By Barbara Albright
WILTON, Conn. When it comes to awards for cookbooks, the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals are the academy.
James Peterson has been a frequent winner and nominee of both institutions for his thorough, well-researched books. These include "Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making," "Fish and Shellfish," "Vegetables" and "Essentials of Cooking."
His most recent is a revision of "Splendid Soups" (Wiley, $45), which includes 50 new recipes and photography. Not only does the man know his way around the kitchen and his computer, he also does the photography for his books.
"Splendid Soups" was first published by Bantam in 1993. It too often happens in the cookbook publishing industry that books go out of print when there are still people wanting to buy them. That was the case here. There was a demand for this definitive work on soup, so Peterson revised it and Wiley reissued it, with 50 new recipes and new photography.
"Splendid Soups" ranges over all types of soups,including broths, vegetable, fish and shellfish, meat, cheese and dessert soups.
The original took him two years to write, Peterson remembers. Hunting down recipes for it and for the revision called for some dedicated consumption.
"When I am researching for a book, when dining out I usually tend to order the thing I am writing about," Peterson says. "During the testing process, I would frequently have five types of soups for dinner."
However, the efforts brought their rewards. "As compared to some of my other books, in the case of soup, there would be some variety and they all tasted different."
In this book as with his other books, readers get the benefit of his persistent research.
Peterson includes a great deal of background information here, details of each soup and its flavors and gives plenty of advice and tips about techniques. His books encourage cooks to branch out and come up with their own variations.
Peterson says his next book, due out in May, is "Simply Salmon" (Stewart, Tabori and Chang), with about 60 recipes.
(A day of testing salmon recipes, Peterson said, didnt produce dinners as varied as those from a day of soup testing.)
I tested the following two recipes, which were delicious and introduced new techniques into the bargain.
In Roasted Red Bell Pepper, Garlic and Onion Soup, Peterson has the cook roast the vegetables first. Included in the roasting process are the garlic cloves, unpeeled. I questioned whether this would work; after blending and straining, I found it did, perfectly.
Roasting all the vegetables adds a rich taste, and the onions and garlic add complexity to the red pepper flavor. Peterson garnishes the soup with creme fraiche or sour cream, enhanced with roasted and chopped poblano chilies.
Roasted Red Bell Pepper, Garlic and Onion Soup
4 large red bell peppers (2 pounds)
1 head of garlic, broken into cloves, cloves left unpeeled
2 medium red onions, peeled and cut into 6 wedges each (1 pound total)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium-size tomatoes, stemmed and coarsely chopped (dont bother seeding or peeling)
1 quart chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
2 fresh poblano chilies (optional)
1 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Cut the stems out of the bell peppers and discard. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and swat them together to get rid of their seeds. Cut out any strips of white pulp. Chop the pepper halves coarsely and toss them with the garlic, onions, and olive oil in a roasting pan or sheet pan just large enough to hold them in a single layer. Slide the pan into the oven and bake the mixture, stirring every 15 minutes, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the peppers are browned on the edges, the onions have browned and come apart, and the bottom of the pan is covered with a light caramelized glaze.
Take the pan out of the oven and transfer the peppers, garlic, and onions to a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the tomatoes, half the broth, and oregano to the pot, and bring to the simmer. Add the remaining broth to the roasting pan and scrape the bottom of the pan for a couple of minutes with a wooden spoon so the caramelized glaze dissolves into the broth. Add this liquid to the pot. Simmer for 20 minutes more, until the tomatoes are falling apart.
Puree the mixture in a blender and then strain it, pushing it through the strainer with a ladle, or work it through a food mill.
If you are using the poblanos, char the skin on top of the stove by turning the chilies around in the flame until they are thoroughly charred; if you see white ash, however, you are overdoing it. Alternatively, you can also roast the peppers under the broiler if you have an electric stove. Put the hot poblanos in a plastic bag for 10 minutes so the steam loosens the blackened skin. (I dont bother with this when peeling bell peppers, but the skin on poblanos is a little more stubborn.) Scrape the blackened skin off the chilies with a small knife and quickly rinse them under cold water. Cut out the stems and cut the chilies in half lengthwise. Rinse out the seeds, cut out any white pulp, and chop the chilies fine. Stir the chopped chilies with the sour cream or creme fraiche and season the mixture to taste with salt.
Season the red pepper soup to taste with salt and pepper and ladle it into heated bowls. Swirl the top of each serving with the poblano mixture or the plain sour cream or creme fraiche.
Makes six first-course servings.
About Chicken and Tomato Soup with Olives and Capers, Peterson says, "Ive developed a rather compulsive habit of envisioning almost everything I eat as some kind of soup.
"The idea for this soup came from puttanesca sauce, popular in southern Italy as a sauce for pasta. While you can make this soup without anchovies, if you dont like olives, which are the heart and the soul of this dish, make something else."
As with some of the other chicken recipes in the book, this one starts out with browning the chicken. Then the chicken pieces are simmered until the chicken just begins to feel firm. The meat is removed from the bone and cooked briefly in the soup, preventing it from becoming dried out and stringy.
Chicken and Tomato Soup With Olives and Capers
One 4-pound chicken, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
3 cups chicken broth
4 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or a 28-ounce can, drained, seeds squeezed out, and pulp chopped
1 teaspoon saffron threads or 1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron
6 anchovy fillets, packed in olive oil, patted dry, and finely chopped (optional)
3 tablespoons small nonpareil capers
1 preserved lemon quarter, cut into 1/4-inch dice (optional, available in specialty food stores)
1 cup olives (6 ounces), preferably a mixture of dark and green, pitted (squeeze the olive on both ends between thumb and forefinger to force out the pit), chopped coarse (dont use canned olives)
Season the chicken parts with pepper (dont salt the pieces because the broth is salty) and brown them for about 8 minutes on the skin side and 5 minutes on the flesh side, over high heat, in olive oil, in a heavy-bottomed pot just large enough to hold them in a single layer.
Transfer to a plate and reserve.
Pour all but 1 tablespoon of fat out of the pan, lower the heat to medium, and stir in the onion and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring every couple of minutes until the onion turns translucent but doesnt brown. Stir in the cumin and paprika, and stir over medium heat for 30 seconds more, until you smell the cumin.
Pour in the broth, nestle the chicken in the pot, and add the tomatoes and saffron. Cover the pot and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Simmer the chicken for about 15 minutes after the broth has reached the simmer once the chicken pieces feel firm to the touch, dont cook them any more. Take the chicken out of the broth with tongs to let cool. Simmer the broth for 10 minutes more, skimming off any fat with a ladle. Take the chicken off the bones in strips and reserve. Discard the skin and bones.
Just before serving, stir the anchovies into the broth and sprinkle in the capers and preserved lemon. Put the meat in the broth, bring back to the simmer, and ladle into heated bowls. Sprinkle over the chopped olives and serve.
Makes four main-course or six first servings.
(Recipes adapted from "Splendid Soups" by James Peterson, John Wiley & Sons, $45, 630 pages)
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