Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Back to the Grind


I woke this morning slightly confused to find myself in New York City. See, I was supposed to be back here a week ago, but, like so many others, my travel plans fell victim to the blizzard in New York. My original flight was canceled and the earliest that Virgin America could rebook me was not early enough to make it back for my class at The French Culinary Institute last Wednesday. Rather than continue to fight lines and standby lists at the airport, I extended my stay in California and what was meant to be a five-day trip, turned into 12.

I would have been disappointed to miss any class at FCI, but last week was my buffet night. In level 4, students spend two weeks preparing food for a buffet that the entire school attends. I had been working on a foie gras terrine, head cheese, kimchi and bulgogi, a carrot sesame terrine, a dark chocolate crepe cake, duck confit, and cassoulet. I was enormously disappointed that I did not get to taste the final products or help my team present all of the food. Disappointed isn’t the right word, I was inconsolable.

But, as one learns to do, I made the best of it. I visited with old friends and enjoyed walking around town in sandals and a dress, soaking up the sun. So much so, that by the end of my trip, wool coats and waterproof boots seemed like a distant memory. Until of course, I awoke this morning to find myself in my Chelsea apartment, with the floors slanted ever so slightly westward.

I walked the 1.5 miles to work this morning to shock my body back into acceptance of the cold weather. After work, I am heading home to clean out the fridge (food tends to spoil when you are gone a week more than planned) and to make a bevy of soups, including this one, so I have a stockpile of lunches and dinners for the week.

This soup is comforting and hearty. Ground walnuts are used to add flavor and a bit of thickness. The original recipe calls for fresh tomatoes, but this time of year I always use canned in soups and stews. Tomatoes were not meant to grow in January and when they do, they have little flavor. If you are not comfortable with vermicelli or can’t find it, feel free to use a more traditional pasta.

Ground Walnut and Tomato Soup
Adapted from Real Food Magazine

4 T butter
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 t salt, plus more to taste
1/2 t ground black pepper
1/2 t whole coriander seed
1 cup walnuts, finely ground
2 cups water
2 oz vermicelli, broken into pieces
28 oz can whole plum tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and sweat until softened. Place the garlic, salt, pepper and coriander in a food processor and process until ground and combined. Add the spice blend to the onions along with the ground walnuts and water, Bring to a simmer and add the vermicelli. Simmer covered for 20 minutes. In a separate pot, cook the tomatoes over low heat until softened. Add the tomatoes to the soup and simmer for five minutes. Add the parsley, cilantro and remaining tablespoon of butter to the pot and adjust the seasoning, if necessary, before serving.