Thursday, December 18, 2008

Where the Heart Is

Some years ago, I was extolling the pleasures of eating doves my dad had shot, when someone exclaimed, "You ate the bird of peace!" I wish I'd had the wit to answer: "And I enjoyed every bite!" I didn't think of those doves as birds of peace, but as succulent morsels--and a rare treat (or more likely, given his cooking style, well done).

I grew up eating quite a few things friends find yucky--like brains and eggs (swimming in butter) when visiting Grandma Paulsen..

Now and then Dad cooked kidneys (lamb, I think), and although the predicable smell that filled the house was hard to take, the results were tasty.

One of my favorite dishes as a child was Heart Soup--another special treat. My sister Joanne thinks we'd have it maybe twice a year, but I remember it as dinner on Christmas Eve.

In my early days in New York, I sometimes bought a veal heart, sliced it, and sauteed it, but I've never actually made the soup, though I must have asked my mother for the recipe.

Here it is as I found it recently on a yellowing page that included other family favorites:

Heart Soup

For the amount that you would want, buy a veal heart if possible, and a soup bone with some meat on it. Put in your dutch oven, probably, and cover with cold water. Cook for several hours, at least 2 to 2 ½ to get the broth strongly flavored. Add the last hour some onion, carrot, celery, parsley and anything else you want. The last 20 min. or so of cooking I add some canned tomato or you could add several small fresh tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. If you cannot get a soup bone, several pieces of beef ribs, it just adds additional flavor to the soup, especially when you use only 1 or 2 hearts.

Especially when you use only 1 or 2? If Mom were still with us, I'd ask just how many hearts did you use, and how many should I?

Not that I'm going to make it anytime soon. Unfortunately, I'd probably have to eat it all myself.

I Paid for It .

Jim and I were making Caldo Verde, a Portuguese soup, to take to Jim's parents' place for Thanksgiving. The beans were on, the onions were in, Jim was rinsing and tearing the kale, and I was slicing the chorizo--the dry kind, from Spain--more thinly than I usually do so that 14 diners could all perceive a satsifying amount of sausage in their bowls.

"Please don't cut the fat out," said Jim. "I figure I paid for that fat."

He was eluding to the habit I'd developed, when making the soup by myself, of using the tip of a paring knife to extract whatever globules of fat I could from the chunks of chorizo.

What about the casing, I asked? I usually peel it off. He said he'd paid for that, too.

I can't say I noticed that our full-fat soup tasted any different from my lightened version, and I realize that the amount of fat I typically remove is likely neglible. So back home, making the soup alone this week, I did it Jim's way, except for the casing.

Though my obsessive/compulsive side kind of missed the delicate task of fat extraction, the process of sausage prep went a lot faster.

When it came time to do the kale, Jim's words leapt to mind: "I paid for that, too." So shouldn't I use the kale stems instead of dumping them? I thought about chopping them and adding them to the soup, but there were plenty of kale leaves in there, so I bagged them and stuck them in the freezer.

One of these days I'll throw them into a vegetable stock pot, or maybe chop them and use them as the chicken replacement in mock chicken rice soup. I tried that once, and it wasn't bad.

You can find many versions of Caldo Verde online; here's mine:

Portuguese Kale Soup (from Carol Ames and Philippe Perebinossoff)

1 pound of pea beans (or navy)
10 cups of water
1 pound of sausage or less (I use one package of spicy Spanish chorizo, around 8 oz), sliced if you like
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound of kale
2 cups of chopped potatoes
salt and pepper if you like

Bring water to boil with beans. Add onion and sausage, and simmer 2-3 hours. Tear kale leaves from stems, and add them about 3/4 to 1 hour before the soup will be done. Then add the potatoes, and finish cooking.