Rainy day last week.
I was enjoying a glass of wine by the fireplace in the bar area of Boca Steak, one of Novato's nicer newish restaurants. Chef-owner George Morrone has written a cookbook called Simply Elegant Soup, and the host station has a couple of copies on display.
Soup is one of my favorite foods, both to cook and to eat. So there I was, tiptoeing over and sneaking surreptitious peeks at the book, when the executive chef came up and invited me to take a book back to my table by the fire and give it a look-see.
It's a beautiful book, filled with impossible photos of vivid two- and three-color soups in a single bowl. Ultra-smooth, ultra-rich soups. Trick food, restaurant food. Not really home cooking, except for the one recipe for lentil soup, from Morrone's mom.
I decided not to buy the book.
But I've been absorbed by Morrone's approach to soup making ever since, and even though his dishes are elegant and deeply flavored, I have to admit they are still soup. Comfort food. Not quite humble, and yet nothing more, really, than a bowl of warm, nourishing, slurpable goodness.
So today I made a soup of spinach and beet greens. This is serious hard-scrabble eating, or could be. But I thought it would be nice to aim for a little finesse. I sautéed some green garlic in butter and salt, dumped in the washed greens, and threw in some really fragrant vegetable stock.
After the leaves cooked down a bit, I ran them through the blender until they were smooth as velvet.
Meanwhile, back in the soup pot, I melted some more butter and stirred in a little flour. Next, in went some cream and a splash of milk. I kicked up the flavor with a small pinch of chile pepper flakes. Added back the puréed green goop.
Then, for a final touch of simple elegance, I drizzled in a couple of teaspoons of sherry. Which totally transported this soup back to the tortured, beloved fanciness of old-time restaurants: tuxedoed waiters, snooty maître d's, huge gilt-bound menus...
Except that this was still just a bowl of spinach and beet greens soup.