All souped up

The Matthews family is pleased and proud to announce that we are Durham’s premiere recipients of the 2017 summer cold.And the only thing I’m pleased and proud about is that none of us has dropped dead—this thing is a doozy.  It makes the Black Death look like a paper cut.

So, at mealtime, I want something quick and easy to get on the table, and we all want something warm and cozy, that makes us feel loved and nurtured.

Chowder is the flannel pajamas of the food world.  But what is the difference between a chowder, and say, a cream of mushroom soup?  Is it the inclusion of fish or clams?

They’re both creamy soups, but a classic cream soup is pureed and not chunky.  Chowder is much more rustic; containing identifiable vegetable chunks and normally made with some type of thickener, like starch, or cracker crumbs or flour.

I use what is called a beurre manié (pronounced ‘burr mahn-yay’; it’s French for “kneaded butter”).  It’s softened butter with flour beaten in.  In hearth cooking this thickener is used because there is no ability to fine tune cooking temperatures, and roux can be more finicky, with very little room for error.  Instead, you can just drop in a knob of beurre manié, adding more as needed.To make it you just take a softened stick of butter and start by adding ¼ cup of flour.  Use a spatula or small wooden spoon, and just like the name says, knead it in, adding more flour until it has taken as much flour as possible (usually equal parts butter/flour).

I start the whole process by rendering pancetta until the fat is released, and the meat’s crispy.  Boar’s Head sell bags of pancetta already chopped and ready to go.  As for the dairy, any type is good, as long as you use at least ½ cup skim milk; that will keep the soup from separating.  And King’s Red & White on Club Blvd in Durham always has bags of sweet delicious shoe peg corn in their freezer.  If I can’t get fresh, that’s what I use.

The soup takes just a bit of work to put together, but once it’s made, it will take just minutes to heat up, or you can put it in a slow cooker and it will be waiting for you.I like making the soup, then having various garnishes available for diners to dress their bowls the way they like.  Some ideas for garnishes are the crispy pancetta, for starters.  Also, shredded cheese, green onions, oyster crackers, lightly poached crab meat, or raw spinach or kale.The Matthews family band are all of legal drinking age.  We have recently discovered a beverage which, when imbibed before retiring, helps to give us a cough-free night of peaceful slumber.  It’s a twist on the homemade cough syrup my mother used to force feed us growing up.

It’s hot, boozy lemonade.  For each serving, heat one cup of water.  Stir in ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice and honey to taste.  Pour it into a large mug and add as much bourbon as the patient desires.  If it doesn’t knock you out, you haven’t added enough.cold bewareThanks for your time.

Corn and russet chowder

corn chowder

1 cup ½-inch pancetta cubes

3 medium sized russet potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes

2 cups shoe peg corn

1 small yellow onion diced

3 cups chicken stock

2 cups dairy, including at least ½ cup skim milk

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Salt & pepper

Beurre manié made with ½ softened butter and approx. ½ cup flour

In a large heavy pot set to medium, render pancetta until crispy.  Remove from pot, leaving 2 tablespoons rendered fat.  Add potatoes, corn, and onion.  Season, add nutmeg, and cook until veg start to brown and get crispy around the edges.

Pour in stock and cook on a low simmer until the potatoes are cooked through (15-20 minutes).

Stir in dairy and bring to a gentle simmer.  Whisk in beurre manié until it is thick and creamy.  Stir in parsley, check for seasoning, and serve with garnishes of your choice.

Serves 4-6.

A Kernel of Truth

Originally published in the Herald-Sun 12/19/2012.

At our house, we are huge fans of carby comfort food.

We have a repertoire of dishes, everything from blue box mac, to an invented dish we call a ‘pasta toss’ (pasta, usually with sautéed veg and lots of lemon and garlic).

When Petey is saving lives at Duke, my baby and I dine alone.  On those nights we love nothing better than to get into our jimmies, and hop onto the couch with a couple of plates of steamy noodle goodness.  Then we dine, while watching a cinematic classic like, “Super Lobster Versus Mega Kitten”.

