These are the three best things about coming home from a business trip you would have gladly paid someone else to take in your stead:
1. Bumping quickly over potholes in a cab on your way back to Manhattan from JFK at sunset when you can see the skyline bathed in ethereal mauve light;
2. Seeing your very tall boyfriend walking up the street to meet you at a restaurant and running across the street to jump in his arms like a monkey on a tree;
3. Cooking your own dinner again.
In an attempt to purge the memories of drippy, triangled British sandwiches packaged in plastic, and to lighten the load of several multi-course meals in groovy London restaurants, I wanted nothing more than a simple soup and a plate of thinly sliced fennel dressed with lemon juice and olive oil for dinner. The soup I made, though, was so satisfying despite its simplicity that we never got around to the salad. Ben and I each slurped down a bowl and could eat no more. The light broth was filled with chunked potatoes that had been fried in olive oil, diced carrot and celery, and a scattering of rice. Bay leaf, cracked pepper, tomato paste and a generous slab of Parmigiano rind, saved dutifully in wax paper, flavored it all.
The recipe comes from Lidia Bastianich - cookbook writer, television chef, and restaurant owner - and was printed in the New York Times a few years ago. The whole thing takes less than an hour to make, but has bold and well-melded flavors that belie its quick preparation. Because my pot was almost overflowing, I used a little less broth than called for and it was fine. Today, the soup leftovers are sludgy and stewy, but just as delicious. I'll be finishing them up all weekend while I dance a jig and crow happily, "I'm home again! It's 65 degrees out! The sun is shining! I don't have to go on another transatlantic voyage for at least three and a half months!" Life is good.
Rice and Potato Soup with Parmigiano-Reggiano Rind
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch cubes
2 medium carrots, coarsely shredded
2 center celery stalks, diced
2 teaspoons tomato paste
10 cups hot chicken broth
2 2-inch-squares Parmigiano rind, exterior scraped
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup long-grain rice
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. In a deep, heavy 4- to 5-quart pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Potatoes will stick to pot; adjust heat to prevent stuck bits from becoming too dark. Stir in carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until carrots are softened, another 2 to 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt. Add tomato paste and stir to coat vegetables.
2. Add broth, Parmigiano rinds and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, scraping up bits of potato on bottom, then simmer. Season soup lightly with salt and pepper. Cover pot and cook until potatoes begin to fall apart, about 40 minutes. Stir in rice and cook until rice is tender but still firm, about 12 minutes. Remove bay leaves, stir in parsley, and check seasoning. Remove rinds and cut into small pieces. Eat them right away or put a piece in each soup bowl and ladle soup on top. Serve.