Does this ever happen to you? You’ve planned a gourmet dinner for the evening (ok, semi-gourmet) and, just when you think you’ve got enough time and everything is under control, something seriously breaks your pace- a stove that needs to be calibrated, a husband coming home earlier than anticipated, meat that isn’t completely defrosted, or a recipe you’ve just read to the end and realized you need two hours to cook instead of one?
Well, most people would only be afflicted with one of these problems per dinner drama, but last night, I had all of them to deal with. My Navarin Pantier (Lamb Stew with Spring Vegetables) was my recipe project of the day, another of Julia Child’s delights I was trying to master. (No wonder the cookbook it comes from is called Mastering the Art of French Cooking).
I made the fatal flaw Julia always warned about in her TV episodes of The French Chef: “Read the recipe before you begin to cook”. Well, I thought I did, but in reality I’d only read half- the part where she tells you to cook the lamb for an hour. The next page is where she tells you, “Regulate heat so liquid simmers slowly and steadily for about an hour longer….”
I had no ‘Plan B’, knew my husband was famished, and I had very few exciting ingredients in the house to play with.
Taking one look around my fridge and counter, I had to think quick about what I could do with apples, cheese, spinach, onions, tomato paste, odd pieces of cheese, and various experimental jars of homemade creme fraiche. It was like playing ‘Iron Chef’ against myself.
Ok, it has to be soup and salad tonight. Soups without pasta, rice, potatoes or meat are usually not hearty enough to fill a hungry stomach, but I knew if I made a simple soup with creme fraiche added, we could eat it with hearty bread and a salad, which would be perfect for the late dinner we would have.
I decided on a Creamed Spinach Soup made by sauteeing onions in butter and olive oil and adding tomato paste and water to fill half the pan. I let it cook till it came to a boil. I then added spinach and let it simmer for about 10 minutes, just enough time for me to cut the cheese and peel and slice the green apple for my salad. I left the slices to soak in cold water until I was done so they wouldn’t brown.
I returned to my soup and tickled it with my handy immersion blender- a tool every soup maker should have, in my opinion. I blended a little at at a time, until the entire pan was a creamier version of the original. I let it simmer for a minute or two, then added 2 heaping tablespoons of my homemade creme fraiche, stirring it in until all of the whiteness of the creme disappeared. Two minutes later, I was satisfied that it was finally a creamed spinach soup.
Returning to my salad, I rinsed and drained the baby greens then gave them a whirl in my other kitchen favorite- my salad spinner. I dried the greens with a paper towel and laid them gently in a bowl, added rough cubes of white cheddar and slices of the green apples I’d cut earlier. Later they were dressed in a simple mix of extra-virgin olive oil, salt and apple cider vinegar.
Sitting down to a simple, quick dinner of Creamed Spinach Soup, Greens Salad with Apples and White Cheddar and a hearty slice of flame-warmed pita bread was a great end to the drama that plagued my kitchen only about a half an hour earlier.