Sometimes a recipe has a mind of its own. What starts out to be one thing can wind up as a completely different dish.
Take the following recipes, for instance. Neither of the soups are what they were supposed to be -- one ended up as a stew.
One morning after the rain had been pounding on the ceiling skylight all night and the cat was willing to cuddle it was so cold, thoughts of ribollita became an obsession.
This earthy Italian soup, thickened with beans and stale bread (originally scooped up by the servants after a feast and added to minestrone, the story goes), is perfect for a cold day.
Our soup vacillated like the weather. What started out to be a hearty soup became something else in the cooking. What was supposed to be a cold day turned into a middling-hot day, calling for a lighter soup.
Rather than adding crumbled bread to the soup, thickening it and making it feel heavier on the palate, it was decided to stop before adding the bread, serving the soup instead next to crusty bread or cornbread. This didn't forestall diners crumbling bread into it.
The sweet potato curry soup made by intern Elizabeth Schaffer, who goes by "B," emerged on a cold day. It was intended to be a lighter soup, more of a starter or luncheon soup, but there was a bit of leftover pork languishing in the fridge. The cubes of browned pork gave the soup substance and made it into a main course.
A real stick-to-the ribs soup, it can be reheated over several days. Cubes of boneless chicken legs or thighs would be a good substitute for the pork.
The breads go well with either soup, and have totally different time schedules. The crusty no-knead bread takes at least five hours to make, but does so with so little time and attention that it is possible to start it, leave it in its plastic bag and return to shape and bake it.
Its genius is the crispiness produced by the heavy cast-iron pan in which it is baked (I use a shallow Le Creuset casserole, but any heavy pot with a lid will work). The steam produced by the cooking bread is trapped in the pot, serving to crisp the crust.
But the cornbread is whipped up in no time, easily baked at the same time the soup is being made on the stove top.
Leftover cornbread could easily have been added to the Southern Ribollita Soup as well. Might even make it better. And a different soup altogether. Soups, you see, have minds of their own.
Basic No-Knead Bread
Makes 1 loaf
My grandmother had baking day once a week. She made a dough like this and let it rise overnight. The next day she baked enough for the whole week. I don't have her recipe. This is an adaptation of Mark Bittman's No-Knead Bread, taking as little as five hours from start to finish.
3 cups bread or all-purpose flour
1 package active dry or rapid rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups room-temperature water
Oil as needed
Stir together flour, yeast and salt in bowl. Stir in water and make a rough dough. Do not knead. Move to an oiled plastic bag for about 4 to 8 hours in a warm room (70 degrees). If necessary, it may go into the refrigerator (in the bag) overnight or up to two days. Bring to room temperature before baking.
Lightly oil or flour a clean board or counter, slide the dough out and move it to the board. (Divide in half if making two loaves.) Gently fold each loaf roughly in half and repeat that motion. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit another 1/2 hour.
Immediately preheat the oven to 450 degrees. For one loaf, put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, oven-safe glass or ceramic) in the oven while it preheats. For 2 loaves, put 2 (3 to 4-quart) heavy covered pots (or covered pate or loaf pans) in the oven.
Moving quickly and carefully, remove the very hot pot(s) from the oven and close the door of the oven to keep it hot. Quickly and gently pick up the dough, dividing in half quickly if 2 loaves are desired. Using a hot pad or oven mitts, remove the lid and set aside carefully, and set the dough or its half in the middle of the hot pot. Gently shake the pot to make the dough rest evenly in the pan if necessary. (It will readjust itself just a bit in the oven.) Cover with lid, return to the hot oven, and bake 30 minutes; remove lid, and bake, uncovered, another 15 to 30 minutes until browned. Remove bread from the pan and cool on a rack.
Sprinkle with flour for a rough-baked finish. When cool, the bread will last up to 4 days, or may be frozen up to 3 months. Whether fresh or frozen, to recrisp crust, reheat in a 400-degree oven 10 to 15 minutes. (It toasts beautifully.)
Buttermilk Cornsticks or Cornbread
Makes 6 to 8
Buttermilk is found in many cornbread recipes, contributing a pleasant, slightly acidic underlying flavor. The baking soda neutralizes the acidity of the buttermilk sufficiently.
