bringing a dozen homemade dinner rolls is pretty smart too. Provided the number of hungry mouths is relatively low--I'd say below five, it's pure meticulous nerd-out joy. But go above that humble number, go to, say, 20 or even 30 and the fundamentals change.

What I learned in time was to work in broad strokes--multiplying recipe measurements to suit larger crowds has always met me with mixed results. So each week--try as I might to
streamline and work ahead, airs of fuss and uncertainty cloud the kitchen.

Last week everything came off beautifully--even if I don't remember the exact recipes.

Soup and salad
(Imprecisely pared down for 2--with some leftovers)

Salad--make ahead

1 lb. Mafalda pasta--any shapes will do, cooked and cooled.
1/2 c. walnuts, pan-toasted
3/4 cooked black-eyed peas
2 sm. heads escarole, thoroughly washed, wilted in a saute pan, shocked.


1 1/2 tbsp. whole grain mustard in white wine
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp honey
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1/3-1/2 c. good green olive oil

Combine the salad ingredients in a large bowl, set aside. For the vinaigrette mix the first four ingredients throughly with a whisk or fork. Continue to whisk, adding the olive oil in a thin, steady drizzle. Once the dressing has emulsified--the mustard will assist greatly, taste. Add salt, cracked black pepper and honey as needed. Coat the salad.

The Soup

The aromatics:

1 med carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 white onion, chopped
1 small bunch sage leaves
1 stem rosemary leaves
2 cloves garlic, smashed to paste
3-5 tbsp olive oil

The vegetables:

1 medium Italian eggplant
5 ripe vine tomatoes or one 28 oz. can domestic San Marzano tomatoes, diced
1 lb. leftover home fries or 1 shredded Russet potato
2 tbsp honey

Begin by roasting the eggplant til skin is uniformly charred--open flame grilling is ideal as it is fastest. Remove to stainless steel bowl, cover with plastic to steam for ten minutes. Cut away cap and end, then skin eggplant--it should peel easily. Leave minor bits of the charred flesh as they'll infuse into the final puree with a smoky flavor. Pretty crucial, actually. Chop into loose cubes--by this point the outer flesh will be quite soft.

Add the first three ingredients to a hot stock pot with olive oil. Once signs of browning appear add the remaining "soft" aromatics. Once full fragrance is released add eggplant (include juices accumulated in steaming bowl) potato and tomatoes. Stir in honey. Stew til aroma reemerges, add water to increase volume; season in accordance: salt, dried chilies, pepper.

Remove herbs stems and pulse with either a hand masher or an immersion blender til the soup mixture appears 3:1 puree to chunky vegetables.

Serve together, dusting the soup with ground sumac. Fresh yogurt accompanies nicely as well.