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Chicken soup, also known as Jewish penicillin, is often called upon when a person needs healing from a cold or just basic sadness. My memories of a pot filled with chicken feet, herbs fresh from Noni’s garden simmering on her wood-burning stove seems to clear my nasal passages and ease my heart with just a whiff.
My working mom, who didn’t have the time, would often open up a large can of College Inn chicken broth. Into the simmering broth would go an egg lightly scrambled with a fork, and in one minute this comforting potion would come together with nary a stir. Head over steaming soup, we inhaled the broth, opening our heads or throats to its healing powers. The broth, canned or homemade, is a good healing thing. Or, we have convinced ourselves of this, at least.
Last week, I learned that my friend Kristen had pneumonia. My first thought was ”chicken soup to the rescue,” but I wanted something quicker that I could bring her right away. I would make the soup another day, when it wasn’t so hot.
Another “go to” remedy is old-fashioned, what we called growing up in Eastie “pasta fazool,” translated to the Tuscan it is Pasta e Fagiole, a vegetable and bean soup. Making it to go so the pasta doesn’t get too soft, I put the broth and veggies in a jar and place the pasta on top. It makes a pretty presentation and all that’s needed is to pour it into a pan and heat it up. You can add a little chicken broth to make it more soupy. With a chunk of country bread, it makes a nice lunch for a sick friend. The day I delivered it, Kristen was sleeping so I left it in the fridge. Her husband said she enjoyed it.
Another comforting food that might help her heal is my Caramel Bread Pudding. It always makes me smile thinking about how it came to be a regular staple at Rosalie’s. The delivery guy from Vie de France and I would chat over a cup of coffee, and one day I asked him what they did with the day-old croissants. He said they couldn’t sell them. I offered to “take them off their hands” for a small token. The next day, he arrived with a large bag of day-old croissants, which I quickly turned into bread pudding.
My inspiration came from Gwen Gaillard’s Nantucket cookbook. She and her husband, Harold, owned one of my favorite restaurants, the Opera House, on the island. She was a weaver and a great cook who also had a terrific personality. On Sunday mornings, she would make omelets in full view at her restaurant. She gave me an autographed copy of her book, which I still treasure. I make her pudding with croissants and I sprinkle a layer of chocolate chips on the bottom of the casserole. I still save croissants that don’t get eaten the first few days. There is something about the chocolate that is very comforting, as well.
This time of year I feel blessed to have generous friends with gardens. One was nice enough to start a few bulbs for me and I am thrilled to see that these late bloomers are about to produce giant flowers. My mother’s name was Dahlia and it is my middle name, so it is a special flower to me. Russ Brown, a wonderful friend and gardener, planted a special yellow tomato plant just for me because the yellow ones have lower acidity. I can go to his garden and pick my own, which is really fun, a sweet reminder of picking and gathering veggies in my Noni’s garden.
Sharing meals and the fruits of one’s labor is a beautiful thing, whether you are the gardener or the lucky recipient of a bit of the bounty.
PASTA E FAGIOLE
There are beautiful carrots in a few colors available at Trader Joe’s.
Peel and dice small about 3 carrots.
Heat 4 rashes of cut up bacon in a heavy pot. Add 2 tbsp.s olive oil to the bacon and the fat that it rendered.
Add the carrots, 1 small diced onion, 3 cloves of diced garlic, and 1 cup of chopped celery, leaves and all.
Stir the pot to coat the veggies. Cook for a few minutes.
Add a few tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley and 1 ½ cups of chopped fresh tomatoes and a few tablespoons chopped fresh basil; cook for 10 minutes or until the carrots are tender.
Add 2 cups of chicken broth, salt and pepper to taste and simmer for a few minutes with 2 cups of drained and washed canned cannellini beans.
At serving time, add 2 to 3 cups of cooked elbow macaroni and 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and stir into the pot. Don’t mix the pasta too early with the veggies or the pasta will get mushy.
Pass more cheese.
If you are making it for a friend, place the veggies and broth in a jar and add the cooked pasta last.
Some special treats for a sick friend: Place a bar of good chocolate, a pretty candle and/or a small container of fall flowers in a basket. So many dishes that I love end with a sprinkle of Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese. A nice chunk of this for eating or grating with a baguette is bound to please, as well.
Caramel Croissant Bread Pudding
When I had my first restaurant, I got friendly with the delivery man from Vie de France. I asked him one day what he did with the leftover croissants and he said they went in the trash. So, I added this dessert to my menu at a good price.
Sprinkle 1 cup of brown sugar on the bottom of a Pyrex dish.
Add a generous cup of chopped walnuts and ½ cup raisins previously soaked in Marsala and drained, OR a generous cup of chocolate chips.
Beat 4 eggs with 1 cup heavy cream and 2 cups milk, add 1 tbsp. vanilla and a pinch of salt. Allow to rest so the air bubbles will subside.
Cut up 4 large croissants and lay over the sugar and nuts or chocolate chips and slowly pour the beaten egg and milk mixture over them.
Gently press the croissants down and allow the milk to absorb into croissants. This takes about 15 minutes.
Place in a larger pan with water — this is called a bain-marie and is not totally necessary, but for puddings it is a good technique. Bake in a 325-degree oven until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
This dessert makes its own caramel sauce at the bottom, but if you like, you can beat a little maple syrup with the cream for a caramel treat.