Category: Condiment

What’s That Floating in My Soup?

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With the late-winter surge Mother Nature just served us, it seems as though we are going to have to tough it out another week or so before we really get to warmer spring temperatures. A steaming bowl of hot soup has always been comforting against the cold of winter, and this seemed like just the right time to heat some up.

It is not always practical to cook just for two people so it is not unusual to find extra containers of soup or stock in my freezer. Rummaging around this time, I found extra containers of roasted garlic soup. This soup has the consistency of velvety bisque and was inspired by a recipe I read about years ago and later found in my copy of chef Susan Spicer’s book Crescent City Cooking. Over the years I have prepared this soup many times, adjusting here and there, ending up with the recipe I posted on the blog back in December 2014 in a piece entitled Garlic Is Good for Everything, where I offered a few suggestions on ways to garnish the soup, creating different presentations and flavors. But this time I was looking to do something different and make a heartier meal around the soup. Additionally, I didn’t care to go out to the market again in the cold, so the challenge was to make the meal using what I had on hand.

Inspired by a short piece I read entitled “Gambas a la Plancha” (Shrimp on the Griddle) from a back issue of Saveur magazine, and another about Barbecue Shrimp found in the latest issue of The Local Palate magazine, I knew the bag of Alaskan spot prawns in my freezer were going to be put to good use.

Along with a powdered version of harissa, the spicy condiment enjoyed throughout northern Africa, I decided to garnish the soup with spice-rubbed, shell-on shrimp seared in a hot grill pan. To round out the shrimp preparation, I coated the shrimp with garlic jam before liberally dusting them with the harissa. To finish the dish, I referred to a very old recipe from my archives that I call a hybrid aioli prepared with olive oil-braised fennel, placing a dollop on the shrimp as they are floated in the soup.

To summarize what you would be working with here, the soup recipe as noted can be found in the blog archives, then the harissa, garlic jam, the shrimp, and the fennel aioli are featured in this post.

Harissa is a chili-based condiment used widely in Tunisian, Algerian, and Moroccan cooking to name a few. It can be used as a cooking spice but more generally it’s a finishing condiment at the table, adding a little heat to punctuate dishes such as soups, couscous, and stews. Commercially prepared harissa can be found in specialty food shops that feature oils, olives, preserved lemons, spices, and dried herbs, although it is just as easy to make your own. There are many different recipes to reference in cookbooks and online as there seems to be no one “master” recipe. The mix generally includes one or more types of toasted dried chilies, coriander, cumin, caraway, and salt, ground into a powder. Garlic and olive oil can be incorporated into the mix that results in a paste form of the condiment.

The garlic jam is just what it sounds like—a roasted spread—that I have on hand all the time. It is quite easy to make, and has many uses such as a coating for most anything to be seared, roasted, or grilled; as an ingredient to punctuate a salad dressing; as a sauce for grilled or roasted vegetables; or simply the base for toasted garlic bread.

Using one full head of garlic and a full head of elephant garlic, slice approximately ¼ inch off the top of the head of regular garlic and leave both garlics unpeeled. Place in an ovenproof baking dish, coat with olive oil, cover with foil, and roast in a preheated 325-degree oven for an hour or until very soft when pierced with the point of a knife.

When the garlic is cool enough to handle, peel and cut the root end off the elephant garlic, squeeze the soft garlic from the smaller cut cloves, adding all along with the roasting oil into the work bowl of a food processor. Along with the roasted garlic add a ¼ section of finely minced preserved lemon, finely minced parsley leaves with tender stems, and a pinch each of salt, pepper, and red chili flakes to taste. Process, slowly adding olive oil through the feed tube, as necessary, until a smooth emulsion is formed. The jam can be stored in the refrigerator, in jars, topped by olive oil for many weeks as long as after each use the remainder is again topped off with olive oil. Or it can be frozen indefinitely.


Olive Oil-Braised Fennel Aioli

1 large fennel bulb and stalks, set fronds aside
3 large garlic cloves
1 cup olive oil
Juice from ½ lemon
1 tablespoon dry white wine or white vermouth
1 teaspoon toasted and finely ground fennel seeds
2 egg yolks

Chop the fennel and garlic cloves. Sauté over medium heat in the olive oil until lightly caramelized and very soft.

