Some soups are meant for adults only

January 14, 2001|By Rob Kasper

HAVING EMBARKED last week on a soup-making expedition for the new year, I decided to stay the course, at least for one more week. But a few adjustments were made.

After my offspring turned their noses up at last week's homemade chicken soup because it had "lumps" and lemon peel in it, I didn't think about offering some of this week's venture, a potage made of kale, cornmeal and Parmesan cheese. The second soup was aimed at an adults-only audience.

This turned out to be a wise course of action -- when my wife and I sat down to sip this offering, the kids looked at the pale-green mixture and grunted their disapproval. I thought of telling them that this high-falutin' creation was NYCD -- Not Your Class, Dear. But I refrained. Instead I simply took a second helping.

This vegetable-based creation was a step in a different direction for me as well. Ordinarily I like soups that are bold and brown and swimming with hunks of meat. This soup was none of the above. Instead it had a base of finely chopped kale, a green that happens to thrive in cold weather.

Instead of a meal, this soup was more of a side dish or an appetizer. The cookbook where I found the recipe, "The Best American Recipes 2000," described it as a "wonderfully rustic soup" and credited its creation to Faith Willinger, a noted Italian cook who lives in Florence. Suggested ways of serving it were as a companion to roast chicken or, in a lighter mode, matched with a green salad. No mention was made of serving it to children.

After the kale was chopped, it was cooked in boiling water. The cornmeal was mixed with a cup of water, making a slurry in a small bowl, and was stirred into the pot, like a stream flowing into a river. Next came cloves of garlic finely chopped and, at the last minute, Parmesan cheese and two splashes of extra virgin olive oil, one when the soup is in the pot, the other when it is in the bowl.

Often I use standard-issue olive oil even when a recipe calls for the more expensive, finer grade of extra virgin. But this is one recipe where I think using the extra virgin oil makes a difference. The fruitiness of the finer oil helps the delicate flavors of the kale and cheese.

I also found that adding a sprinkle or two of salt and freshly ground pepper to each bowl boosted flavor. Even so, this was delicate soup -- something grown-up palates could appreciate.

Cornmeal and Kale Soup

Serves 4

1/2 pound kale or green cabbage

6 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

f cup cornmeal

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Wash the kale or cabbage. Remove the tough central ribs of the kale or core the cabbage. Chop the leaves finely. In a heavy 3-quart pot, bring 5 cups of the water to a rolling boil. Add the salt and kale and simmer for 5 minutes.

Mix the cornmeal with the 6th cup of water in a small bowl, to make slurry. Pour the slurry slowly into the soup, whisking constantly to avoid lumps.

Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until creamy.

Add garlic and cook for five minutes more. Whisk in the cheese and 1 / 4 cup of the olive oil. Serve immediately, ladled into bowls, and drizzled with remaining 1 / 4 cup of olive oil and freshly ground pepper and salt to taste.

Note: Leftovers will solidify in the refrigerator. Gently reheat on the stovetop, not the microwave. It can also serve as a side dish.

-- From "The Best American Recipes 2000" by Fran McCullough and Suzanne Hamlin (Houghton Mifflin, $26)

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