Monday, January 07, 2008

Pecan Chipotle Soup

Breaking a long held and deeply cherished tradition of isolationism, Big Mary and the handsome Venezuelan hosted a New Year’s Eve dinner last December 31st. Nothing too boisterous, just a tasteful dinner for 6 of our best friends, a careful assembly of personalities and intelligence that would encourage a smooth yet entertaining entry for the New Year.

Now you should know about me that the mere mention of a party of any sort sets into motion a temporary storm of “Bi-Polarism” that forms a black cloud over my head and follows me into any nook or cranny where I might hide. I love the idea of cooking for friends and feeding them, yet I equally hate the idea of risking serving a dish less than perfect. I love the idea of serving a table full of interesting, perfectly purchased cheeses, cured meats, breads, smoked fish and condiments, but I hate my imagined belief that my friends are arriving, expecting me to whip up something truly show stopping. I love the idea of sitting with friends for a leisurely repast of simple foods and outstanding wines, yet I seem incapable of creating a menu that allows for me to be anywhere other than stove-side assembling said “leisurely repast”. Well, by now you have the idea.

True to form, my first menu for the evening consisted of 3 hors d’oeuvres selections, followed by 8 courses of small plates, dessert and petites fours. All lubricated with five wine selections, port and prosecco. It’s like a disease!
But thank the Goddess, at some moment the little voice in my head began to wail and keen with grief over the apparent loss of my mind, and that somehow got my attention. With the calm presence of someone flirting with reality, I was able to edit this meal into a feast that was celebratory yet didn’t require two intermissions.

Here is the menu I ended up with. Still a bit over the top, but it shows gallons of growth for me!

Crudites of Haricots Verts, Radish and Sugar Snaps with Lemon Dill Aioli, Sweet and Savory Roasted Almonds and Walnuts, Plantain Chips

Pecan Chipotle Soup – Served in DemiTasse

Seviche of Sea Scallops with Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange
On Shaved Fennel, Hearts of Palm and Avocado Salad

Braised Boneless Short Ribs of Beef
On Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes and Celery Root

Baby Arugula with Roasted Beets, Pistachios and Proscuitto
Pistachio Vinaigrette

Caramel Roasted Pears on Sesame Pastry Disc with Sour Cream Gelato

The Soup was pretty much universally applauded, so I have included my recipe for it below. It is adapted from a recipe of Iliana de la Vegas.
It’s outrageously rich , so small portions are in order. Depending on the quality of your blender and how finely you strain it, this soup can be presented anywhere on the spectrum of high-end finesse to homey and soul warming. I prefer it somewhere in the middle.

Pecan Chipotle Soup – serves 6 - 12

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced
½ cup onion, finely chopped
8 ounces pecan pieces
2 ounces country white bread - not sourdough – cut small
3 medium canned plum tomatoes
4 cups whole milk
1 ½ cups strong chicken stock
2 tablespoons canned chipotle chiles in adobo – chopped
1 pinch fresh grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
fresh chopped cilantro for garnish

In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, pecan pieces and bread and gently saut̩ until all ingredients are toasted and aromatic. About 8 Р10 minutes.
Transfer pecan mix into a blender. Add tomatoes, chipotles, and some of the milk. Puree until VERY smooth.. Return to the pot and add the remaining milk, stock and nutmeg. Warm and check seasoning for salt & pepper. Strain through a sieve, discarding remaining solids. Soup may be cooled and refrigerated at this point for several days.
When ready to serve, rewarm gently, add lemon juice, check for seasoning and serve garnished with cilantro.
NOTE: This soup may be made vegetarian by substituting more milk for the chicken stock..