Sunday, December 7, 2014

Soup Night...How it all began!

Put on a pot of soup and call a few friends!
Steaming bowls of soup, cold winter nights and friends. Lots and lots of friends and family. Looking back, I'm not sure how many years ago this thing started, but I can assure you it's been awhile. If I remember correctly, (and that's always a question) it originally began easily enough.

For several years, I had worked for a construction/service company which closed down for obvious reasons, during the winter months. Which found me every December, out of the office and into my kitchen. My friends, on the other had to work during this incredibly busy month.

Which also meant that they had to do their holiday shopping on weekends, while I was doing mine on Mondays when everything was less crowded. So after gathering at a local watering hole one Friday night listening to them grumble about mall madness the next day, I made this offer. "Look, I'm making a big pot of chicken soup tomorrow, so on your way home, stop by and have a bowl." And from there it grew into an awaited annual tradition, one that I love.

Through the years, we've lost a few friends while blessedly gaining some new ones. But however it happens, each year the chairs around the table seem to multiply. This year, my house was bulging at the seams! What I love most about this gathering is its casualness. No fancy holiday dresses or heels. Jeans and sweaters are the required dress. I stood in the kitchen this year, and looked around and found laughter, smiles and sometimes intense conversation among all of the faces I treasure, which reinforced my feelings of how special this night is.

And the menu? So easy! Prepare a few homemade soups in the days leading up to this special night and then order a sandwich tray (locally known as hoagies). This year, along with the Italian, turkey and roast beef variety, the tray included Buffalo chicken cutlet hoagies with blue cheese mayo, that were a huge hit. I know this because every time I went to reach for one, someone else's hand was there, and then they were gone.

This year's menu consisted of Maryland Crab and Sausage soups (kind of like Italian wedding soup but with sausage instead of little meatballs), and a fabulous Butternut Squash soup, made by my friend Judy. Once I pry the recipe from her, I will definitely post it.

Kitchen Clatter has posted the Maryland crab recipe before, and it has since become one of the most requested recipes, so I am glad to have it appear again. Short history of this fabulous soup is that years ago, I was working in Annapolis, Maryland, where I found this recipe written on an old apron, hanging in a crab shack. I copied it down on a paper napkin that I keep to this day.

So, make some soup, call some friends and have the easiest holiday gathering you can image. The laughter and memories will warm you for the very long winter to come!

Maryland Crab Soup
2 quarts and 1 cup of beef broth         3 cups mixed vegetables
1 cup chopped celery                          1 tsp Kitchen Bouquet
1 cup chopped onion                           3 cloves of minced garlic
1 Tbsp parley leaves                            1 lb lump crab meat
1 qt chopped tomatoes                        8 tsp of crab seasoning
3 cups of chopped cabbage                 A few drops of hot sauce                                           

Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot except the crab meat and seasoning, bring to boil and then simmer for 1.5 hrs. Then add crab meat and seasoning and simmer for another half an hour.
Important Note: I usually add an additional 1/2 lb of crab claw meat (less expensive than lump meat) as well because it has a lot of flavor. 

Sausage Soup:

2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup of minced yellow onions1 cup of sliced carrots
3/4 cup of diced celery
1 12 oz can if diced tomatoes with juice

2 pounds of chicken thighs (removing skin from half the package)
2-3 qts of water
1/4 cup of freshly grated Locatelli (or your favorite Parmesan cheese)
1 stalk of escarole, cleaned and chopped (Do not use spinach, it is just too strong)
1 lb of Italian Sausage, browned and crumbled
About 1/2 lb of fresh mozzarella (pearl size, if you can find it) 

Start by just slightly "sweating" vegetables in the olive oil.  Add the chicken and tomatoes, then add enough water to cover about 2/3 of pot. Season with salt or add 3 chicken bouillon cubes (as I do) after it reaches a soft boil. Lower heat, partially cover, and let it simmer for about an 1.5 - 2 hrs. When finished, drain all ingredients through colander into clean pot. Pull some meat from the skinned thighs and add back to broth. Discard remaining ingredients. Bring broth back to soft boil, add chopped escarole and cooked and drained sausage, and let simmer another 20 minutes or so.
Pasta! While you can add any type of noodle that you prefer, the traditional pasta for this dish is Anici de Pepe. They are like tiny little balls that, if spilled, will take forever to clean up! Cook about 3/4 of the box in salted water, drain and add to soup. Cooking them directly in the broth is doable, but adds a starchiness that you just don't need. Just before serving, while soup is still in the pot, stir in the mozzarella cheese.

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