La Lama Mountain Ovens
The best of the recipes, techniques, and methods practiced by our large extended Italian-American family - with emphasis on the legacy handed down to us by the original immigrants.
This is a cookbook-in-process project. If you try any of these recipes please let us know how they turn out, whether or not you had any difficulties, and any clarifying improvements you might recommend to make them foolproof. We will of course acknowledge genuine "test-kitchen" assistance.
Family Secrets #16
By CeCe Dove, La Lama Mountain Ovens
about this time of the year I begin to get a craving for
something a little more complex in flavor than the
standard summer fare. My appetite is not yet geared to
the long simmering stews and braises of winter, but is
bored with the simple grills and salads of summer. At the
same time, the garden is bursting with more vegetables
than it is possible to eat, can, pickle, freeze, or
preserve. Soup to the rescue! Not the long-simmering,
hearty soups of winter, but soups that highlight the best
of the garden (or farmer's market), and that don't keep
your stove going for hours at a time.
When we were growing up soup was an integral part of our diet. It was so much a part that every single Monday that my mother was alive, we had soup for supper. The simple reason was that Mondays were "wash days" and in the winter she could put a long cooking pot on the stove, return to her old Dexter double tub, and serve up a hearty, healthy meal in the evening. In the summer she, or on special occasions my Dad, could put together a summer minestra from the garden in quick order and the meal was equally delicious.
Picture: 1945 - Left to right:
Cousin Merceda Saffron nee Biordi (1943- )
Cecelia Dove, nee Zara (1941- )
Cousin Diana Luskin Biordi (1940- )
Brother Raymond Zara (1938- )
|So we all grew up with an appreciation of
good homemade soups. You can be as rustic or as elegant
as you wish with this versatile dish, running the gamut
from crystal clear consommé to thick and rich
minestrone. My fond memories of this dish revolve around
sitting down with cousins and aunts and uncles for an
informal meal of a great bowl of soup, a thick slab of
homemade bread and a glass of wine. To this day I still
love soup as a meal, not an appetizer or first course.
This menu may not make culinary history, but it makes a
great meal that feeds the soul as well as the appetite.
The two recipes that follow make the most of our summer produce. After 30 years of gardening I still plant too many zucchini and summer squash. Every gardener I know makes this mistake and there are even comic strips about growing zucchini. Zucchini jokes in summer are like fruitcake jokes at Christmas. But once you taste the following recipe for Cream of Zucchini soup you will rethink your garden. It is as beautiful to look at as it is delicious to eat. It is elegantly smooth and silky, vivid emerald green, and tastes simply of summer. My imagination is already at work, waiting for the first snowfall, the first fire roaring, to pull out a pint from my freezer to relive the tastes of summer. I cannot attribute this recipe to family, however. It was given to me by my good friend, Margaret Nes, from Taos, and it is with her permission that I present it here. She, too, used to plant too many zucchini, but we now agree that you can never ever again have too many. I hope that it will become part of my family's recipes for future generations.
The second recipe is definitely from the family files. It is a lightened version of the classic Minestrone. The use of the Parmesan rind in the water, instead of a hearty broth is an old trick used to give depth and flavor to soups and stews made without meat stock. The optional chicken will make this a more substantial meal but even without it, the soup is flavorful enough to stand on its own. Because of the use of soft summer vegetables I do not think this soup freezes very well. It is a great way to use up the end-of-the-summer garden when you have just a handful of peas, string beans, a single zucchini or two or whatever else is there that isn't enough for a whole meal on its own. Feel free to vary the vegetables according to what you have on hand. This recipe is a simple structure into which you can fit your own ingredients.
Cream of Zucchini Soup
|Wash the zucchini and
trim ends. If they are really over mature just use the
outside flesh and discard the center core. If you have a
food processor with a grater attachment you can make
quick work of this. If not, be patient and use a food
grater. Grate the onions first. Melt the butter in a
large soup pot, add the onions over low heat and while
they sweat and soften for about 5 minutes, grate the
zucchini. Add the zucchini to the pot with the salt and
mix it all up well. Turn heat up and add the water and
herbs of your choice. A nice mix is a handful of
marjoram, basil and parsley tied up with kitchen string
(for fishing out later). Bring to a boil. Turn heat down
to achieve a simmer. Cover and cook about 30 minutes,
until vegetables are very tender. Fish out the herbs.
Puree the soup in a blender using only enough of the
liquid to make a thick puree. At this point you can
freeze it to finish later or continue on to serve.
To serve: Thin the puree with a little of the cooking liquid, add a little half and half or milk and taste for salt. You could garnish with croutons, or a spoonful of sour cream if you like. If the puree has been frozen, you can thin it with canned vegetable or chicken stock, water, or milk - whatever your taste dictates.
Warm the olive oil in the soup pot. Add the aromatic vegetables and soften slightly, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, water, Parmesan rind, herb bouquet, salt lightly (the cheese will add salt as it cooks), and bring to a simmer. Add potatoes and cook about 15 minutes. If you are using the chicken, add it in with the potatoes. Add string beans and cook another 10 minutes. Add zucchini, peas and greens and cook an additional 15 minutes. Taste for salt as you add each ingredient and add as necessary for your taste. Add beans and simmer 5 minutes more. If the soup is too thick for your taste, add water in small amounts. Fish out the cheese rind and herb bouquet and serve piping hot. A spoonful of pesto stirred into each serving is a traditional garnish and adds yet another layer of flavor.
Altitude Adjustment: None necessary.