Ah, Soup and Salad. The reason this is a great fit for an autumnal lunch is that it’s hearty and warm, but won’t weigh you down! So I’ll skip my trademarked (and decidedly very verbose) introduction and get right to it.
Caesar Salad (with homemade dressing)
I remember I once had a tiff with someone over whether or not anchovies have a place in a Caesar Salad. I’m pretty sure it’s obvious where I’ll land on this, but I say absolutely they do! I love anchovies so much I put them in the dressing AND add a few whole filets to the salad.
So for the salad dressing, combine 3 anchovy filets, an egg yolk, and a clove of garlic (more if you like garlic!) into a deep dish and use an immersion blender to blend thoroughly. At first, the garlic clumsily tumbled around in the mixture without getting fully incorporated, but once I added more liquid to the mix it all worked out… so don’t worry!
Gradually, add your oil while using the immersion blender to incorporate it. As a side note, I looked in Ferran’s cookbook, and he calls for sunflower oil, but, alas, my pantry is not stocked with sunflower oil. So I just used extra virgin olive oil. I added about a quarter cup of oil, one spoonful at a time. Once that is fully blended, the mixture will have a frothy consistency. Add 2 tsps of vinegar (I used red wine vinegar) The last step for the dressing is to add about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan.
The rest is pretty standard. Chop up some romaine lettuce (iceberg works fine too!) and toss the lettuce with the dressing. You can buy croutons, but they are fairly easy to make if you have some old bread you want to use.
You want to cube some bread (crusts optional) and toss the bread with melted butter or olive oil and if you want to get a little more fancy you could add some spices to the mix. I’d suggest some garlic salt, for instance. You throw those on a baking sheet and into a 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Check on them. You want them to be croutons… not slightly soggy pieces of stale bread, so if they need a little more time in the oven, use your best judgement and give them time!
Toss the dressed lettuce with the bread crumbs and more parmesan cheese (I like a lot!) and for all you anchovy lovers out there, I like to lay out a few more filets of anchovy. Et voilà. Now for the soup.
Leek and Potato Soup: (this is where I get creative!)
I dissolved 10 bouillon cubes (check the pack to see what the right ratio is for your bouillon cubes if you’re using them) into 10 cups of water. Since that seemed ever so bland and uncreative of me, I channeled the folks on Chopped (for lack of a more obvious choice of cooking show to match this particular situation) and made lemonade out of the proverbial lemons my pantry had thrown at me.
While I’m on the topic, I think it would behoove some network to make a show out of professional chefs having to cook out of an average home without inflicting the world with that insipid Curtis Stone ambushing people in a grocery store. See, that’s too easy, TLC. He gets to pick out his ingredients at the store! I say throw the pro chefs into a home where they have to work with only the ingredients they find there.
I can tell you from experience, it’s an amazing -and humbling- thing to watch someone who really knows what they’re doing transform dried fruit, old wine, some butter, a raggedy piece of frozen chicken and whatever else he managed to find in our understocked kitchen, into a phenomenal dish right before your eyes. And it was completely on the fly. In my defense, by the way, we had all been out of town for a while and hadn’t made it to the store. That’s my show idea (should I copyright that?!) Think you can handle that challenge, Curt’?
Where was I?
While the “broth” was simmering over low heat I threw in a bunch of fresh thyme and chopped an onion in half and then sectioned it. In my mind, that would let out more flavor and juices as there were more places for the broth to seep into the onion and extract flavor…
Then I chopped up 2 large leeks. After slicing off the root end and all the undesirable leafy green parts, I checked for dirt and sand. It tends to creep into the leeks, so when in doubt, wash away. I then sliced all the leeks into half moons and did the same with peeled potatoes. Set the potatoes aside in a bowl of water (so they don’t brown) and sauté the leeks in some butter.
I seasoned them with salt and white pepper. Again, who knows why I do what I do in the kitchen, having never been professionally trained. It made sense to sauté the leeks before adding them to the stock to bring out the juices and get some flavor out of them. They’ll cook while the soup is simmering (that’s how I treated the potatoes) but I just wanted more flavor out of my leeks.
It’s now time to throw everything in the pot of simmering broth and let it stew for a while. Before you go throwing the (raw) potatoes and sautéed leeks in the broth remember to fish out the sprigs of thyme and the halved onion. As hard as it is for me to discard ingredients, no one wants to find a whole sprig of thyme in his or her soup.
I let the soup simmer for over an hour covered. Then add a bit of heavy cream. I eyeballed it, but if pressed, I’d say it was about a 1/2 cup… maybe less.
Then comes the million dollar decision. Creamy or chunky? Today, I chose to purée it. This decision may have been the result of my new toy, the immersion blender…. the world may never know!
I leave you with my take on homemade soup and salad, and request that you forgive me for not uploading a photo of the end result as I had gotten so frustrated with the iPad camera quality that I gave up on photographing my masterpiece.