One night, prowling the Food Network website, I came upon a picture of a pasta dish with corn and green onions.

It looked fresh and light, yet luxurious.  Crazy gorgeous.  It made my stomach rumble.

I copy/pasted the illustration, and emailed it to The Kid, who was ensconced upstairs in the fortress of solitude, with various beeping and blinking devices.

It was given a thumb’s up.  We decided to create our own corn and pasta dish.

We immediately started making plans.

For pasta, we decided on parpadelle.  It’s as long as spaghetti, but as wide as an egg noodle.  The good stuff is as silky as a French nightgown.  It’s eggy and yummy.

For flavoring and fat in which to saute, we decided to go with pancetta.  It’s Italian.  They make it with pork belly, which also makes our American bacon.  It’s cured and rolled. But unlike bacon, which is smoked, pancetta is never smoked, but flavored with peppercorns and other herbs and spices, like rosemary and juniper berries.

Although I am an onion lover, my child is not, so instead of green onions for our dish, we would stir in a handful of fresh chopped parsley.  This would give us both color and fresh bright flavor.

As for our star of the show, corn, a trip to the farmers’ market presented us with a myriad of choices.  We settled on some beautiful sweet juicy ears still in their pale green silky robes.

Some stuff about fresh corn:

As soon as the ear leaves the stalk, the sugars in those sweet kernels start converting to starch.  In two days, about 80% of the sugar has mutated.  So, only buy fresh corn on the day you will use it.  And don’t buy it if it’s been languishing at the grocery store for days. The way to get the tastiest corn is to get freshly picked.

Otherwise, buy frozen.

Don’t be ashamed to be seen in the freezer aisle.  IQF, or individually quick frozen vegetables is the way most veg are prepared these days.  They’re cleaned and frozen as quickly as possible, sometimes within minutes, in buildings just feet from the fields in which they grew.  I promise they will be fresher than the sad, middle-aged specimens declining in your supermarket veggy department.

To shuck corn, quicker and cleaner; drop each ear into boiling water for a count of fifteen.  This will make the silk practically jump off the corn.  To completely eliminate the mess and bother, make the kids do it–outside.

To get the kernels off the cob, just hold the cob upright on a cutting board, and cut down with a sharp knife, turn it, and repeat.  After kernels are removed, scrape down the cob with the back of your knife, to get the juice.

Some folks swear by resting the cob on the opening of an upright bundt pan.  The theory is all the stuff goes only into the pan.  It never works for me.  It is a messy job, no getting around it.  I suggest a drop cloth, and a shower after.

Once we had our components, we set about making our newest pasta toss.  It was a blast conspiring together to create this new recipe.

Happily, all the fevered intrigue paid off.  It’s the perfect, yummy plate to devour while watching “Grizzlygator versus Colossal Hedgehog 2”.  This time I hear it’s personal.

Summer Corn & Parpadelle

Serves four as a side dish, or two as a main.

1 lb parpadelle

¼ lb thick sliced pancetta, cut into cubes

2 cloves garlic, peeled, and smashed, or thickly sliced

6 ears fresh corn, cut from cob (or 12-16 ounces frozen shoe peg, if fresh is not available)

1 shallot, diced

1/3 cup white wine

1 cup chicken stock

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 T butter

1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and pepper

Set a very large pot with heavily salted water on to boil.  When it boils, add pasta and cook ‘til al dente. 

In a large heavy skillet, cook pancetta until completely browned on medium-low, and remove from pan. Turn up to medium, and put garlic in.  Cook until lightly golden and fragrant.  Remove and discard. 

Put shallots into skillet, and cook until softened and lightly translucent.  Add corn with juice.  Cook until the liquid is almost gone, and add wine, and stir to coat everything.  When wine has evaporated, add chicken stock, and turn up to medium-high. 

Let it bubble away to thicken, while paprpadelle is cooking.  When the consistency is right, turn off heat, and stir in cheese and butter (called mounting).

