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Gearing up for fall

By Jan Roberts-Dominguez

for the Mail Tribune

I cook according to mood and hankerings.

This isn’t such a complicated issue when each season settles into its groove. Mid-summer menus? Nightly hits of fresh corn, herb-laced tomatoes and grilled peppers are expected. Anything that produces powerful and dynamic meals in the shortest amount of time.

Once autumn hits its stride, I’m on to plump and juicy heads of roasted garlic, creamy mashed potatoes with caramelized onions, and apple cobbler. However, for this transitional phase, when weather and harvest are unpredictable, I like to have a potpourri of recipes on hand. Some that speak to my growing enthusiasm for heartier fare and greater chunks of time to produce it.

Seared Broccoli and Potato Soup (pictured)

Serves 4.

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound broccoli (1 bunch), separated into florets, stems peeled and diced

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium yellow onion, diced

About 1/2 pound (2 medium) russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced

5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

4 cups chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Salt to taste

Grated or shaved Parmesan for garnish

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add about one third of the broccoli to the pot, making sure not to crowd the pieces so they will brown instead of steam. Cook the broccoli for several minutes without moving the pieces, until each one is richly browned on the bottom. As they brown, transfer them to a bowl. Repeat with remaining broccoli, adding additional oil as necessary.

Set the bowl of browned broccoli aside.

Add the butter and 1 more tablespoon of olive oil to the pot. Saute the onion in the butter/oil mixture over medium heat until the onions turn a light golden brown or slightly darker, about 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t rush the process. Add the potatoes, garlic, broth, and black pepper and bring the mixture to a boil over medium high to high heat. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender. Add the broccoli and cook, uncovered (this helps retain the color), just until the broccoli is tender, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Remove from heat. Add lemon zest then roughly puree the soup with an immersion or regular blender (or food processor), leaving plenty of small chunks for texture. Stir in the lemon juice and salt to taste. Serve with plenty of grated or shaved Parmesan at the table for garnishing, along with additional black pepper and salt.

OPTIONS: For a creamier soup, stir in about 1/2 cup of half-and-half or heavy cream. For a vegetarian version, substitute water or vegetable broth for the chicken broth (because of the rich layering of flavors created by browning the broccoli and caramelizing the onions, this really is a flavorful option). You can add a little more flavor by stirring 3/4 cup of the grated or shaved Parmesan directly into the soup before serving.

Creamy Corn with Candied Bacon

Serves 4 to 6.

For the Candied Bacon:

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 pound smoked bacon (16 thin slices)

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the corn, saute:

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup finely chopped Walla Walla Sweet onion (or other sweet onion)

1 clove garlic, minced

4 cups fresh corn kernels (off the cob; approximately 6 ears of corn)

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup heavy cream

Scant 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

To prepare the candied bacon, heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cayenne. Place the strips of bacon in a medium bowl (be sure to separate the strips from the block of sliced bacon). Use your hands to coat the bacon with the brown sugar mixture and then arrange the slices on a baking sheet. Lay a sheet of parchment over the bacon, then set another baking sheet on top of the parchment to keep the bacon from rippling as it cooks. Bake for 10 minutes and then raise the heat to 375 degrees and continue to cook until the bacon is crisp and shiny from the melted sugar. Remove the pan from the oven, and when it is cool enough to handle, break into 1-inch pieces and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat; add the onions and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds, then add the corn and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, uncovered, until the chicken broth is reduced to a glaze or very little liquid is left in the skillet. Add the cream and white pepper and cook for 10 minutes to reduce the cream by about three-quarters. Adjust the seasonings with salt and more pepper. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with the parsley, and top with the candied bacon.

Recipe adapted from “Harvest to Heat, Cooking with America’s Best Chefs, Farmers and Artisans,” by Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer.

Sweet Corn Bisque With Basil Puree

Makes about 8 cups, enough for 6 to 8 servings.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 medium-sized yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine (such as pinot blanc or a not-too-oakey chardonnay)

4 cups chicken broth

3 peeled and cubed Yukon gold potatoes

5 cups fresh corn kernels cut from 6 or 7 ears

1 cup half-and-half

1 teaspoon Green Pepper Sauce (Tabasco brand)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt to taste

1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

Garnish options: fresh Pacific shrimp; drizzles of sour cream, drizzles of basil puree (or pesto, diluted with additional oil to make it easier to drizzle), or roasted red bell pepper puree.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is softened. Add the wine and simmer until it’s reduced by half. Add 2 cups of the chicken broth and the potato and simmer, covered, until the potato is tender.

Add about half of the corn kernels and cook, covered, until the corn is tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly (so that the soup won’t “explode” in the blender).

