It's the end of January and the Gotham City has not seen a full-blown snowstorm as yet. Which is kind of good, because we had seven blizzards last year and we are still recovering from the experience. Truth to be told, I like snow only in postcards and on ski slopes, hence, I do not mind this snowless Gotham. (A question and a message to all who disagree: Have you guys experienced a two-hour one way commute to work, in a midst of a winter storm? No. Well then, you do not have a voice in this matter.) The way things are, I stand very good chance that weather will cooperate and award me with snowless winter -- given how much we have globally warmed this planet, snow will soon be extinct. And then, mankind will follow, just like dinosaurs. (Just something to keep in mind.)
Another testament to what we are doing to our planet is the new species of viruses. Even the viruses are not what they used to be. In olden days, you get flu, you spend a couple of days in bed, you drink hot tea, TheraFlu and chicken broth, and you recover. Not anymore. Flu 2.0 is an ugly beast – I have been carrying it with me for the last three weeks; in the process I gifted it to Dr. V and Miss Pain, and they are now sick, and by the time they recover the virus will mutate and I will then get sick again, and things will be jolly in a never ending sort of way. Don’t you just love this time of the year, even under the snowless, globally warmed circumstances? The flower arrangement in my bedroom pretty much summarizes the sad state of affairs at this time of year -- dry, colorless and cracked -- and by that I mean my skin, lips, hair and nails, as well as pretty much everything else around. “Have patience,” tells me Dr. V, “the flu will go away. It will run its course.” Well, let me tell you something, patience is not the ability to wait; it is the ability not to go nuts while you are doing so. And I am not at that level of mastery as yet.
When you are plagued with flu 2.0 and home-ridden, there is not much to do except for photographing the content of your fridge in the manner of old masters, and then dumping your subject(s) into a pot and making yourself a tubload of hot soup, in a vague hope that it will take you a spoonful or two ahead on the road to recovery. The advantage of making stock in a flu-like condition is that you are so weak and helpless, unable to do anything but sit next to your pot, observe the fruits of your labor and control the heat of the cooking medium with your little finger, thereby keeping your stock in close-to-simmer-but-not-quite-there-state, thereby thereby achieving crystal clear end product. Close to consommé clear end product. And as we all know, a consommé is not only a gift to the senses, it is a gift to our kitchen egos too – those with the powers to make perfect consommé are true kitchen samurais and culinary Bodhisattvas on a road to reincarnating as Thomas Keller.
Now, just in case the content of your fridge turns out to be resembling my flower arrangement (dry, cracked and colorless), or in plain English, just in case your subjects appear to be tuberous and mainly white, even better -- you are only a pot away from a true white winter wonderland. Yay to that!
Roasted White Winter Root Vegetable Broth with Herbs
I like this broth simple. I pour it into a mug, inhale and feel better. But it goes really well with rich egg yolk pasta, think about egg-yolk-rich angel hair, or thin pasta squares, or noodles. If you are gong down the pasta way, cook your pasta in boiling water, rinse it well and place it in the simmering broth for a couple of minutes. The pasta will get thick with the broth -- it is almost a meal on its own...
* 1 medium celery root (about 10 oz)
* 1 medium or 2 small turnips (about 10 oz)
* 2 large white onions (about 1 lb 6 oz)
* 1 large fennel bulb (about 14 oz)
* 3 carrots (about 9 oz), I like yellow carrots because they taste sweeter
* 3 small parsnips (about 10 oz)
* 3 garlic cloves, cut in quarters
* a small bunch of parsley (about 8 stems)
* 2 fresh bay leaves
* 1 tsp juniper berries
* 1 tsp black peppercorns
* 1 tsp whole coriander
* 3 stalks of thyme
* 1 stalk of rosemary
* 2 sage leaves
* 14 cups of cold water
* 1/2 cup dry sherry
* 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
* 1 tsp double concentrated tomato paste
* olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Peel the celery, turnips, carrot and parsnips, and cut into ½-inch cubes. Cut the onions and fenel bulbs into 1-inch chunks.
Drizzle the vegatables with a tiny bit of olive oil (about two tablespoons or so, just so that they are covered) and place on a large roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet in one layer. Bake in the oven for about an hour, until the vegetables are nicely caramelized. Mix occasionally with spatula, so that vegetables brown nicely.
Remove the vegetables from the pan. Deglaze the pan with sherry.
Heat a dry small cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add peppercorns and toast them briefly, until they become fragrant. Remove the peppercorns from the skillet. Repeat with the coriander seeds. Again, toast the coriander seeds briefly, until they begin to release fragrance. Crack the peppercorns and coriander gently, with a pestle or with a bottom of a heavy object.
Place the vegetables in a large stock pot. Add the water. Dilute the tomato paste with a tablespoon or two of water and add to the pot. Add the sherry, garlic, peppercorns, coriander, juniper berries and all the herbs. Place the pot on the stove over medium-high heat until stock is about to simmer. Reduce the heat to low, just so that you maintain the close-to-simmer state (the temperature of the stock should be about 180F) and cook uncovered for one hour. About 45 minutes into cooking, add the Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt at the end of cooking.
When the stock is done, pass it through a fine-mesh strainer lined with two or three layers of cheesecloth (the more, the merrier). If you kept the stock in close-to-simmer state while cooking, the stock should be crystal clear. Yay to that!
If you would like even stronger tasting stock, once it is strained, return the stock to a clean pot and continue to simmer to further reduce it. (This stock makes a wonderful base for many dishes – if you would like to use it as a base, I recommend not adding Worcestershire sauce and reducing salt.)
If you are not using the stock right away, cool it in a sink full of ice water. Cover and store in the refrigerator for two to three days or in the freezer for up to 2-3 months.
Makes about 8 cups