All right, who's that little mustachioed dudette, and who let her in here? Little bugger must've sneaked in through the back door while I was frosting the cake. Crasher.
Anyway, as I was saying, Molly turned 30 last week, and we had a dinner party to celebrate. Molly and I cooked up a storm – roasted squash with cardamom, lime, and a yogurt-tahini sauce; eggplant with buttermilk dressing and pomegranate seeds; soup; whipped feta with sweet and spicy peppers; anchovies; olives; bread – I baked a cake that I'm dying to tell you about, but I can't, not yet, because it's for the book; and my sister Kasey made (amazing! spicy! chocolate!) ice cream. Before the party, my friend Steph and I set up a makeshift photo booth (surprise, Molly!), and while Mia napped, Eli hot-glued 22 paper mustaches, glasses, bow ties, and hair pieces to 22 wooden sticks. Goooo team!
I love cooking with Molly. And that's saying something, because I very, very rarely enjoy cooking with anyone. There are people, I hear, who crowd into the kitchen, crack open a cookbook and a bottle of wine, divvy up the tasks at hand and get down to it. There's conversation and multiple knives in action, and music, maybe something like this. There are no lists or maps at all, just good food happening, and the mean heart rate in the room is andante, at most. It pains me to tell you that I am sooo not one of those people. But I often wish I were, and when I cook with Molly, I get to be. (Minus the wine. I'd never make it to the table.) Molly is unflappable in the kitchen. She's a scientist; her brain is packed with a boggling amount of information about how cooking works, thanks in large part to the book she put together for Cook's Illustrated. (Seven weeks and counting on the New York Times best sellers list! Yesssss!) But all that book learnin' (and writing) aside, Molly is an incredibly intuitive cook. She has fabulous taste, and I've learned so much from her. Molly said that for her 30th birthday, she wanted us to cook a meal together for her friends. I couldn't have been happier about that.
Molly started in on the squash when she arrived, and I got going on the soup.
It was a tomato soup, a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's new book, Jerusalem, but different from the tomato soup, also Ottolenghi's, that I shared here last week. This one's lighter, more devotedly tomato, with a flavor that's delicate yet deep. The ingredients are mostly tomatoes, plus sourdough, which I thought was kind of weird, and more cilantro than I thought was wise. But the sourdough breaks down completely, pulling together all those tomatoes, smoothing them out, and the cilantro is cooked, so it does something different, something quieter, than I expected.You purée the soup before serving, but only about three-quarters of the way, so that chunks of tomato remain and there are still plenty of seeds to burst between your teeth. It's a magnificent soup. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was eating the best tomato sauce I'd ever had, only from a bowl, straight. Fine with me. At the last minute, we decided to toast some pumpkin seeds to sprinkle on top. I suggest you do the same.
Happy December, friends.
p.s. - More photos here.
Tomato and Sourdough Soup
Adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
This is intended to be a summer soup, I think – the recipe calls for some fresh tomatoes, some canned – but I've winterized it by using only canned. It might seem strange to hand chop a can of tomatoes when you're also using another can of already-chopped tomatoes, but the variation in texture between the hand-chopped and ready-chopped is very nice. Use the best, most flavorful canned tomatoes you can find. We went with Muir Glen organic tomatoes and they were excellent. A note about the cilantro: The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, not 2 tablespoons of cilantro, chopped, which would be significantly less cilantro. That may feel like a lot, but it mellows considerably when cooked. I don't typically have sourdough on hand, but my new plan is to buy a loaf, slice it, and store the individual slices in the freezer so that I'll be able to make this soup on a whim.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (1 2/3 cups, or 250 grams)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 cups vegetable stock
1 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, chopped, juice reserved
1 14-ounce can of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 slice sourdough bread, crust removed (40 grams), torn into 1- to 2-inch chunks
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus extra to finish
1 teaspoon salt, plus more, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted in a hot dry skillet, then salted (optional)
Heat the oil in a medium pot over a medium-high flame and add the onion. Sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until the onion is translucent. Add the cumin and the garlic and fry for 2 minutes. Give it a stir every now and then to make sure nothing is sticking.
Stir in the stock, all of the tomatoes with their juices, 1 teaspoon of salt, and a couple of grinds of black pepper – everything but the sourdough – and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, stir in the sourdough, then cook for another 10 minutes. Add the cilantro, and purée with an immersion blender. You’re after a soup with varied texture; you want some tomato chunks and definitely some tomato seeds here and there. It’s a thick soup. If it’s too thick, add a little water.
Serve drizzled with olive oil and scattered with fresh cilantro.