When the noodles are done, don’t strain them, remove from water with tongs or a large slotted spoon, and add directly to sauce.  Add parsley, and toss everything together.  If the sauce is too stiff, add a little pasta water to thin it.

Check for seasoning, plate, scatter top with pancetta bits, and serve. 

The Kid called this past weekend, and told me next week’ll be finals for food and wine compatibility class.  The directive is a dish that pairs well with a chardonnay.

Guess what recipe my child is choosing to make for the exam?

Thanks for your time.

Best of both worlds

It’s well known that I’m no fan of the energy draining heat and humidity of our North Carolina summer. I watch for the subtlest of changes to leaf colors the way a middle school boy looks for whiskers on his upper lip.

You’d think with my often whined-about antipathy that I have no love for anything to do with the season.

Au contraire, mon frère.

I enjoy swimming in the ocean (Petey’s always terrified I’m going straight to Europe when I get going — or be eaten by a shark). I like cute sandals. And…

I have to be honest here. I thought and thought, and even asked Petey for help, but I could only come up with one more thing I like about the summer.

I absolutely love summer produce. Tomatoes, berries, summer squash, corn and green veggies; I am there all day.

These days it’s possible to buy fresh summer fruits and veggies out of season, but most of it has traveled from afar, and tastes as much like local in-season bounty as a photographic depiction would.

But if you’re in the mood, and are very particular and discerning, it’s possible to enjoy a summer dish in the fall that has both bright, authentic flavor, and radiant, sunny color.

This can be accomplished by using a combination of fresh and frozen ingredients.

Commercially prepared frozen foods use a method called “IQF”, which means ‘individually quick frozen’. Processing plants are located very near the fields where produce is grown, and right after harvesting it’s prepped and frozen. In many instances it’s done quicker than farmers can get it to the farmer’s market, and you can purchase it and get it home. Corn and berries are good examples.

Some veggies are so easy to grow and ship that they’re always available, at a pretty constant level of quality.

Most grocers usually carry fresh sugar snap peas (usually packaged) and scallions year-round. Supermarket tomatoes are problematic all the time. But grape tomatoes are ubiquitous, sweet and yummy.

So, on a day when it’s nice enough for grilling, I have a side dish and dessert that will create the charade that it’s the middle of the summer — with no swooning involved.

Summer veggie salad


2/3 cup mayonnaise

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ cup finely grated manchego cheese (may substitute other dry, hard cheese, like Parmesan)

Salt & pepper

Whisk all ingredients together at least one hour before service, and refrigerate.


12 ounces fresh snap peas

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

1 cup frozen shoepeg corn, thawed

2 slices bacon

3 scallions, sliced thinly

½ teaspoon sugar

Salt & pepper

Blanch snap peas: Cook in heavily salted, boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon into ice water. When cool, drain and slice in half at an angle.

Cut bacon into ½ inch strips, and cook until crispy. Remove from pan and drain. Pour out all but 2 teaspoons grease. Into same pan, pour in corn, season, and add sugar. Allow to cook until browned around edges. Remove and let cool.

Put all salad ingredients except bacon into bowl, and mix. Add dressing a bit at a time until coated. Refrigerate until service. Right before serving, stir in bacon. Serves 4-6.

Berry cobbler

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided

2 tablespoons cornstarch

5 cups frozen mixed berries

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup self-rising cornmeal

2 pinches salt

¼ teaspoon fresh nutmeg

1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled

1 cup milk

Combine 1/3 cup sugar, pinch of salt, and cornstarch. Stir this into berries and lemon juice; spoon mixture into lightly greased 2-qt. baking dish.

Combine flour, cornmeal, pinch of salt, nutmeg, lemon zest and 2/3 cup sugar. Whisk in butter and milk. Spread batter evenly over berries.

Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes or until golden. Serves 6-8.

So, to answer that peculiarly 21st century question: Yes, you can have it all.

You can eat like it’s the middle of July, while wearing the cutest pair of suede boots and an adorable little sweater—in October.

Thanks for your time.