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My father grew up loving the cabbage soup served at the Izzy Kadetz delicatessen in Cincinnati.
This was back when Izzy Kadetz himself was still alive and working behind the counter. No prices were listed for his piled-high sandwiches and hearty soups; he would famously (if illegally) size up each customer and decide what to charge him.
When my parents married, my mother naturally wanted to please my father by cooking some of his favorite foods. And the food he most wanted her to make was the cabbage soup served by Izzy Kadetz.
My mother called Mrs. Kadetz, who kindly obliged her with a recipe that was only partially helpful ("You take a nice piece flanken." "What's a flanken?") And the proportions were meant for a restaurant. But my mother sampled the restaurant's soup, used some of Mrs. Kadetz' ideas and added some of her own. Into a pot went shredded cabbage, short ribs, and stewed tomatoes. To give it a sweet-and-sour flavor, she added brown sugar and stirred in some vinegar. And in a moment of inspiration, she tossed in a spoonful or two of whole allspice berries.
The result, it was widely agreed around our house, was even better than they served at the restaurant.
When I began cooking for myself, I called my mother to ask for the recipe. Although it always tasted pretty much the same each time she made it, the recipe turned out to be somewhat less than exact.
"Put some water in a pot," she began, "and then add, oh, maybe a quarter of a cabbage. Maybe a third. And that might be a good time to put in some short ribs."
"A few, I guess. And then I suppose you should add a can or two of stewed tomatoes."
So I had to figure out the proportions myself. But it wasn't hard; these ingredients seem naturally to go well together. I quickly had a recipe for a decent facsimile — that is, a facsimile of the facsimile — and added it to my repertoire of soups.
This is the time for soup, a time for keeping warm and full while still adhering to those New Year's resolutions. And for me, winter soups simply do not get better than cream of celery root soup.
Celery root, also called celeriac, is just about as ugly as food can get, yet its taste is sublime. As its name suggests, it is the root part of celery, and it looks knobby and dirty and gross. But clean it up, peel it, and trim off the tough ends, and you have a thick, earthy vegetable with just a subtle taste of celery. Too hard to be eaten raw, it develops a complexity of flavors when it is slowly cooked.
In other words, it is perfect when cooked in a broth and pureed for soup. Typically, I first make a cream base, which requires a little more time and effort than I wanted to give it this time, and more cream than is helpful when still thinking of those resolutions. And then I found a recipe I had forgotten I'd had.
Many years ago, I ate a splendid dinner at the Culinary Institute of America, and was so taken with the Smoked Pheasant and Celery Root Soup that I asked for the recipe, which they gladly provided. The recipe begins by smoking roasted pheasants, and because I have never roasted a pheasant in my life, much less smoked one, I had never made it. But the celery root part sounded intriguing. You just cook the root in stock, puree it, and stir in reduced cream.
It's just the thing on a cold winter's night; it sticks to your ribs, but it's as smooth as silk. And for an unexpectedly sophisticated treat, the leftovers can be served chilled.
I next made a Polish chicken soup from the Jan. 18 edition of The Week magazine, which in turn took it from the cookbook From a Polish Country House Kitchen, by Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden. The recipe was simply too tantalizing to skip.
This is much heartier than a typical chicken soup: Along with the expected chicken, carrots, parsnips, and leeks, it also includes beef, celery root, cabbage, peppercorns, allspice berries, parsley, dill, a bay leaf, lemon, sugar, salt, and chives. Cook it all together and you wind up with a soup and a half.
I'm not sure what makes it Polish in particular, except maybe the dill, which is commonly used throughout northern Europe.
For a much simpler soup, I turned to a recipe I dug out of an old file of recipes. I have no idea where it came from; it's in my wife's handwriting, and she doesn't know, either. I'll just assume she made it up one day, liked it, and wrote it down to remember it. Whatever the provenance, it is easy to make and features the classic combination of tomatoes and spinach, with a good dose of garlic and onion thrown in.
Tomato-Spinach Soup, as it is called, is a rustic soup, filled with chunks of good things. The whole thing comes together in less than an hour, and it is also easy to clean up. Though it is made with chicken stock, substituting vegetable stock will make it a worthy dish for vegetarians.
And you don't have to be a vegetarian to love our final offering, Roasted Acorn Squash and Apple Cider Soup. This ingenious, slightly sweet soup from chef Dale Reitzer actually roasts a couple of acorn squash in a pan filled with apple cider and vegetable stock. Each squash half is first topped with a pat of butter and a teaspoon of honey.
Sounds great, but where is the cinnamon? Whenever you have acorn squash, apples, butter, and honey, you almost have to have cinnamon, right?
