Saturday, March 02, 2013
Roasted Tomato Soup with Parmesan Dumplings
In Warren, Michigan, where I grew up in the 1970s, you were either Polish or Italian. It was so cool to be Italian - all the popular kids were Italian. The Italians had famous Hollywood characters like Rocky Balboa and Vinnie Barbarino. There was the whole "Godfather" thing, too. Sadly, I was born on the Polish side of the tracks. Instead of wearing Italian horn gold chain necklaces, and wearing 1st Holy Communion dresses that rivaled wedding dresses, we were the butt of all the Polish jokes. We got called "Polacks" on the playground (it wasn't a compliment). I secretly hoped my brown hair looked almost black like the girls in "in" crowd. In the summer, my singular goal was to work on my tan to transform my pale Eastern bloc complexion into something that looked a little more Mediterranean by laying out in the sun drenched in a homemade mixture of baby oil and mecuricome that allegedly guaranteed a deep dark tan. I wanted to pass as an Italian.
We Polish kids ate weird food, too. Stuff like golapki (stuffed cabbage) and czernina (duck blood soup). Besides sentencing me to a lifetime of uncoolness; being Polish also meant that I didn't get to eat the Italian foods that everyone else loved....fettucine alfredo, pasta carbonara, lasagna, etc. After all, there was no commercial about kids running home to eat Polish food that we ate (like a big plate of kapusta with kielbasa); instead there was this one about a young Italian boy named Anthony:
While I have come to appreciate my own clan's food, the only true downside of being Polish is that I had never really tasted real Parmigiano Reggiano until I was an adult. Sure, we had spaghetti, but we didn't have it every Wednesday like Anthony. My mom made spaghetti with hamburger in it and sauce from a jar. Of course, it was topped with the stuff in the green can...
Fast forward to my adult life. I was running late coming home from the office and I was supposed to bring an appetizer to a book club meeting. No time to cook, so, I stopped by Morgan and York, a fine Ann Arbor purveyor of wine and cheese...or should I say cheese...cheese....CHEESE....
...and the young fellow behind the counter suggested I bring some Parmigiano Reggiano with a baguette and some of their wonderful aged balsamic vinegar they sell in bulk. I blanched at the price of the cheese - after all, the real deal costs a lot more than the stuff in the green can. However, I was assured that I didn't need all that much cheese. All that was needed was a little sliver of cheese and a thin slice of baguette dipped in some of that sweet and tart vinegar. I tasted it and it was out of this world! The book club ladies skipped everyone else's appetizers and went straight for my snack. I felt a little guilty because my contribution didn't even require cooking! "This is so good!" they exclaimed. My one friend, quite the food snob, sniffed, "This is real Parmigiano Reggiano, isn't it? I can tell." And she is right, you can tell. It has an unrivaled texture and nutty taste. Genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano is made only in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, following stringent guidelines. The milk used to make the cheese comes from cows that spend most of their days grazing in grassy meadows. It must be made from April 15 to November 11 so that the cows from which the milk comes can graze only on fresh grass. It must be aged for a minimum of 14 months (though most are aged for 2 years) in wheels that weigh at least 66 pounds.
My friend Ann makes the most wonderful cheese dumplings. When she gave me her recipe, she warned me not to use real parmesan cheese, saying that it wouldn't work, the dumplings fall apart. "Use the stuff in the green can!" she admonished. So use it I did, but I got to wondering if I could make them work with the real deal? A quick scan of the ingredients of the green can showed that it contained cheese and something called "cellulose powder". Wondering if that could be the secret, I Googled "cellulose powder" and found out it is "minuscule pieces of wood pulp or other plant fibers that coat the cheese and keep it from clumping" . Yikes! I didn't want to have to add sawdust to my dumplings....but I got to thinking that maybe the cellulose powder was acting as a thickening agent. I tried adding a little cornstarch instead, and that did the trick. They're perfect for this robust flavored tomato soup. This recipe is wonderful and easy - to save even more time, buy finely grated Parmigiano Regiano. I got some at Whole Foods, who are celebrating Parmageddon by simulaneously cracking into 400 wheels of cheese on March 9.
Roasted Tomato Soup with Parmesan Dumplings
For the soup
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
1 can (28 oz) roasted tomatoes (I used Whole Foods 365 Diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes)
1 yellow squash, diced
1 zucchini, diced
For the dumplings
3/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (grated like powder, not shards)
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t corn starch
In a 2 qt saucepan or Dutch oven, saute garlic in oil until fragrant. Puree tomatoes (including the juice) in a blender until smooth. Add to pan and heat until boiling, and then turn down to medium low heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Make the dumplings by mixing the egg, cheese, cornstarch and salt in a small bowl until combined. Form 1/2 inch dumplings and drop them a few at a time into the hot tomato sauce. Wait for them to puff up a bit and float before adding more.
When all the dumplings are adding, cover and cook over a medium low fire for 5 minutes. Resist the urge to stir - the dumplings will break up - however if a few break, it's okay.
Add the squash and stir gently to combine. Cover and cook for 5 more minutes, or until squash is soft.
That's it! Couldn't be simpler....it's great as it is or even better topped with some additional cheese. Delizioso or Smaczne as we say in Polish!