Puree the slightly cooled soup in batches in a food processor or blender. Press the mixture through a sieve to remove the outer skin of the kernels, then return the soup to a large pot. Add remaining 2 cups of broth, and the remaining corn kernels, then bring the mixture to a boil and simmer just until the corn is tender, about 3 more minutes. Add the half-and-half, Green Pepper Sauce, Worcestershire, salt and pepper and gently reheat. If the soup seems too thick, add more chicken broth or half-and-half. Soup can be prepared several hours or overnight at this point.

Garnish and serve.

NOTE:

For basil puree: puree in blender or food processor 1/2 cup firmly packed basil leaves, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 small garlic clove; can be made and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks ahead)

For roasted red bell pepper puree: puree in blender or food processor 1 roasted, peeled and seeded red bell pepper, 1 small clove garlic, 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, salt to taste, freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Jan’s One-Pot Chicken with Noodles, Ginger and Lemon

Serves 2, but can easily be doubled.

2 chicken breast halves, skin removed/bones in (about 1-1/2 pounds total weight)

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

4 cups good-quality chicken stock or broth

3/4 cup chopped green onions (about 5 or 6 medium-sized onions, using all of the white and pale green portion and about 2 inches of the green)

2 slices of fresh lemon (about 1/4-inch thick, or slightly thicker)

Scant 1 tablespoon optional “secret ingredient” (see note below)

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger root

2 teaspoons commercially prepared chili-garlic sauce

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Salt to taste

1 (7.7-ounce) package yakisoba noodles (also called “stir fry noodles”)

Using kitchen shears or very sharp knife, cut each chicken breast half into two portions (since you’ll be cutting through rib and breast bone, shears are very effective). Cut through at the meatiest portion of each breast so you end up with four relatively equal-sized portions. In a deep-sided, heavy-bottomed pot, brown the chicken pieces in the oil over medium-high heat, turning once to brown on both sides (note: skinless breast meat can be tricky to fry, tending to stick if you flip it too soon; be patient, once the meat has browned sufficiently, it practically releases from the pan bottom by itself). Reduce the heat slightly, remove the chicken pieces to a plate, then pour in the broth, stirring and scraping with a flat-sided utensil to dissolve all of the caramelized chicken juices.

Return the browned chicken pieces to the pot, and add the onions, lemon slices, ginger root, chile-garlic sauce and black pepper. Cover, and cook just until the chicken is tender and cooked, about 40 minutes. Adjust the seasonings, adding salt if desired. The chicken can be prepared to this point up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerated.

Five or 10 minutes before serving, bring the mixture to a boil, then remove the chicken pieces with a slotted spoon. Add the yakisoba, breaking the soft block of noodles apart with a fork or spoon so they’ll cook evenly and quickly in the broth (this takes about 3 minutes). When the noodles are cooked, return the chicken pieces to the pot and heat through. Adjust seasonings. Fish out any remaining pieces of lemon (it will be almost disintegrated by now) before serving. Serve in large soup bowls or pasta bowls.

Note On Optional Secret Ingredient: I used to use a dumpling sauce from one of my favorite Corvallis restaurants, China Blue. But the restaurant changed hands and no longer offers the original version. By luck, however, I ran into the former owners one day in a park and they shared the basic ingredients used to make their sauce. With that information, I’ve been able to cobble together my own spicy dumpling sauce: In a small saucepan, whisk together 1/4 cup soy sauce (or Kikkoman’s Tempura Sauce, if you can find it), 1/4 cup water, 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 3 tablespoons sesame oil, 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon sugar (omit the sugar if using the tempura sauce). Simmer for 3 minutes, then remove from heat. In a small dish, whisk 2 teaspoons of corn starch into 1 tablespoon of water. Scrape that mixture into the sauce, whisking constantly, then place the pot over a medium-high burner and stir until thickened; remove from heat. Makes about 2/3 cup of sauce (the sauce freezes well).

Coach House Black Bean Soup

Serves 8.

1 pound black beans

2-1/2 quarts water

5 strips bacon, cut in small pieces

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 medium-sized onions, chopped

2 tablespoons flour

2 smoked ham hocks

3 sprigs parsley

2 bay leaves

2 cloves garlic, halved

2 carrots, diced

2 parsnips, chopped

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

2 teaspoons salt

3/4 cup Madeira (or dry sherry)

2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped

Wash beans, cover with cold water and soak overnight. Drain and wash again. Place them in a large pot with the 2-1/2 quarts water. Cover and simmer 90 minutes.

In another large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute the bacon over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Add celery and onion and cook until the onions are tender and transparent. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add ham hock, parsley, bay leaves, garlic, carrots, parsnips, pepper, salt and beans (with their cooking liquid). Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 3 hours. Add more water if necessary to keep mixture very loose.

Remove soup from heat and remove ham hocks. Ladle half of the soup into a blender and puree. Remove any meat from the ham bone or hocks, chop fine and return to soup, along with the blended soup, Madeira wine and chopped eggs.

Soup can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. When ready to serve, bring the soup to a boil and gently simmer for 5 minutes.

Adapted from “Colorado Cache,” by the Junior League of Denver, Inc.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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