Le Tourin

An olive oil fried egg sits atop the delicious le tourin.

Jason’s exquisite wild yeast bread seems so precious a resource that wasting even a crumb is criminal. Stale bread is a marvel of versatility as an ingredient. Dry crunchy old bread can be transformed quickly into crumbs and used as a coating for pan fried chops, as a topping for gratin or a as thickener of sauces. Large pieces of stale crusty bread are refreshed when tossed with chopped ripe, in-season tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs. We toast slices of fresh country bread and set them in the bottom of large soup bowls where they absorb the rich vegetable broth that is Lidia Bastianich’s Acquacotta. Chad Robertson’s Le Tourin recipe makes use of days-old bread as an absorbent sponge in a hearty vegetable soup topped with a creamy yolked fried egg reminiscent of the Acquacotta. In fact, the simple principle of soaking hard old pieces of bread in a richly flavored broth or sauce to create a meal is universal, born of necessity in less prosperous times.

The simple makings for a wonderful soup.

The next time you hesitate to buy the baguette you know you’ll love, or the big round of crusty bread that looks and smells too good to be true, simply because you don’t think you’ll eat it all, remember that the bread you buy today will age into a delicious, nutritious and inexpensive ingredient tomorrow. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, days-old bread and vegetable soup never disappoints. This recipe is a general guide, a statement of technique. You should use whatever veggies you have on hand as well as whatever broth you like. Water works just as well if seasoned properly. Fried eggs are great, but you could also poach eggs in the soup before spooning the broth over the bread.

The drizzle of red wine vinegar over the egg in this dish adds a little zip to an otherwise earthy soup. We used peppery “wild” arugula in place of the kale, but just about any flavorful green will do (beet, chard, collard). I like to flavor the soup with whole sprigs of fresh herbs that are plucked out of the pot just before serving. Fresh thyme is a favorite. In summer, peeled diced fresh tomato would make a perfect addition as would thin strips of fresh basil scattered over the top after plating. If you want to guild the lily, a fine dusting of grated hard cheese adds a lot of rich flavor to the final dish. A final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil never hurts either!

Le Tourin Recipe

(Source: Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson)

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium carrots, peeled and quartered lengthwise, cut into 2 inch lengths

1 large yellow onion, cut into half inch wedges

1 bunch kale, stems removed

4-6 cups stock or water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Red wine vinegar

3 slices day-old bread, whole-wheat or country, torn into chunks

Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add carrots and onion wedges, cut-side down. Reduce heat to medium and cook without stirring until veggies begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Turn to brown the other side and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add greens and broth to the pan, bring to a simmer and cook 10 minutes.

Divide pieces of broken bread between two large soup bowls. Spoon veggies over the top of the bread and then ladle broth over the bread. Top with fried or poached egg and drizzle a teaspoon or so of the red wine vinegar over the egg. Dust with freshly grated black pepper and serve.

Creamy Fennel and Greens Soup AKA Swamp Soup

Tell your kids that Shrek eats this for dinner, maybe then they’ll try it.

Steve’s very kind. He tells me almost every night that whatever I have cooked is the most delicious thing I’ve ever made. Rarely does he say anything negative, and even if he doesn’t like something, the worst thing he’ll say is, “It’s good.” The other night I could sense his displeasure in  the soup I made for dinner. I got the, “It’s good” response and could see Steve was having problems choking it down.  I  wasn’t pleased with the outcome, either. The recipe, “Creamy Fennel and Greens soup” is on epicurious.com, with a 3 1/2 out of 4 star rating. I thought that, at the very least, I would be able to use up some of the veggies in our fridge by adding them to what looked like a delicious vegetable soup. It wasn’t!

With recipe in hand, I went to work chopping and sautéing the onion and fennel, cleaning the collard greens and spinach, adding water, cooking the collards, then the spinach, and finally blending everything together. I blended, and blended, and blended some more but it still wasn’t the smooth puree I was striving for. As I tasted the soup I realized it was missing something. It needed more salt, more spice, more pepper, and more fat. I added more salt, pepper, and whole milk to the mix (the recipe called for cream, which we didn’t have in the house) but it still wasn’t smooth or tasty. The consolation was that I knew it was healthy thanks to all those green veggies. A small consolation indeed.

Usually, the food we eat has to meet three criteria: it has to be healthy, it has to taste great and it has to look like something we’d want to eat.

The taste and looks were lacking with this one. The soup looked like something scooped out of a swamp and tasted like it looked too, very very green. One of the fibrous veggies simply would not break apart in the blender and we found ourselves chocking back fibers that were so fine they reminded us of one of our cat’s furballs. Not the best soup I’ve made, but not the worst (very close).

The next day I tried my best to doctor-up the swamp soup in an effort to turn it into something palatable. After straining the solids from the liquid I pureed the solids again. After 10 minutes of blending it still was not completely smooth. I then added more salt and reheated. I put half the soup back in the blender one more time and, with the blender running, added 4 tablespoons of cold butter to the warm soup. It helped enrich the soup but still didn’t help smooth it. Whoever gave this recipe a 3 or 4 star rating on epicurious.com seriously needs to reevaluate their culinary tastes. And the recipe writer needs to take a good, hard look at this one. We think it could use some work.

Alas, I think this batch will just have to be eaten as a “nutritious” soup and not anything that looks or tastes good. I’m freezing the rest of it for one of those rainy days (I hope summer comes soon) because I just can’t stand the thought of wasting all those nutritious greens. If you do make this recipe, try eating the soup along with a grilled cheese sandwich to make it more palatable. After all, everything tastes better with grilled cheese!

Creamy Fennel and Greens Soup AKA Swamp Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 pound mixed dark leafy greens such as collard and beet, coarse stems and center ribs discarded and leaves chopped
6 cups water
3 cups baby spinach (2 ounces)
4 tablespoons cold butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Garnish: fennel fronds or chopped dill

Preparation

Heat oil and butter in a 6-quart heavy pot over medium heat until foam subsides. Add fennel, onion, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes.

Add leafy greens (but not spinach) and water to pot and simmer, covered, until greens are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in spinach and cook, uncovered, just until wilted, about 1 minute.

Purée soup in batches in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids) until smooth adding chunks of butter to the running blender, then return to pot. Stir in cream and lemon juice and reheat over low heat. Season with salt.

Cooks’ note: Look through your spice rack to add some flavor to this soup, maybe crumbled bacon or blue cheese on top would help. Also try adding a potato or two to the soup when cooking the collard greens. This will give the texture a more velvet feel.

Soup can be made 2 days ahead and chilled. Reheat or serve cold.