The Little Dutch Oven That Could: Soup for the Snow

10 Jan

Today, I awoke at 5:30 am to discover the city of Charlotte blanketed by a pristine pre-dawn snow. I had been following the weather forecasts for the past few days, but I am ever a doubting Thomas, having grown up in precipitation-alarmist DC, and despite having lived through  last year’s snowmaggedon there. Sure enough, the meteorologists were correct and school was closed for the day. My feelings were mixed about a day at home. On one hand, extra time to relax, watch some TV (and write this blog) are welcome opportunities. On the other hand, I dread future lab make-up days that may be scheduled by  Johnny Wales for less than ideal times. (Today would have been our prep day for our practical on pies and tarts tomorrow.)

Ambivalence aside, I resolved to return to bed. But by that time, I had already eaten breakfast and was a bit restless. So I busied myself with some reading and other tasks. I watched the news reports promising sleet and ice for later tonight and the segment on pre-snow grocery shopping madness. Seems pasta was the biggest seller, which makes sense. Easy to cook, filling, and comforting on a cold day.

Just like the dumpling soup I made this weekend, a recipe from the January issue of bon appétit magazine. I’ve been on a bit of a vegetable kick lately. So when I saw this recipe for a hearty “southern-style” soup of cornmeal dumplings, with andouille and mixed greens, I couldn’t help but test it out. Dumplings definitely make good dinner companions in the snow.

After happily gathering all of my ingredients from the supermarket (along with yes, some pasta, for later in the week!), I set to work making the dumplings. They were simple enough. I combined the called-for dry ingredients (AP flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt). I then added the melted butter along with 2% milk (in place of whole milk), and sprinkled in light green flecks of chopped spring onions.

Cornmeal Dumpling Dough

Ever patient (right!), I let this mixture sit for the next hour while I busied myself with the prep for the soup broth. This wasn’t too difficult as the majority of my work was just chopping some onions and de-stemming my greens. Although all three greens prescribed (turnip, mustard, and collard greens) were available for purchase in my friendly grocery store aisle (unlike the butternut squash and ground lamb for my pasta), I selected only the mustards and the collards. They looked the freshest, and besides, I am partial to collards, having never eaten the other two greens growing up.

I stripped the collards of their large arterial stems and sliced them down to size  as some of the leaves were almost my size. The mustard greens were petite in contrast, with beautiful and comely curled edges.

Mustard and Collard Greens

Once I had my mis en place in check, I happily returned to that dumpling dough to roll it with moistened hands. This reminded me of making matzoh balls, although of course, the latter is unleavened. Just like matzoh balls, they crackled a little as they rolled in my wet palms. The cornmeal lent them a golden hue, which contrasted nicely with the jewel-like bits of the spring onion.

Cornmeal Dumplings

Next, came the fragrant stage of the evening, when I began sautéeing my onion, pressed garlic, bay leaves (not Turkish as specified but Californian) and fresh thyme. I then added my sausage, three links of andouille. You may substitute as you see fit if you prefer less spicy or non-pork varieties.

Onions and Sausage

I waited as prompted for the fat to render before adding my liquid ingredients (broth, diced tomatoes with juice, hot sauce, along with a pinch of allspice). And then I worried…

Soup Before Adding Greens and Dumplings

In Charlotte, I have a Lodge 5 quart dutch oven I purchased from Amazon for a bargain price of less than $40. It seemed like a sensible and affordable alternative for cooking for one, as I decided to leave behind the teal Le Creuset 7 quart in Virginia for my husband to use. (Yes, it was a selfless act as this is one of the most utilized and beloved wedding gifts we received). My love for Le Creuset aside, I have been very satisfied with my Lodge purchase. It has the advantage of a lid that doubles as an additional skillet. It has been a stand-up, very versatile and key piece of my less “outfitted” Charlotte “satellite” kitchen. Having said this, the 5-quart Dutch was dangerously close to overflowing in making my “southern-style” soup. And this was before the addition of the greens OR the dumplings.

But I stayed calmed, assessed the situation, and monitored the Lodge closely. In the end, it performed valiantly, although upon adding the dumplings and allowing them to simmer covered, I heard the occasional hiss and sizzle of liquid hitting the electric burner as it escaped from underneath the lid.

Full to the Brim-Adding the Dumplings

When I’d deemed my dumplings sufficiently cooked through, I expectantly ladled the soup into my plastic tupperware bowl (the only one big enough to hold the greens and the dumplings). I slurped satisfactorily and treasured the brawny (compared to spinach) texture of the collard and mustard greens. The tender tomato-infused dumplings, which had grown more corpulent as they simmered, were just right–neither falling apart mushy nor gummy and tough.

Dumplings Plumped

The best part of this soup, however, is that it improves with age. The next day, the slightly spiced tomato broth tasted less of chicken stock and was somewhat thickened by the dissolved dumpling crumbles. The flavor of the greens had also mellowed considerably–retaining their characteristic bite, yet slightly less astringent.

I’m already looking forward to my next bowl for tonight’s dinner.

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