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Simple soups for winter

Soup and crackers.
Soup and crackers.

As we noted several weeks ago, there's not a better time in the year for home-made soups than right now. Soup-making is one of those activities that invites creativity and improvisation. Chef Jerry Pellegrino, is all in favor for letting your imagination go to town whilst standing before the soup kettle.

We’re very much convinced that people’s eating habits are tremendously influenced by the seasons, so as we slip into the chill of dark winter, we need food that will brighten our spirits. On the theory that feeling cozy is the best antidote to frost and gloom, we would like to talk about a few pots of simple soups that are guaranteed to warm you through and through.

Scotch Broth

In a large soup pot, sauté ½ cups of chopped raw carrot, onion and celery together in 1-2 tablespoons olive oil. When they start to wilt and brown, add one half cup dry white wine. Cook over medium high heat until wine reduces by half, then remove from heat.

In another pot, brown about 1 1/2pounds lamb shank in olive oil. When browned on all sides, cover the shank in about 4 cups beef broth and simmer gently for about an hour. When the shank is done, the meat will fall from the bone. Remove the bone and discard. Remove the meat, coarsely chop, and add to the vegetables in the soup pot. Pour in the remaining beef broth, add a bay leaf and bouquet garni of rosemary, thyme, and two chopped garlic cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Add 1 cup pearl barley to the soup and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning, remove bay leaf and bouquet garni and serve hot.

(Vegetarian alternative: use vegetable stock and sautéed portabello mushrooms, instead of the lamb.)

Green Lentil Soup

This dish has a pronounced Indian flavor.

Begin by soaking three large ancho chiles in 1 1/2 cups warm water until they are soft. Remove stem and seeds, cut up coarsely, and return to the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, and simmer uncovered. When only about ½ cup liquid remains, transfer to a food processor and puree, making a paste. Set aside.

Sauté a mirepoix of diced carrots, onions and celery (about ½ cup each) in two tablespoons of ghee (Indian clarified butter). Cook until tender and the onion is starting to turn golden. Add 1 tablespoon each freshly ground cumin and fennel seed, and the ancho chile paste, and stir well and cook for about two more minutes. Add one cup dry white wine, and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Rinse two cups uncooked green lentils in a strainer. Add 5 cups vegetable or mushroom broth to the soup pot. Bring to a boil and add the lentils. Reduce heat when the mixture boils again, and allow to gently simmer for about 30 minutes, until the lentils begin to become tender. When they are about half tender, add about 4 ounces of cubed paneer cheese. Cook for another 15 minutes, or until the lentils are completely tender. Remove about one third of the soup and puree in a food processor, then return it to the soup to thicken it. Adjust salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot.

Split Pea Soup

In your heavy soup pot, fry 8 slices of bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Sauté ½ cup each of chopped carrots, celery and onion in the bacon fat. When they are quite tender, add 1 medium shallot, finely diced, and two large garlic cloves, also well diced. Cook about a minute and do not burn. Pour 6 cups hearty chicken broth into pot and bring to a boil. Add one pound of split peas, which have been well rinsed. After it comes to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and add a meaty ham bone. After about an hour the meat should be falling from the ham bone. Season with salt, pepper and a bit of cayenne pepper to taste. Remove the ham bone, and pick off any remaining meat, which you will return to the pot. Using a submersible blender, process the soup until the peas have been well pureed. Crumble the bacon, and add it to the pot and cook for an additional ten minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.