“This fine and uncomplicated peasant soup is a comforting dish for a cold winter day.” – Julia Child
Despite the fact that I’m not sure how I feel about being referred to as a “peasant”, and the fact that we are nowhere near a cold winter day (we’re already breaking 100-degree temperatures and it’s only June…ugh), I do like the word “uncomplicated”. Last night I had some errands to run after work, so I wanted a dinner recipe that wouldn’t take too much time and would be fairly simple to make. I finally settled on Julia’s Soupe aux Choux – Garbure (main-course cabbage soup) with home-made French bread (I’m telling you, you have GOT to get a bread maker) and Charlotte Malakoff aux Fraises (almond cream with fresh strawberries) for dessert. The dessert needs to be made the night before, as it has to sit in the fridge overnight to set (isn’t it nice that I tell you this early on so you don’t find out the hard way that you won’t actually be eating this delicious treat until tomorrow?), so I actually made this on Sunday night. I used this handy tool to hull a quart of strawberries, then lined the bottom of an unbuttered mold with a round of wax paper. (Helpful Tip: I set a large square of wax paper inside the mold and used my fingernail to trace around the inside diameter of the bottom of the dish. It left a perfect outline I could then cut around with kitchen scissors.)
These ladyfingers have been dipped in orange liqueur/water and are waiting to line the dessert mold.
Next we make the “crust” for this dish by dipping about 24 ladyfingers (that’s one package…you know, if you were to buy them from a store rather than beat your head against a wall and actually make them from scratch) in a mixture of orange liqueur and water and drain them on a rack while we make the almond cream. Mix butter and sugar in a bowl until nice and creamy, then beat in more orange liqueur and almond extract. Once the sugar has completely dissolved, add about 1 1/3 cups of pulverized almonds. (This is a great exercise if you’re having a particularly bad day. An excuse to pulverize something?? Yes, please! I, however, went the gentler route and tossed some sliced almonds into my food processor and took Julia’s advice – include a couple tablespoons of sugar, otherwise the almonds leave an oily residue that makes them impossible to add to dry ingredients. How scientific!)
The mold is topped with a final layer of almond cream...
In a separate chilled bowl, I whipped some cream and folded it into the almond mixture. Next, I lined the bottom of the mold (which was covered in the wax paper round) with ladyfingers, cutting them to fit together nicely, then continued the cookies around the sides of the dish. (I had a couple of ladyfingers left over for this portion of the recipe, so I cut them apart and used the smaller pieces to fill in the gaps between cookies.) I then turned a third of the cream into the dish, covered with a layer of strawberries (for some reason, my strawberries were of monster proportions, so I sliced them down a bit to be more manageable), and topped with a layer of ladyfingers. I repeated this for another layer, and topped the entire thing with the remaining almond cream. I covered the mold with another wax paper round, then set a saucer on top of the paper and used a can of cherry pie filling (Julia recommends a one-pound weight or parts from a meat grinder…and since I had left these handy tools in my other pants, I had to get a little creative. Please note: the pie filling worked fine.) I set the whole thing in the fridge overnight and tried to put it out of my mind until Monday. Which is hard to do, when deliciousness is calling your name from the refrigerator all night long.
Sometimes a little creativity can go a long way.
For the soup, there’s a bit of prep work involved, but for the most part it pretty much takes care of itself. Start out by bringing a large kettle of water, peeled/quartered potatoes and a chunk (yes, I said chunk) of smoked ham to a boil. In the meantime, roughly slice a head of cabbage, peel/quarter a couple of carrots, stud a couple of medium onions with cloves (uh…what did she say?), and smash a few cloves of garlic. When the water is boiling, add all of these ingredients along with several seasonings (including marjoram, which the foodie at the grocery store pronounced “mar-JOR-am”…I’m not sure I trust him, even if he did have a large white, scholarly moustache and little round glasses on the tip of his nose). Partially cover the pot and let it do its thing for about an hour and a half. Then go and make a loaf of french bread in the bread maker, or watch a few re-runs of Sex and the City, or … you know … whatever it is you do when you suddenly find an hour and a half of down time.
This recipe calls for a lot of cabbage. Which really shouldn't come as a surprise, considering that's the name of the dish, and all.
When the timer sounds, take the ham out of the pot (it’ll be nice and tender) and cut it into bite-sized pieces, then toss it back into the pot for a few more minutes. And that’s it! Ladle some into a bowl, add a little salt, slice that home-made French bread and sit down to enjoy the fruits (or in this case, vegetables) of your labor.
This is shaping up to be good!
Now, I have to interject here and say that I am actually a fan of cabbage. My husband, on the other hand, instinctively wrinkled his nose when he heard what was on the menu. “Why does everything smell so good,” he asked, peering cautiously into the pot, “when it’s going to taste so bad?” (Clearly optimism runs rampant in our kitchen.) I’m happy to report that this dish received rave reviews, from even the toughest critic. “This is fantastic!” he declared, and I had to agree. The ham gave the overall dish a nice smoky flavor, and also made it a little more hearty than an average vegetable soup. The cabbage was tender and perfect, as were the rest of the vegetables, and all of the flavors worked well together – go team! But I think the thing that really made this was the seasonings. Due to a funky medical issue I had in college, I tend to stay away from seasonings, mostly from force of habit than anything else. Recipes like this remind me what magic a few herbs can do – and it’s a good thing.
Unmolded and served on a plate...so far, so good!
We saved room for dessert and were eager to try this charlotte malakoff (not to be confused with charlotte mazel tov). I took the mold out of the fridge and removed the can of cherry pie filling, the saucer and the wax paper round (because let’s face it, those items would be a little hard to stomach). I ran a butter knife around the inside of the mold to separate the ladyfingers from the sides of the dish, then inverted the whole thing onto a plate. I peeled the wax paper from the top, and was happy to see that the dessert had remained in tact! This might be a success after all!
Cabbage soup and homemade French bread. Delicious!
While Julia recommends this dish be served with whipped cream, we decided to go without. And honestly, I’m glad we did – while the dessert was really good, it was also really rich. The ladyfingers had absorbed much of the liqueur and were very soft – that coupled with the liqueur in the almond cream was a little bit much for me, and I think next time I would omit the step of dipping the cookies in the liquid before lining the mold with them. The almond cream was delicious – sweet and rich, a little nutty both in flavor and texture (from the pulverized almonds, obviously) and lovely. The sliced strawberries, however, was the piece that tied everything else together. The almond cream/ladyfingers on their own were a little overpowered by the taste of orange from the liqueur, but add a bite of tart strawberries, and the edges of the flavors were canceled out and the result was sweet perfection. This dessert is definitely a keeper.
Those strawberries were huge!
Two recipes down, and both a total success! The best part about these dishes was they made leftovers for tonight, and the cleanup was super easy – cover the malakoff with some saran wrap and stick the plate back in the fridge; put the lid on the pot and stick the soup in the fridge as well. Ta-daa! No muss, no fuss…my kind of meal!
Stay tuned for more exciting culinary developments. Anyone want to take a guess at what’s in my freezer? Details coming soon…
Until next time!