Archive for the ‘Soups’ Category

Remembrance of Things Lost:

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

        My sister Julie who’s ten years older than I am (older enough, that is, to have pretended she was making gin in the bathtub during Prohibition) reminds me that back around 1931 Pop Ernt was still alive and joyfully presided at a tableside Rite of the Crêpes Suzette at his enchanting restaurant at Monterey Wharf. There was more, in short, than clam chowder and the mackerel-abalone-rock cod I remember Pop’s lanky son reciting. But all would eventually be lost; by my college days Pop’s sons, the tall one and the short one, had retired, selling their restaurant to a piscatorial entrepreneur of considerably less cachet. And then, shortly after, as if old Pop had posthumously released some ancient Hanseatic malediction, the successor restaurant burned, well not to the ground but down to the mud of Monterey Bay.

        As for the Del Monte Express, my beloved Pacific-powered puffer that would steam into the station across the way at 6:52 p.m., proud bell ding-donging into the summer mist: well, first it was the maestro of the snacks and drinks in the parlor car who retired after thirty years’ service (and the SP kindly named the car after Oliver Millet), then it was the train itself that became history, victim of California’s love affair with Fords, Chevys and Toyotas that don’t have a big number like 2-4-8-2 stamped on the side in large white letters a small child could read from a hundred yards.

        There must have been a printed menu at Ernt’s, but the regulation litany seems to have been all we needed for ordering. I’d give a royalty cheque to have a copy of Ernt’s carte for my menu collection, which ranges from the much comma’d laundry list of old Jack’s in San Francisco — before it was pulled kicking and screaming into a millennial yuppification — to the flights of graphic fantasy favored by Benoit in Paris or André Daguin in Auch-en-Gascogne. Occasionally chefs penned inscriptions, and my favorite is the one by Jean Peronnet of the long-gone Chapeau Rouge in Feurs, a little town west of Lyon we visited in ’73. M. Peronnet had as many Michelin rosettes as the urbane M. Daguin, but he looked one morning in his smock and beret more like the proprietor of a country hardware emporium than a celebrity chef.

        No inscriber for my menu cache has come close to his lovely (and something is lost in translation): “With my compliments, hoping to see you again, have a safe trip, be healthy.”



Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

        And here is our version of the piquant Colombian soup we ate at a vibrant little tapas palace in San Francisco’s gastronomically formidable Mission District — off a tabletop suggesting perhaps too vividly the spots of a leopard.


Save a piece or more of chicken, some carrot and all the remaining broth from our Boiled Chicken and Vegetables. Skim the fat off the broth, heat it and cook in it the kernels of a small ear of corn. Then skin and bone the chicken, cut it into juliennes and warm them in the soup for a minute or so.

To complete the ensemble, top the chicken-and-broth in each diner’s bowl with a little yogurt, avocado chunks and small capers to taste, and serve with a relish-like, minimally liquid salsa verde made with small amounts of olive oil and red wine vinegar (about 2 to 1) along with a little minced onion and rather a lot of parsley rat-tat-tatted into mince with a big sharp knife such as you see on the TV cooking shows.


        And was it sprouts or a second-rate slaw Leonida Frediani from her verdant mountain top dismissed as “lawn trimmings”?


Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

        Leonida Frediani, Don’s mother, was, not long ago, a lovely little lady of 93 who still cooked up a storm of “old country” dishes.  She was still driving to the market from her hilltop house to choose her provisions with an unfoolable eye: for the right peach, the best pear, the freshest Blue Lake bean — if, that is, she wasn’t picking lunch or dinner from the huge vegetable garden just below her kitchen window: such fussiness, alas, has become socially unacceptable. I suspect Leonida was so tuned to the heart of the gastronomical matter she didn’t notice that three-star view over the Russian River valley and down to the distant stream of traffic on Highway 101, a million feet, it could have been, below her Shangri-La.

        Meanwhile Mr. Frediani, if he wasn’t off hunting – he’d invested well and retired from his Plymouth agency at fifty-five – would lounge in the well-stuffed and very red leather chair he was allowed to retain amidst the fine crisp lines of a modern house son Don had commissioned from the architect Mario Corbett.

        Now a polenta minestrone such as Leonida’s Farinata is a rare thing in cookbooks and in restaurants too — San Francisco’s Fior d’Italia used to offer it sometimes at lunch — but well known in old Lucchesan families either side of the Atlantic.

        Here are cabbage and sausages again as in Gigi’s Alsatian soup, but translated from Strasbourg to the bucolic Garfagnana just north of Lucca the meat-and-veg change their colors, so to speak. Whatever its provenance, this is your perfect soup for a winter day, the ideal meal-in-a-bowl, a singing porridge to please the soul as well as tum.

        Leonida and my mother got on very well. They came from quite different backgrounds, garlic and nongarlic, etc., but they were both perfectionists in “quality of life” concerns – and, because of that, they had their cranky moments, not at times un-operatic I should add. When Don Frediani was a Navy officer in Korean waters, my mother wrote him faithfully: letters Victorian in their formality yet utterly up-to-date in their feistyness.


In a large pot simmer for an hour, covered:

1 small ham hock with the skin left on

2 Italian sausages cut into thick rounds

1 small head of sliced cabbage

1/2 bunch of chard, trimmed, washed and torn into manageable            pieces

1 14-ounce can of tomatoes

2 cups of cooked cannellini beans, drained (the canned variety has      Leonida’s stamp of approval)

2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin


5 cups of chicken broth

When the soup is virtually ready to serve take out the ham hock, skin it and cut the meat into pieces and put them back in the pot, then slowly add a cup of coarse polenta, stirring constantly until it’s well mixed into the soup. This is prelude to simmering the soup for 25 minutes more, stirring it every 5 minutes or less to prevent the polenta sticking to the pot.

Serve this Farinata with a teaspoon of olive oil drizzled over each serving plus a little shower of grated dry jack or parmesan cheese.

LEFTOVERS?   Reheat the soup, topped with a little olive oil and a lot of grated cheese, in a skillet coated with oil, then run it under the broiler until brown. The result is no longer a soup, it’s a polenta cassoulet!