“Only the pure of heart can make good soup.” -Ludwig van Beethoven, prolific and influential German composer/badass of the late 1700′s. Neither severe tinnitus nor total deafness stopped him from creating some of the most beautiful music the world has ever known.
Last Saturday night was my fourth of four classes in the “garde manger” station at The French Culinary Institute‘s truly awesome restaurant “L’Ecole.” Along with another 3 of my classmates, 4 students from the class ahead of me, and one Chef Wanda Centeno, I made L’Ecole’s appetizer selections in a tiny speck of a kitchen. I’ve never been thrown into a more confusing or foreign working atmosphere in my entire life. And to my own shock, I completely loved it. Cooking on a restaurant line only vaguely resembles the experience of cooking at home in one’s own kitchen. Sometimes you walk into class and the students there before you just happened to make an extra batch of sauce that morning, so you don’t need to make more for dinner. Sometimes, we’ve got still-fresh garniture from the night before. But sometimes, we’ve got absolutely nothing and we have to start from scratch. (And when I say from scratch, I mean we may have to boil potatoes for gnocchi dough, measure out and make said dough, and then hand-roll and cook it too. And we have to butcher rabbits down from whole bunnies (with tongues and teeth still in their mouths!) to managable pieces for cooking. When you get there at 5:45 and tickets start spitting out of the machine at 8:00, this is not a lot of time, especially when you consider the complexity of the recipes. In the past 4 classes, I worked on a Warm Goat Cheese Petatou (basically a fancy potato salad with thyme and olives that’s made in a ring mold and blasted with a tewtally awesome kitchen blowtorch and winds up looking something like this) with Tomato Compote and Mâche Greens, as well as a Ragoût of Rabbit with Sweet Potato Gnocchi and Pickled Asian Pear. I am proud to say that, in those four classes, I turned out some of my most beautiful and delicious plates of food to date (to actual customers, no less!), and had not one complaint come back to get me.
I feel amazing in that kitchen. It’s hard to explain, really, because it’s such a conflation of sensations. (Isn’t that why I love cooking, after all?) At once I’m terrified, in love, feeling totally out-of-place-and-element, focused, feeling beyond lucky, energized, terrified again, and also scared and full of fear and terror. And have I mentioned the feeling of being terrified, or the feeling of being in love? Just when I thought they’d packed my brain as full of culinary knowledge as possible, I’m learning all over again at an exponential rate. I can’t fathom the fact that this restaurant is the same exact one I ate at as a patron and prospective student about 9 months ago, where I thought to myself the entire meal “THIS?!?! I’m going to be able to make THIS AWESOME FOOD by the time I get outta here? ME? Yeah, right. We’ll see about that, you crazies!!!)
Next, I’m off to the poissonier station to make a lovely Italian-style Zuppe de Pesche and a Scallops with Butternut Squash Hollandaise and Crispy Leeks, and I don’t think I’ll be cooking fish so much as feeling like one that’s out of water. I watched two of the most talented dudes in my class man-handle this station last week, and even they looked a little frantic and crazy…..wish me luck! And if you come in on a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday night for the next few months with an 8pm reservation, be sure to send me an email! (People, people, people – you must go. It’s one of the best deals there is for eating out in New York City. For a mere $45, you get a five-course dinner prepared by FCI students under the guidance of some seriously incredible chef instructors that have worked for some of the most incredible restaurants in New York City (and the world!). Did I mention one of mine was the first woman EVER to cook in the kitchen of Le Cirque?!?! I still can’t get over that.)
For my last night in garde manger, Chef Wanda taught me this soup, which I wound up serving as an appetizer special that night. Honestly, it didn’t sound very good when she first described it, but it seemed an interesting enough flavor combination to completely want to give it a whirl. I suppose after the shock of learning what an amazing combination zucchini and chocolate can be, the thought of zucchini and apples together shouldn’t have been met with such a turned-up nose. But listen dudes, it was incredibly delicious and easy. With only a few extra minutes spent on lovely garnish details, we turned out a great-looking, great-tasting dish that was met with some rather favorable reviews. This would be a great first course to serve at a dinner party, and it freezes beautifully. I hope you’ll give it a try!
Neutrally-flavored oil, such as vegetable or canola
1 medium onion, washed, peeled, halved, and sliced into thin half-moons
1 shallot, washed, peeled, halved, and sliced into thin half-moons
3 zucchini squash, washed, 1 of them peeled (reserve peels and slice into julienne), and all of them halved lengthwise and cut into half-moons
2 tart apples, washed, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks approximately 1/2″ in size
2 cloves garlic, washed, smashed, and skin discarded
1 tbsp. mild curry powder
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. butter
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
Plain yogurt (NOTE: A nice, thick Greek yogurt would work best here.)
1. In a large stockpot or Dutch oven over a medium flame, add just enough of the oil to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is nice and hot, add the onion and shallot, and stir to coat with the oil. Usually, you would just sweat these until translucent for soups, but this time we’re going to take them all the way to the caramelized state and really develop that nice flavor and color. This takes a little while, but just keep an eye on them and make sure they aren’t burning on the bottom of the pan. You can always adjust the flame lower if they begin to stick or burn, and you can also add a nice pinch of salt to help extract some of the moisture inside of the onions. They’re done when they’re a nice hazelnut color and have a strong aroma.
2. After the onions and shallots are caramelized, add the zucchini, apples, garlic cloves, curry powder, and cayenne pepper. Stir to coat with the oil (add a bit more if necessary, but just a little bit). Sauté everything for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. When zucchini and apples have softened slightly, add enough water to barely cover the vegetables. (You could use chicken stock too here, if desired.) Bring to a boil, and then turn heat back down to a nice gentle simmer. Keep the pot at a simmer for about 30 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and allow the contents to cool a bit.
3. In a blender, add a few ladles of the mixture at a time. (NOTE: Be extremely careful working with a blender and hot liquids. You can get burned very badly if the heat forces the top to pop off. I really recommend just letting the soup cool down before starting this process.) Starting at low speed and working up to high, purée the soup until very smooth and silky. As each batch is puréed, pour it out into a clean bowl. Repeat this process until all of it is put through the blender.
4. Return puréed soup to a clean pot, and heat it back up over medium flame until nice and hot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more curry and cayenne if desired, too, but don’t over-do it. At the last minute, stir in the butter. Keep warm on the stove.
5. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. When water boils, add the julienned zucchini peels and blanch for 30 seconds. Immediately drain through a fine mesh sieve and rinse quickly under cold water to stop the cooking. Lay out on a paper towel to dry.
6. To serve, ladle the hot soup into a wide, shallow bowl. Top with a dollop of yogurt, some of the julienned zucchini peels, and a nice sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.
Yield: You should be able to get about 6 servings out of this recipe, and there will probably be leftover pomegranate seeds to hide from your guests and eat yourself later.Printer Friendly