Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Proper Tree Trimming Deserves Your Sunday Best!

Ask your decorator-in-chief to pop over for Herbed Parmesan Popovers, dipped in velvety red Pappa Al Pomodoro 

So, word is out on my new project, Sunday Best Dishes, and my heart is full.  I couldn’t be more thankful for the loyal friends who are testing the recipes inspired by those Sunday inspirations we all, whether we realize it or not, bring home to our kitchens.  The muse I’m talking about struck me in an Italian restaurant, on a recent cold night.  I came up with an idea for what to serve the night your Christmas tree goes up.  It’s tradition in our home to invite friends and family over for some gnoshing and decorating on the heels of Thanksgiving, and I wanted to change things up a bit from standing rib roast and creamed spinach. 

So here’s how the idea hit.  I won’t say which restaurant, since you’ll probably guess once I describe it. Carefully plated entrees and desserts were lined up in a glass display case. Big vases of calla lilies were everywhere, and cans of San Marzano tomatoes lined the shelves. Those tomatoes always excite me; they’re the highest quality canned product out there. Suddenly my imagination was bubbling like a big pot of tomato gravy. Once we were seated, I began to take notes.  Okay, I didn’t really take notes, though I could have under the soft glow of white lights strung over the tables.  A packet of crayons and a kids’ menu sat beside a giant carafe of red wine—a look that’s both elegant and incongruent, especially on a paper tablecloth. I wanted to pick up a fire-red crayon and write “Pappa Al Pomodoro” right there on the butcher paper.
My Sunday Best Pappa Al Pomodoro, which translates to “Tomato Soup with Bread” contains the highest quality plum tomatoes, olive oil, dry red wine and chicken stock one might use for this dish. I’d also like to point out that this recipe is a golden opportunity to use fennel, one of my all-time favorite ingredients. Fennel is in its natural season from late fall through early spring. You’ll want to pick up a fresh batch from your farmers market while the getting is good, before it bitters up in rising temperatures. You can store fresh fennel in a Ziploc bag for up to 10 days in your fridge, and use it in comforting chicken slow-cooker dishes all winter long.

But of course, one can’t have a savory soup without a savory bread to go with it—now of course I realize there are big chucks of ciabatta cubes already in the soup, but this is Christmas decorating night, and we can never be too much in the way of carbs! That’s why I’m pulling one off the menu from an old Tree Trimming Party: Herbed Parmesan Popovers. They resemble a Yorkshire pudding so they’re perfect for this time of year. Piercing them with a fork when they’re straight out of the oven is a great idea if you’re cold; a pillar of steam will warm those cheeks right up! Feel free to dip a popover into your soup, and get back to your decorating after just one bowl. No lollygagging about when there’s work to be done!

Soup’s On, And So is my Book Launch and Sunday Best Recipe Contest!
If you have a delicious dish, worthy of Sunday night dinner, I’d love to hear about it. I am now accepting submissions through March 30th of your Sunday Best dish; just email the recipe to On Easter Sunday, 2013, I’ll announce the winner and send a grand prize of my newly launched book, plus a goody basket filled with high quality pantry staples. Bon Appetite, holiday gnoshers!           

Herbed Parmesan Popovers

Servings: 12
Preparation Time: 20 minutes plus baking

4 large eggs
3 cups milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup Parmesan Cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

¼ cup butter, melted (1/2 stick)

Heat the oven to 450 degrees

Place a 12-cup muffin tin into the preheated oven.  (Or use two 6-cup popover pans.)

Place the eggs and milk into a blender.  Pulse to combine. Add the flour.  Pulse to combine. Add the cheese, fresh herbs and season with salt and pepper.  The batter should be the consistency of heavy cream.

Carefully remove the hot muffin tin from the oven. Pour a small amount of butter into the bottom of each cup.  Use a potholder to swirl the pan around to coat.

Pour the batter into the pan, filling each cup ¾ full.

Place the pan back into the oven.  Bake until puffed and golden, about 25 to 30 minutes. Do not open the oven door while the popovers are baking.


Sunday Best Pappa Al Pomodoro

Serves 6
Prep Time: about an hour and 30 minutes

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely diced, about 1 ½ cups
2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed and chopped, about 1 cup
1 fennel bulb, tops trimmed, cored and thinly sliced, about 1 cup
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 1 tablespoon
3 cups ciabatta, crusts removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 (28-ounce) cans San Marzano plum tomatoes
4 cups good quality chicken stock
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 ½ tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1/2 cup


Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook about 10 minutes, or until tender. Add the ciabatta and cook for 5 more minutes.

Place the plum tomatoes into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.

Add the tomatoes to the stockpot, with the chicken stock, dry red wine, basil, salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, and cook with lid allowing some heat to escape for 45 minutes.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with shaved parm and a few basil leaves if desired.
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