Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sometimes Life Demands German Comfort Food

Working in a university, you start to measure your life in semester-length increments. You learn that the from summer into early fall, the time of year when most people are busy relaxing and doing nothing, you'll be tearing your hair out trying to keep dozens of meetings straight and finishing all your big projects before The Day The Kids Come Back.

Summer at a university is not the time for taking it easy; its the time for getting all the work done that you can't do during the year when the students and faculty are around to occupy your time.

And THEN, the fateful day arrives and the new academic year begins, and suddenly everyone on campus has taken a renewed interest in the services you're there to offer, and if you thought things were busy in the three months previous you've got NO idea, brother. In a week's time, I think I had more meetings and new project requests than I'd had all summer.

Think about that for a second, and you'll understand why by last Thursday I needed fried veal and potato soup for dinner.

J, being of almost entirely German heritage, has an understandable devotion to Eastern European fare. Unfortunately, since most of the German foods he (and I) love basically consist of meat, potatoes, and cabbage, usually with a fair amount of fat thrown in for good measure, we don't cook it very often. But Iavarone had some lovely little thin veal cutlets over the weekend and J was inspired to put a couple of German meals on the menu for the week. Luckily for me, it just happened to work out that we had both meals on days when I really, really needed them.

The weekend previous I made a batch of homemade pierogi stuffed with potato and onion and froze them, so that on Monday, when I came home at 9pm after a long work day follows by a two-hour chorus rehearsal, J greeted me with a hug and a kiss and a steaming plate of kielbasa, sauerkraut, and pan-fried pierogi. *swoon* Be still my heart... there is nothing sexier than a man who'll cook for me.

Then on Thursday, when I had 4 excrutiatingly long days behind me but still one more to go and was feeling about as tired as I've felt in months, J made wienerschnitzel with mushroom gravy and I made creamy potato soup with broccolini and caraway and a spoonful of crispy diced kielbasa on top, and all of a sudden things seemed a whole lot better.

Potato-Broccolini Soup with Kielbasa and Caraway

1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
1 bunch broccolini, cut into 1/4-1/2" pieces
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup diced white onion
3 cups chicken stock
1 tsp caraway seed
1 tsp spicy brown mustard (I used Boar's Head because its what we had, but would have preferred something grainier)
1 tbsp creme fraiche
1/2 cup diced kielbasa
2 tbsp butter
S&P to taste

Melt 1 tbsp butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and sautee until slightly softened and translucent, but not browned. Add potatoes, broccolini (reserving about 1/4 cup), and caraway seed and sautee for a minute or two just to get things up to temperature. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes and broccolini are soft enough to mash with a fork.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tbsp of butter in a small sautee pan and add the kielbasa and remaining broccolini. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage and veg are heated through and slightly browned and crispy on the outside. Remove from heat and set aside.

When the veg in the soup is smashably-tender, remove from the heat and add the mustard and creme fraiche, stirring to combine evenly. At this point you could serve the soup as is, but I chose to put my trusty immersion blender to work and whizzed everything up until it was velvety smooth. Not that I have anything against chunky soup, but this had the added benefit of pureeing the caraway along with the veg, making for a more consistent flavor. You could grind the caraway before adding to the pot if you wanted to get around that but still have a chunky soup, but I'm frankly too lazy for that mess.

To serve, ladle into bowls and gently top with a big spoonful of the crisped kielbasa and broccolini. Enjoy while still hot, preferably with a big hunk of dark pumpernickel bread or a plate of your favorite German dish. Like wienerschnitzel, especially if its cooked by someone as inarguably German as J.

Pairing this with a glass of riesling or a gin and tonic (preferably something good like Tangueray) is just gilding the lily... I'm quite a fan of gilded lilies, myself.

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