Hello, hello, it's me, I'm back; though, of course, I wasn't really gone, just swept up in a whirlwind of work, dinners out every night, and get-togethers with out-of-town friends in for their biannual visits to this city of ours. The company was, every night, more memorable than the meal, except for a plate of spaghetti with baby clams at a hidden gem on 13th Street, Trattoria Maurizio, that tasted as good as the stuff does when I'm in Italy (also of note, an appetizer of braised artichokes with delicate, quenelle-shaped mozzarelline). But for the most part, what kept me fed were the stories and laughs from my friends.
After a week of restaurant meals, there's nothing I love better than getting back into the kitchen. Last night, we roasted a baking sheet full of tomatoes, peppers, leeks and garlic into a sweet, stewy mess and sauced a tangle of spaghetti with it. Afterwards, we sank into the soft couch and ate squares of bitter chocolate while watching six-year-old episodes of 24 (we've just gotten started and I'm both totally hooked and completely annoyed). Dolce far niente, for sure.
Today a fierce wind buffeted the puffy clouds encircling the sky here and swept one of my Danish placemats clean off the balcony table just before lunch. Ben, ever the hero, zipped downstairs and found the placemat, improbably blowing down the street straight towards him. We moved our lunch operations indoors after that - two bowls of hot, green soup, both sweet and peppery, brightened with a squeeze of lime juice. We dragged crusty bread through the dregs of the soup at the bottom of our bowls, the crispy crust softening just a bit.
Amanda calls this zucchini soup, but it almost reminded me of a stronger-flavored potage St-Germain, that sweet, Gallic lettuce-and-pea soup that tastes so perfect when spring is just emerging and you see life exploding greenly out of every corner. The lemon juice (or lime, if that's what you've got) is essential, of course, in elevating this soup from muddiness to sprightliness. It would help, too, if you didn't make this in a food processor, because a blender's the only thing that can actually liquefy all that cellulose into something creamy and smooth. If you don't have a choice because, like us, you don't own a blender (ridiculous, I know, but I'll remedy it soon, which reminds me, readers, to ask for your recommendations ), just know that your soup will be a little...grainy and textured. It's not awful, not at all, but it's not how it's supposed to be.
An ascetic, little, home-cooked lunch was just what we needed to prepare us for tonight - our first excursion to Sripraphai, a trip at least five years overdue and not to be put off now that we live within minutes of the place. And in a few days, my mother arrives, coming to bless the place with her presence, at least for me, to teach me just exactly how to get stains out of the tablecloth, help us explore the neighborhood, and sit on the couch in all her mamma-ness, smelling just like she always does. I can't wait.
Serves 4 to 6
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 small dried chile de arbol, finely sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound zucchini, in 1/2-inch slices
2 cups hot chicken broth
1 cup frozen peas (or, an entire package, if you're me)
6 to 8 ounces watercress, stems trimmed
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
10 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Freshly ground black pepper or grains of paradise
1. In a large pan, combine the garlic, onion, chile and olive oil. Place over medium heat and saute until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini, broth and 2 cups hot water. Bring to a simmer, and cook until zucchini is almost soft. Add peas, simmer for 1 minute, add watercress and remove from heat. Season with salt to taste.
2. Allow soup to cool slightly. Working in batches, transfer soup to a blender (do not fill container more than halfway) and, holding onto lid tightly with a dish towel, puree until very smooth; begin at low speed and gradually increase to high.
3. Season soup with lemon juice and adjust salt to taste. Stir in basil and ladle into soup bowls. Sprinkle with pepper or grains of paradise and olive oil to taste, and serve.