Ouch. Normally October and I are fast friends. But this particular October has been something to recon with. This October took me in, chewed me up, and recently spit me out into a deluge of grey snow flurries. I’ll spare you the details, but do you want to know just how cruel October has been? I haven’t even planted my garlic crop yet. Terrible, I know. But that’s the beauty of garlic. It’s very forgiving.
October was at least kind enough to afford me a teeny bit of time in the kitchen. And there were some memorable moments to be sure. We had a surplus of fresh pressed apple cider this year, so I liberally took 2 gallons and slowly simmered it down to make 4 half-pints of an amazing boiled cider. It sounds extravagant, I know, to turn 2 gallons into 4 cups, but the result is worth it. The cider cooks until it turns into a thick, sweet-tangy syrup – somewhere between the consistency of maple syrup and molasses. I can’t decide how to use it first – spooned onto a cheese plate, glazed over roasted carrots or squash, mixed into a vinaigrette, or simply drizzled over vanilla ice cream. I’ll keep you posted on that as the winter wears on.
Making boiled cider is really as easy as putting fresh cider in a heavy stock pot, bringing it to a boil, and then reducing the heat so it can simmer 4 – 5 hours. You really only need to give it an occasional stir until about the last 30 minutes. When it starts to thicken up, you want to stir more often to keep it from scorching. Remove it from the heat when the syrup gets to a consistency you like. That’s it – boiled cider. I went a step further and filled sterile jars and gave them a 15 minute hot-water boiling bath. But, like most concentrated sugars, this will keep almost indefinitely in the fridge, even without canning.
Then there was the night Mark came home with his sweatshirt bundled up and overflowing with fresh purple plums. We sucked down plenty of them fresh, but the stragglers got turned into a simple butter cake. My favorite fall cake – equally as good with pears, plums, or apples. And equally good, if not better, with coffee the next morning. That’s my kind of cake.
The other great thing about this cake is how fast and easy it is. Grease an 8×8 pan with butter and fill the bottom with fresh cut fruit. Melt 9 tablespoons of butter (it is a butter cake after all) and set aside. Mix 5 1/4 ounce (3/4 cup) sugar with 2 eggs. Add in 2 1/2 ounces flour (scant 1/2 cup) and 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder. Stir in the melted butter and pour batter over fruit. Dust with a bit of nutmeg, cinnamon, or ginger if desired. Bake at 350º F for 40-50 minutes until cake is golden and crackly. See how much potential October has?
But I think the standout for the month was a garlic soup from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. The soup itself was simple, yet deceivingly rich and packed with deep flavor. But what really knocked it out of the park was the harissa garnish. It gives the soup just the right punch. For an even quicker meal you could sub in store bought harissa, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Yottam’s version is in the running for the finest harissa I have tasted. It’s well worth the extra 15-20 minutes of effort to mix it up fresh. It didn’t take me long to use up the leftovers – spooning it onto eggs, avocado toasts, and even a green arugula based pizza.
We had the soup as a meal with a big fall salad and sourdough for dunking, but I think it would make a particularly lovely first course for a dinner party. Twenty-five cloves of garlic may seem like a lot of work, but it’s really not too bad, especially if you don’t go and use teeny tiny cloves like I did and subsequently have to double the amount to 50. Careful use of a mandolin can make fast work of slicing perfectly thin garlic. As far as the stock and wine go, don’t skimp on quality – they really make up the flavor base of the soup. And the harissa! The harissa will become a kitchen staple for me, soup or no soup. It’s a tad on the salty side – which is one of the reasons why I fell in love with it, but if you’re leery of salt, start small and taste as you go.
Well there. I feel better for having gotten October off my chest. Hopefully next year we’ll resume our slow-paced, nostalgia filled relationship.
Garlic Soup with Harissa
From Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty
For the harissa
1 red pepper (or 3 small)
1/2 tsp each coriander seeds, cumin seeds and caraway seeds
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 red chillies, seeded and chopped
1/2 tbsp tomato purée (or tomato paste)
2 tbsp lemon juice
2-3 tsp coarse sea salt
For the soup
3 T butter
2 T olive oil
4 medium shallots, finely chopped
3 celery sticks, finely diced
25 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
3/4 c white wine
1 generous pinch saffron strands
4 bay leaves
1 quart good-quality vegetable stock
4 tbsp parsley, roughly chopped
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Greek yogurt or Crème fraîche (optional)
First make the harissa: put the pepper under a very hot oven broiler until blackened (10-20 minutes, depending on your broiler). Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, leave to cool, then peel and discard the skin and seeds. While the pepper is roasting, place a dry frying pan on a low heat and toast the coriander, cumin and caraway for two minutes. Transfer to a mortar and grind to a powder. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion, garlic and chillies over medium heat until dark and smoky – six to eight minutes. Then blitz all the paste ingredients together in a food processor.
For the soup, gently fry shallots and celery until soft and translucent (about 10 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for five minutes more. Stir in ginger and thyme, add salt, pour in the wine and leave to bubble for a few minutes. Add the saffron, bay leaves and stock, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves, add the parsley and blitz with a hand-held blender. Do not over-process – keep some texture.
Serve in shallow bowls. Swirl in some harissa, sprinkle over coriander and serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt or Crème fraîche, if you like.