Wednesday, December 28, 2011


It was exciting to think that maybe, just maybe, winter was going to give us a pass this year, as we've had such uncharacteristically mild weather up until now. But we're starting to see some single digit temps and tonight, there's a predicted wind chill factor of seventeen BELOW by 1am! So what's a gal to do but haul in a ton of wood, stoke the fire until it's raging, do a load of laundry and wash all of the dishes (while there's still hot water) then leave the kitchen tap on a trickle, and lastly, get a pot full of albondigas soup a-crockin. BRING IT, Old Man Winter!

This is a hearty, zesty soup that's pretty easy to make, because it calls for frozen meatballs. But if you have the time or inclination, feel free to make your own from scratch. Authentic Mexican albondigas use rice as a filler and have a touch of dried mint in the mix. So this shortcut version is less than authentic, but yummy and filling on these icy winter nights.

Crock Pot Albondigas Soup

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1/2 bulb fennel, diced
2 very large (or 3 medium) carrots, sliced into coins or large dice
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic (or 8!), minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 can Italian-style diced tomatoes (with juice)
1 small can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon beef or vegetable soup base (I like Better Than Bouillon)
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup frozen corn
16-18 (1 oz.) frozen Italian meatballs (or 24 5/8 ouncers)
1 cup frozen peas (if you stir them in at the end, they will retain their color)

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onion, celery, fennel, carrots, and poblano pepper until tender. Add the minced garlic and seasonings and cook another minute or two. Place veggies in at least a 5 quart slow cooker, then stir in the tomatoes and tomato sauce, soup base, chicken broth, corn, and meatballs. Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4.

Stir in frozen peas 20 minutes or so before serving. Garnish with a bit of shredded parmesan cheese.
Or...better yet, why not put the parmesan in some savory biscotti for dunking in the soup! I came across this recipe from King Arthur Flour, and I thought these parmesan and cracked black pepper biscotti would be a perfect accompaniment to the albondigas soup. The recipe makes a lot (almost three dozen!), and they store well in an airtight container. In fact, these would be perfect for holiday entertaining, perhaps on your New Year's Eve party snack trays?

Parmesan and Cracked Black Pepper Biscotti
(Source: adapted from King Arthur Flour)

6 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons Vermont cheese powder, optional, for flavor (I just used a little extra parmesan plus 1 teaspoon paprika for color)
1 cup, firmly packed, freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups diced pecans or walnuts, toasted
additional grated parmesan for topping the biscotti, optional

1) Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment.
2) Combine the butter, sugar, cheese powder, parmesan, black pepper, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl.
3) Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl after each addition.
4) Stir in the flour, and the nuts (if you're using them).
5) Transfer the sticky dough to the prepared baking sheet, dividing it in half as you do so and plopping the halves so that they're about 2" from each short edge of the pan. You want to leave plenty of space between them.
6) Using your wet fingers and/or a wet spatula, shape each piece of dough into a log about 9 1/2" long, and 7/8" thick. If you've used nuts, the log will be about 3" wide; with no nuts in the dough, it'll be about 2 1/2" wide. Do your best to smooth the tops and square off the corners. If desired, sprinkle the tops of the logs with additional grated parmesan.
7) Bake the logs for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they're beginning to brown around the edges. Remove them from the oven, and carefully lift them off the pan; if you've used parchment, simply lift the parchment off the pan and set it, biscotti and all, on a work surface.
8) Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
9) Using a sharp serrated or chef's knife, carefully cut the biscotti into 1/2"-wide slices. It helps to start cutting not at the top, but at an outer edge; this seems to lessen any crumbling. For long biscotti, cut on the diagonal; for shorter biscotti, cut crosswise.
10) Set the biscotti, on their edges, back on the baking sheet; no greasing or parchment is necessary. Space them fairly close to one another, so you can get them all onto the same pan.
11) Return the biscotti to the oven, and bake them for 50 to 70 minutes, or until they feel dry and are just beginning to brown. If you pinch the center of a biscotti, it may feel just slightly soft; that's OK, as it'll continue to firm as it cools.
12) Remove the biscotti from the oven, and let them cool right on the pan. If you're not sure if you've baked them enough, turn off the oven, crack the door open several inches, and let the biscotti continue to dry out right in the cooling oven. When biscotti are completely cool, store them airtight at room temperature; they'll stay fresh for several weeks.

Yield: about 32 biscotti

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