Ricki Cooking School, Chapter 3 – Garlic Bread and Tomato Soup with Pesto

I made this tonight and my husband said, “You should write this stuff down.” So I am!

(I’m also wondering if he’s planning to kill me, but still wants his next wife to cook his favorite foods. But probably not. Right?)

So, garlic bread – Buy good bread. Seriously. Don’t chintz out on this step. I like a nice “Country Loaf” or “Tuscan Loaf” or something like that. Sourdough would not be bad either but it’s a little on the dense side.

Then you slice it. Maybe 3/4″ to 1″ thick. (You should keep in mind, as you read that, that I am guessing based on how thick I cut it, and I have no spatial perception at all.) Lay it out on a baking sheet. Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle some good-quality salt. Sea salt in a big grain if you’ve got; kosher salt if you don’t. Don’t use table salt. In fact, if you’re even thinking, “Wouldn’t table salt be fine?” at this step, just go to the freezer section of your local grocery store and buy Texas Toast or something. Don’t bother with this recipe.

Put the bread under the broiler and WATCH IT. Usually four to five minutes is a good estimate, but don’t leave the kitchen and check frequently until you’ve got a good handle on how fast the bread you prefer toasts in your particular oven. While you’re checking, take one garlic clove, big as you can get, and slice the top off. (You don’t have to peel it but you might want to sort of jimmy the peel away from the top a bit.) Once that side of the bread looks good to you, take it out of the oven and, as soon as you can, rub the garlic clove over all the bread thoroughly. You’ll need to use an oven mitt on one hand to hold the pan and you’ll need to move quick and careful with the hand holding the garlic, but if you don’t do it while the bread is hot the garlic won’t get absorbed properly.

Then turn the bread over, re-salt, and re-olive oil if necessary (It’s frequently not necessary unless you’ve got a dense bread). Then stick it back in the oven, usually for a minute less than the first time. Then repeat the action with the garlic.

And, voila! Delicious garlic bread. I use this as croutons in salad, I use this for my panzanella (which I’ll put up in the summer), I use it for all sorts of reasons. I rarely serve bread without doing this to it first.

As for the tomato soup, I vary it a lot, so I’ll tell you what I did tonight. First, I cut up a shit-load of garlic cloves. I sautéed them in the bottom of a large pot with olive oil, salt, and crushed red pepper. (Sometimes I get fancy and crumble up some chiles de arbol instead.) Then I dumped in two cans of San Marzano crushed tomatoes.

Two notes:

1. IT MUST BE SAN MARZANO. “But I always use Del Monte!” No. San Marzano. “But what about organic Whole Foods brand?” No. San Marzano. “But what about locally grown-” No. San Marzano.

2. I know I’m supposed to use the whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes and blend them with my immersion blender, but, as easy-peasy as using the immersion blender usually is, tonight I was making four different cookies while making the soup so I just did the crushed and I didn’t even bother to blend them. Personally I usually like the soup a little smoother, and missed the immersion blender action, but Jason was all over it.

So that was basically it. I heated up canned, crushed (SAN MARZANO) tomatoes. Delicious.

Normally I would swirl in some lightly chopped basil leaves at the end there. But the thing was, I had planned on making this soup, like, a week and a half ago. Then Jason broke his arm and we just had take-out for days and days and days because he likes take-out. So somewhere last week I decided to turn the basil I had bought, and the cilantro left over from something else, into pesto. Here’s how I did that: Zoe and I took a whole bunch of basil, a whole bunch of cilantro, three or four peeled garlic cloves, about half a hunk of parmesan cheese, a pinch of salt, and a ton of walnuts and tossed them in the food processor. With the machine going, I helped Zoe pour olive oil in until we got a sort of paste-y texture. If I were planning to serve it over pasta, I would have tried for a more liquid texture, but since it was going in soup, the paste was perfect. Incidentally, making it more liquid involves EVEN MORE olive oil, so if you are making pesto for pasta, and don’t want to add EVEN MORE olive oil, just toss the pesto and pasta with a little of the pasta cooking water to thin it. It doesn’t make pesto health food, exactly (although honestly, if you’re not trying to actively lose weight, pesto is pretty healthy), but it’s a little better.

Then I threw some lemon juice in there so the basil wouldn’t turn brown and left it in the fridge for a few days, until I finally got around to making the soup. Once I poured the soup in bowls, I added a dollop of the pesto on top.

And that was dinner tonight! One of these days I’ll do pictures with these posts.

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