When cool, place the fennel and all the sauté oil in the work bowl of a food processor along with the lemon juice, wine or vermouth, fennel seeds, egg yolks; salt and pepper to taste.

Process slowly until mixed, then raise the speed and process until a smooth emulsion is formed. Scrape down the sides as necessary to make sure all the fennel gets pureed and then check the seasoning, correcting as needed. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Fennel aioli



In this recipe Alaskan spot prawns are used. These large crustaceans are taken from southeastern Alaskan waters, sustainably harvested, flash frozen and shipped.

A pound generally contains an average of 10 prawns or less and, if sourced with the heads intact and a roe sac attached to the females, makes for a more dramatic presentation and flavor. If these Alaskan prawns cannot be found, then colossal shrimp (U8) will work just as well.

8 to 10 Alaskan spot prawns or colossal shrimp
Garlic jam
Harissa powder mix


Once the prawns are thawed in the refrigerator overnight, cut the shell down the length of the back but do not remove the shell.

Run the prawns under cool water, using your thumb to remove any particles or veins under the cut shells. Use paper towels to dry the prawns and place them on a large platter. Coat the prawns with garlic jam and olive oil on both sides. Sprinkle the coated prawns with the harissa powder mix on both sides. Place the platter in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

Seasoned prawns

To replicate the a la plancha cooking approach, heat a cast iron pan or a grill pan over high heat, adding 4 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the prawns, shells and all (the shells keep the meat moist, and since they are slit it will be easier to remove them when eating). Shake the pan continuously cooking the prawns until the shells begin to char in places, about 3 to 4 minutes before turning the prawns over and searing for another 2 minutes on the second side.

Seared a la plancha

To serve, place 2 or 3 prawns in a large soup dish, ladle the garlic soup around, and top the prawns with a tablespoon of the fennel aioli and a few fennel fronds.


Any extra prawns can be used in a frittata paired with spinach or shredded into a risotto. They certainly won’t go to waste!

Along with the bowl of hot garlic soup, the harissa coating the prawns will raise the temperature of the room a degree or two more helping you ward off this last of the winter cold.

Eat well. Be well.
We can simply treat food as nothing more than fuel or instead enjoy and appreciate its every quality.










Ramps, Not Wild Leeks!

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As I wrote in an earlier post, ramps are one of the first of the spring vegetables to emerge once the winter frost has ended. Their season is short they emerge in late April and are essentially gone by mid-June.

Ramps are often called wild leeks or spring onions, which they are not. Part of the Allium genus, ramps are foraged in the wild and are considered an all-American vegetable.

The long slender bulb resembles that of a scallion (green onion) but is slightly more pungent. They can be cooked whole including the green top leaves and the bulbs lend themselves well to pickling.

The green top leaves can be eaten raw in salads, incorporated into pesto, risotto, gratins, sautés, and folded into gnocchi and or even biscuit dough.

So with adding ramps to my spring recipe ingredients list, the following are three of the many ways ramps can be prepared—a ramp greens pesto, pickled ramp bulbs, and ramp gnocchi sauced with sage butter and fresh English peas.

Ramps—pickled, pesto

Ramps—pickled, pesto


Ramp Leaf Pesto

30 to 40 top greens, bulb cut off and reserved for pickling
2 to 3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
¼ preserved lemon rind, finely minced
1 tablespoon roasted garlic puree (garlic jam)
½ cup parsley leaves and tender stems, minced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Wash all the green top leaves to remove any dirt and grit, blanch 5 to 7 minutes in boiling water, drain and rinse in cold water, then thoroughly dry. Roughly chop the blanched leaves and place in the work bowl of a food processor.

To the work bowl add the toasted pine nuts, preserved lemon, garlic jam, parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Pulse a few times to chop the pine nuts and combine all the ingredients. Scrape down the sides and spin the processor again while slowly pouring the olive oil into the feed tube. Once a uniform emulsion forms, scrape down the sides again, check and correct the seasoning, and run once more, adding additional olive oil to finish the pesto to a smooth puree.

Just to note some examples: the pesto can be used immediately to sauce pasta, or flavor and color risotto. It can also be a topping for crostini when paired with ricotta, with cannellini beans, with shaved asparagus, or with paper-thin slices of pickled cucumber as a base for a white anchovy (boquerones).

