fig. a: icy
Some days, all you really want for dinner is a bowl of soup--preferably, with a loaf of freshly baked bread, and some butter. Soup lovers get this feeling throughout the year, of course--even in summer--but during the winter, the pursuit of soup can take on added urgency. You know the days: the ones with the snow squalls, the arctic blasts of wind, the temperatures that drop like an anvil in a matter of just a few short hours, possibly even a freak thunderstorm (!). On days like these (because that's exactly the kind of day we're having here today in Montreal), there are few things as life-affirming as the first spoonful of that steaming bowl of hearty soup. Sample the right soup, and you'll immediately feel its restorative powers begin to kick in--the very same powers that gave the first modern restaurants their allure (and the name by which these establishments became known).
Obviously, there are many, many soups that can produce this effect, but some of the most satisfying winter soups are those that make ample use of grains, like rice, barley, or oats. These grains provide flavour, they provide substance, and they also provide comfort. (Think about it: why do most variations on the proverbial chicken soup come with noodles or rice, or something similar?) Serve them with that freshly baked bread and you'll find that your grain power will be amplified. Serve them with that freshly baked bread and a tasty beer and your grain power will be boosted even more.
Barley soup is one of the classics of the genre, but I'd more or less given up on it until I found a recipe for Grauensuppe, a German barley soup, in an issue of Saveur way back in 2011. The recipe showed up in a fantastic article on the soup-making traditions of Central Europe, aptly titled "The Art of Soup." This was not the stodgy beef & barley soup found throughout the Anglo-American and Anglo-Canadian worlds. Here, the barley in question was pearl barley, which keeps its form and its texture better than other varieties; the meat was German-style sausage; the vegetables included one of the staple trios of the German soup-making tradition: carrot, celeriac, and leek; and the barley was sautéed first to toast the grains and give the soup additional flavour. The results were fantastic--one of my favourite soups of the last couple of years. Even better: this soup is quick and easy to make.
fig. b: ja, voll!
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup pearl barley
8 cups vegetable stock, preferably homemade
1/2 cup finely chopped peeled russet potato
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped celeriac
1/2 cup finely chopped leek
1 tsp dried marjoram, preferably wild
2 German sausages, like bockwurst or bratwurst
1 2-oz piece of smoky bacon
freshly grated nutmeg
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup thinly sliced flat-leaf parsley leaves
Heat the butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add the bacon, and sauté for about 1 minute. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5-10 minutes. Add the stock, potato, carrot, celery root, leek, marjoram, and sausages and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausages are tender, about 35 minutes.
Remove the sausages and bacon from the saucepan. Thinly slice the sausages and discard the poor hunk of bacon. Season the soup with nutmeg, salt and pepper, being careful not to overdue it with the nutmeg.
Ladle the soup into 8 serving bowls, and garnish with parsley and sliced sausage. Serve hot, with plenty of good, freshly baked bread, and butter.fig. c: pumpkin seed sourdough
[based very, very closely on a recipe that appeared in Beth Kracklauer's "The Art of Soup" in the November 2011 issue of Saveur]To your health (and your warmth)!
Note: while the health benefits of this soup might prove to be lasting, its warming properties will likely prove to be fleeting. Please remember to snuggle up afterwards.
fig. d: the art of snuggling