There’s a soup I’ve made several times out of the Moosewood Daily Special cookbook that consists of sautéed onions, thinly sliced potatoes, and tomatoes on a garlicky broth. (This cookbook is a great resouce for vegetarian soups and hearty grain-based salads, although I have to cop to using chicken stock instead of vegetable in many of the soup recipes…)* The Moosewood recipe is good, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted a heartier soup and needed to use up some leftover ham I had from Christmas dinner. The Basque region of France & Spain is known for using ham, peppers and onions in a variety of dishes, so I was inspired by those flavors. I decided to cut the potatoes in chunks rather than slices to make the soup more rustic, and added the peppers for a bit more color and sweetness. The addition of smoked Spanish paprika, aka Pimenton de la Vera, was the final element. (There is another type of dried, powdered red pepper specific to the Basque region called Piment d’Espelette that would probably be great in this as well, but I didn’t have any on hand.) As long as we’re on the subject of spices, Penzey’s is a great resource. You can order online, or if you’re in the Detroit area they have a store at 13 mile & Southfield. The last time I was there, I picked up Szichuan peppercorns, kalonji, mustard seed, garam masala and more… But back to the soup! Here it is: hearty, simple, with warm Spanish flavors to ward of the chill of winter.
*Notes for vegetarians: To make this a vegetarian soup, simply omit the ham and substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. The Moosewood book actually has a great garlic stock that is used in the original recipe. Also, smoked paprika is a great way to add a little “meatiness” without actually using meat (the smokiness emulates a bacony flavor).
Basque-inspired Peasant Soup/ Soupe Paysanne à la Basquaise printer-friendly version
3 medium sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Walla-Walla
6-8 small redskin potatoes, or the equivalent amount of larger potatoes (see notes)
1 head roasted garlic (see notes)
2 cups chicken stock
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 16-oz jar roasted red peppers, not marinated (I’d say two large peppers if you’re roasting them yourself)
2 cups diced ham
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
smoked Spanish paprika
Notes: For the potatoes, I used redskins, but feel free to substitute a starchier potato if you’d like a thicker soup. I would guess that two large potatoes would suffice if you’re using Russets or Yukons. If using either of these, I’d probably peel them. For the roasted garlic, if you don’t want to turn on the oven, you can “roast” the garlic in the microwave. It’s not quite the same, but it’ll do if you need to speed things along. Just peel away most of the outer skin, slice off the top, put in a small dish, pour olive oil to coat, and microwave on 30% power for 10 minutes, flipping it halfway through.
Directions: Slice the onions as thinly as possible, and cut the potatoes into bite-sized cubes. Remove all the skins from the garlic and cut all but the smallest cloves in half. Heat a few tbs. olive oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven, add the onions and lightly salt them. Sauté over medium heat until they begin to soften, and then add the potatoes and garlic. Cook for another 10 minutes or so while you slice up your peppers and dice the ham, stirring occasionally. When the onions are fully softened and translucent, add the 2 cups chicken stock and a large sprig (or 2 smaller sprigs) thyme, and bring to a simmer. Cook at a low simmer until the potatoes are tender. Add the can of tomatoes (juice and all), peppers, and ham and keep at a very low simmer for about 10 more minutes to warm through and allow the flavors to blend. When serving, garnish with a sprinkle of the smoked paprika and a scattering of fresh thyme leaves. To continue the Spanish theme, serve with crusty bread and slices of Manchego cheese, and a nice bottle of Rioja.