Creamy Two-Potato and Dill Soup

dill 1 2.2.14My mother doesn’t like dill. I do. Neither of these preferences is particularly important. They’re just preferences.

And yet, it’s the reason why I automatically reached for the package of dill when I was grocery shopping a few days after I’d visited my mom.

I don’t remember, were we watching a cooking show together? Possibly that, and the TV cook was likely using dill, which would have prompted the “I don’t like/I do like” conversation.

That little exchange lifted dill up out of the recesses of my mind, so that, when I saw the package of it in the store, it was inevitable I should reach for it and bring it home, where I promptly added it to a salad.

Then, the other day, when I took notice of not only potatoes in the fridge, but also sweet potatoes, I thought what a nice soup that would be, and what a great place to stir in fresh dill. So I made potato soup: russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery, garlic, vegetable broth…and dill.

While I peeled and diced the potatoes (four medium russets, about 1 1/2 pounds; two medium-largish sweet potatoes, about 1 pound), one thinly sliced celery stalk simmered in a lightly coated pan over medium-low heat. I was keeping the heat lower on the celery, and also added some salt, so the celery wouldn’t cook too fast and brown too much while I diced the potatoes.

Then I tossed in the diced potatoes, along with four minced garlic cloves.

Stirred it all up. Added a little water to keep things from sticking, and put the lid on to keep moisture in and cook through.

Fifteen? Twenty minutes? Not sure…but enough time to clean up a little, empty the dishwasher, put a few other things away.

Took the lid off the pot at one point to check doneness, and was rewarded with the wonderful aroma of garlic. Added a little more water. Lid back on.

When all the potatoes were fork-tender (regular potatoes waiting patiently, because sweet potatoes were firmer and took longer), I added vegetable broth.

I had a one-quart carton, and added half, then used a stick blender to purée. The broth was a rich yellowy-orange, and lent a warm tone to the white potatoes (the sweet potatoes had turned out to be white when I peeled them). I added a little more broth at a time, wasn’t sure how much I’d need. Turned out the whole carton of it was just right.

dill 2 2.2.14Tweaked seasoning with salt and pepper.

Turned off the heat, and stirred in a couple of generous tablespoons of chopped fresh dill.

Ultimately, this is brothy mashed potatoes! Dressed up a little with the addition of sweet potato, bringing, well…a little sweetness.

And then light, grassy (in a good way!) dill freshness.

Creamy, savory-sweet, garlic-infused potato soup with dill…comfort-food soup.

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One Eggplant to Start

eggplant 2 3.23.13Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. To quote the wonderful title of an essay written years ago by the late writer Laurie Colwin in Home Cooking, her collection of food essays.

That was me one day this week. When I was sure there was nothing in the house to eat…or, at least, that I’d feel like making. Because I’d been sick, and was basically in reheating/microwaving/leftovers mode, having had soup three times, two of those times my own leftover celery and rice soup from last week.

But I needed something more, something that felt like a whole meal.

There wasn’t really nothing in the house to eat, but I had allowed the contents of the refrigerator and cabinets to dwindle. Except for basics and some odd and end that might catch my eye when shopping, I hadn’t restocked. Intentionally. My husband was out of town most of the past couple weeks, I didn’t need much, and it seemed a nice opportunity to give everything at hand a chance to be used.

So I opened the fridge, and there it was, an eggplant. One of the odds and ends I couldn’t resist buying the week before.

And so there I was. Alone in the kitchen with my eggplant. Deciding what else to pull out.

And one by one I set them on the table. The eggplant. A package of prepared beets. A head of garlic. Some romaine. A few very limp-leaved scallions. Blue cheese and gorgonzola that might or might not still be good. Fresh dill left over from last week’s post. A couple of eggs.

Roasted eggplant. Salad. Omelet.

I turned the oven to 400° and cut the eggplant into 1/4″ vertical slices. Tossed those together in bowl with three cloves of minced garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, and then laid the slices on a baking sheet I’d lined with parchment paper. I slid the tray into the oven. Roasted for 15 minutes. Turned the slices over, and roasted for about another 10 minutes.

While they were cooking, I threw out the small bit of blue cheese. Yes, you can tell when blue cheese is bad. It shouldn’t be fuzzy!

The gorgonzola had some iffy parts that I tossed, but there was enough in good shape for me to use. So when the eggplant slices were done, I crumbled a little over the slices. And then sprinkled some chopped dill over them for some green. Back in the oven for a few minutes to melt, and then took that out.

For the salad I ripped a few romaine leaves onto a plate. Sliced two of the beets and arranged the slices through the romaine. A little chopped scallion and chopped dill sprinkled over. Salt and pepper. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Very pretty.eggplant 4 3.23.13

I draped a few eggplant slices next to the salad, and sprinkled the crispy garlic bits over top of both, particularly the salad.

I added some chopped scallions to two beaten eggs and made a quick omelet.

The salty richness of the gorgonzola was nice with the softened eggplant. And every bite or so, a little dill did come through, especially when I combined it with a bite of the salad, which also had dill. And every time I eat beets I am reminded how much I really like them, their light, fresh taste.

The garlic bits were amazing. They got crispy after a half hour in the oven, and just added a great garlic crunch.

The little time and effort it took to make roasted eggplant, a simple salad, and a very basic omelet did this sick girl a world of good.

Simple Luxury

mushroom truffle2 2.16.13Two years ago, in an agriturismo in Italy owned by friends, I had the unexpected pleasure of discovering truffle shavings casually tossed into a pasta dish that was served as part of an abundant family dinner.

An agriturismo is a farm house-style vacation that offers food produced by the owners themselves on their property, or procured locally. The truffles were a local product, and the owners, friends of my mother, generously shared them with us.

So delicious.

And so distant from the idea of truffles as a luxury associated with fine restaurants and thick wallets. Because the truffle does command a heady price, often hundreds of dollars per pound, a reflection of the investment of time it takes to cultivate them and then to forage for them.

Looking nothing like its stemmed relatives, this lumpy, walnut-sized fungus is sniffed out from underground and from under fallen and decaying leaves by trained pigs and dogs. And from this humble, very earthy environment, it releases an aroma when its flavor is at full maturity, which is the scent by which it is discovered. And it is this lush scent, and the taste that echoes it, that draws its admirers.

And it is this lush scent and taste that infuses the bottles of truffle oil that can be found on grocery store and specialty market shelves, alongside oils like avocado and walnut.

I have looked at the truffle oils on those shelves in the past, and not picked one up, but the other day I did. Nothing sounded better at that moment than to drizzle some over a simple pasta dish, like I’d had in Italy.

And that’s what I did. Hardly a recipe. I cooked three-quarters of a pound of whole wheat penne rigate that I had. During the 11 minutes that those cooked, I roasted broccoli florets that I had sliced into 1/4″ thick slices, tossed with oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet, and placed in a 350° oven, turning them once while they cooked.mushroom truffle4 2.16.13

After draining the pasta, I sautéed 5 cloves of minced garlic in a pan I’d generously coated with extra virgin olive oil, since it would coat the pasta, too. I tossed in the pasta, turning it in the oil, added a good handful of chopped parsley, and seasoned with salt and pepper.

When all heated through, I spooned it onto a serving platter, stirring in a 1/4 cup or so of grated cheese, and tucked the roasted broccoli alongside.

And then I opened my little, four-tablespoon-sized bottle of truffle oil. The smell was wonderful. I only drizzled a tablespoon, maybe a tablespoon and a half, over the pasta. That’s all it needed.

I ate it slowly and happily on a February night, as I remembered the August in Italy that inspired it.