Don't worry, it's in the clever garnish of cinnamon mixed into creme fraiche.
That's cinnamon, creme fraiche, and roasted acorn squash and apple cider soup. Wow.
2 acorn squash
4 teaspoons honey
4 teaspoons butter, unsalted
6 cups apple cider
2 cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup creme fraiche for garnish, optional
1 teaspoon cinnamon for garnish, optional
Preheat oven to 400°.
Cut each acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place in roasting pan. Drizzle honey over the halves and place a teaspoon of butter in each one. Pour apple cider and vegetable stock around squash. Cover and cook for about 1½ hours, or until tender. When cool, scoop out the flesh into a blender (reserve the skins, if they are intact). Add cooking broth and puree until smooth. Strain into a soup pot. Adjust consistency with stock or cider. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into squash halves to serve.
If desired, combine creme fraiche and cinnamon, and divide among soup portions.
Yield: 4 servings
Source: Dale Reitzer
1½ tablespoons olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups or 1 (14½-ounce) can chicken broth
1 (14½-ounce) can diced tomatoes with liquid
6 ounces fresh spinach, washed and roughly chopped
½ bay leaf
Cook's note: Vegetable stock may be substituted for the chicken stock.
Heat olive oil in pot over medium heat and sauté garlic and onion until soft. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer, covered 30-45 minutes. Remove garlic cloves and bay leaf, and serve.
Yield: 2-3 servings
YM's Cabbage Soup
3 pounds short ribs (see cook's note)
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin
½ tablespoon whole allspice
¼ large head cabbage, sliced
2 (14-ounce) cans stewed tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Cook's note: Have your butcher slice the short ribs in half, if possible.
Trim fat from short ribs. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, add short ribs and onion, and cook until browned. Add water to cover, along with whole allspice and cabbage. Simmer until the cabbage softens, about 10 minutes, skimming off any scum that appears on surface. Add stewed tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, ground allspice, and ground cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper and more ground allspice, if needed. Simmer, removing scum as it appears, until the meat nearly falls off the bone, about 1 hour.
The allspice berries may be served with the soup, but are not to be eaten.
Yield: 6 servings
Cream of Celery Root Soup
1/3 cup (6½ tablespoons) butter
2 onions, sliced
2 shallots, sliced
3 pounds celery root, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
10 cups (2½ quarts) chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
Melt butter in a large pot over medium-low heat; add onions and shallots and cook gently until translucent, stirring occasionally and taking care that they do not begin to turn brown. Add celery root and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add bay leaf and stock. Season gently. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer ½ hour or until celery root is cooked all the way.
While the soup cooks, add cream to a small saucepan and cook until it is reduced by half. Keep an eye on it to make sure it does not boil over.
When the soup is done, remove the bay leaf and puree using a hand mixer or in batches in a blender. Stir in the reduced cream, and test for seasonings.
Yield: 1 gallon
Source: Adapted from the Culinary Institute of America
Polish Chicken Soup
5-6 pounds bone-in chicken, whole or cut up
1 pound bone-in beef or veal, such as short ribs
1 large onion, unpeeled
5 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
2 large parsnips, peeled and thickly sliced
2 leeks (white and green parts), halved lengthwise
½ medium head celery root, peeled and coarsely chopped, or 2 celery stalks, with leaves, coarsely chopped
1 slice savoy cabbage, or ½ zucchini
4 whole cloves
4 allspice berries
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
4 sprigs dill, plus more for garnish
1 bay leaf
1 thin slice lemon
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt, plus more for seasoning
4 chives, cut into 2-inch lengths, optional
Place chicken, beef, and onion in a large pot and add about 5 quarts of water, to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium, and simmer, skimming off foam as needed, for 30 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients except black pepper and chives. Cover and cook at a low boil until the beef is tender and chicken is falling off the bone, about 2-2½ hours.
Remove and discard beef; transfer chicken to a colander set over a bowl. Once chicken has cooled, shred the meat, set it aside, and discard the bones. Strain broth, pressing on the solids enough to squeeze out their juices. If you wish to skim fat from the surface of the broth, do so now. If you want a clear, minimalist broth, discard all vegetables; for a heartier soup, thinly slice the cooked carrots, parsnips, and celery root.
Rewarm the broth and season with salt and pepper. Divide the chicken among bowls along with the sliced vegetables, if using. Ladle hot stock into each bowl and garnish the soup with dill and chives.
Yield: 8-10 servings
Source: From a Polish Country House Kitchen, by Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden, via The Week.