Burrata topped with ramp pesto

Burrata topped with ramp pesto

This pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for a week topped by olive oil, or frozen for up to six months.


Pickled Ramp Bulbs

Bulbs removed from 2 pounds ramps, washed and trimmed of the root cluster
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
6 to 10 allspice berries, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon yellow or brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon Aleppo chili flakes or other
4 to 5 bay leaves
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 cup white vinegar or white wine vinegar

Blanch the cleaned ramp bulbs for 1 to 2 minutes in boiling water, drain and set aside.

In a small sauté pan, toast the spice mix except for the chili flakes and bay leaves. Wrap and tie the toasted spice mix in cheesecloth as a sachet.

Place the blanched ramp bulbs and the toasted spice mix sachet along with the remaining four ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently until the ramp bulbs are tender but not too soft.

Drain the sauce pan, discarding the sachet and bay leaves, and reserving the liquid. Place the ramp bulbs in a sterilized jar, pouring the pickling liquid over to cover. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator indefinitely, similar to most any other jarred pickle.

These ramps pair well with both cheese or charcuterie, most grilled or braised dishes, as well as smoked meats or seafood.


Ramp Gnocchi Sauced with Sage, Butter, and Fresh English Peas

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole-milk ricotta, drained well
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano or Pecorino
½ cup blanched and finely chopped ramp top leaves (approximately 30 leaves)
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt and pepper
All-purpose flour for dusting the work surface and semolina flour for staging the gnocchi before cooking

2 cups English peas, fresh or frozen (if frozen, don’t thaw)
6 to 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
15 to 18 fresh sage leaves, minced
Salt and pepper
¼ cup grated ricotta salata to serve

Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil (same water the gnocchi will be cooked in), and blanch the ramp top leaves for 1 to 2 minutes, drain well, dry, and finely chop. Reduce the heat so the water just simmers.

In a large bowl or the work bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, ricotta, the grated cheese, prepared ramp leaves, eggs, and salt and pepper. Mix with your hands, or pulse in the processor just until the dough combines into a wet, slightly sticky ball.

Generously flour the work surface and place the dough on top, then sprinkle the dough with additional flour on top to prevent the dough from being too sticky when rolling.

Meanwhile, line one or two sheet pans with parchment and dust them with semolina flour. This is where you will place the gnocchi as you cut them. When placing, keep the gnocchi separated or they will stick together.

Cut approximately a ¼-cup-size piece off the dough and cover the rest. Flour your hands and roll the piece of dough, as though you were playing with a piece of clay, into a long piece approximately ¼ inch in diameter. Cut that rolled piece into individual ½-inch pieces and place those on the floured sheet pans. Repeat the process until all the dough is shaped and cut into gnocchi. There should be about 70 pieces or enough for 4 servings. The pasta can be kept on the sheet pans, refrigerated for no more than 2 days or frozen in airtight containers up to a month.

In the same stockpot with the hot simmering water, poach the peas until just tender. Remove and set a side for final cooking and saucing of the gnocchi.

In a large (14-inch diameter if possible) sauté pan, melt the butter over moderate heat and add the minced sage.

At the same time add the gnocchi to the stockpot with the simmering water. As they rise to the top after cooking for 1 to 2 minutes, use a slotted spoon or a spider to remove the gnocchi from the water and place in the sauté pan with the melted butter. Raise the heat under the sauté pan slightly and repeat the process until all the gnocchi are removed from the stockpot.

Scatter the peas around and gently fold them into the gnocchi until everything is lightly coated with the melted butter. Gently spoon the finished gnocchi into warm bowls and sprinkle grated ricotta salata over the top to serve.

Ramp gnocchi with butter and peas

Ramp gnocchi with butter and peas

As you can see, ramps are quite versatile. A pesto, a pickle, and a pasta were prepared from just one large bunch. There are plenty of other ways to include this spring offering in your cooking so I’m hopeful you’ll give it a try.

Slice of mortadella with a tangle of pickled ramps and rhubarb mostarda

Slice of mortadella with a tangle of pickled ramps and rhubarb mostarda

Be well. Eat well.
“Yes, of course you could do this at home, and you should!” A/W