5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, bacon drippings, or oil
1 cup white or yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In the oven, heat an 8-inch well-seasoned skillet with the 5 tablespoons of fat.
Toss the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda together on a piece of waxed paper.
Lightly beat the buttermilk and eggs in a medium bowl. Remove the pan from the oven and add 3 tablespoons of the melted fat into the buttermilk mixture. Stir and fold the dry ingredients into the buttermilk mixture quickly without overmixing. Tip the bowl over into the pan, scraping the heavy batter into the still-hot pan. It will sizzle. Quickly move to oven.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes until the top of the cornbread is lightly browned, the bottom is crusty-brown, and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven, covering handle with cloth, and invert upside down onto a plate and serve warm.
If making ahead, turn out onto a rack to prevent softening the crisp crust. May be frozen up to a month.
Variation: To make cracklin' cornbread, use 1/4 to 1/3 cup cracklin's, homemade or store bought, or brown 2 ounces diced fatback, remove with a slotted spoon and add to the batter. Proceed as above.
B's Pork and Sweet Potato Stew
Serves 8 to 10
Thick, hearty and stick-to-your-ribs, this fall soup moves right into winter. Always add curry powder judiciously as it varies considerably in spiciness.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 1/2 pounds boneless pork (tenderloin, loin or leg)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped fennel or celery bulb
1 cup chopped fresh or roasted red pepper
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 to 1 tablespoon curry powder
1 cup chicken stock
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 cups peeled sweet potato, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup mango or peach chutney
3/4 cup currants or raisins
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup well-stirred coconut milk
1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted peanuts
Optional condiments for serving: crusty bread or cornbread; hot cooked long grain rice, currants, chopped peanuts
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
Cut the meat into rough 1 1/2- or 2-inch pieces and season the pork with the pepper. When the oil is hot (it will form slight ripples in the pot), add the pork and brown all pieces on one side, about 5 minutes. Turn the pork with tongs and repeat the browning process on the opposite side, another 5 minutes. Repeat to brown all sides. Remove pork from the pot and set aside.
Add remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot. When the oil is hot, stir in the onion, fennel, bell pepper, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes.
Sprinkle the flour and curry powder over the vegetables and stir well to coat the vegetables. Continue to stir constantly for about 2 minutes.
Slowly pour the stock over the vegetables, stirring constantly, making sure to scrape up any brown bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the mixture is smooth and slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the sweet potatoes. (If the pork needs further cooking, add it with the potatoes, otherwise add later). Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until the sweet potatoes are tender and can be pierced easily with a fork, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat mango chutney in a small saucepan over low heat until just hot, about 3 to 5 minutes, or briefly in the microwave.
Stir in the chutney, pork, currants, peanut butter, coconut milk and peanuts and heat through, making sure the pork is cooked, about 5-8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with crusty bread, cornbread or over hot rice. Top with optional condiments if desired.
Tip: An easy way to cut up canned tomatoes is to cut them in the can with a long pair of scissors.
Southern Ribollita Soup
This soup is a thin cousin of the hearty Italian potage, ribollita. Serve it with crusty bread for dunking when the weather is just turning cool.
If very cool, do as the Italians do, and break the bread up, using it to thicken the soup. Either way, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 finely chopped onion
1 finely chopped leek, medium size
1 to 2 finely chopped garlic cloves
8 ounces (about 1/2 a small head) red cabbage, shredded
8 ounces (about 1/4 of a head) savoy cabbage
1 to 2 peeled chopped carrots (optional)
1 cup chopped fennel or celery bulb
2 to 4 cups fresh cooked butterbeans
1 1/2 cups canned, peeled tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with their juice
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Salt to taste
5 cups water, vegetable or chicken stock
Olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese for serving
Basil, parsley or other chopped fresh herbs (optional)
Heat a heavy Dutch oven or soup pan over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and when hot add the onion, leek and garlic. Cook until soft. Add the cabbages, carrots, fennel, butterbeans and tomatoes with their juice. Season with salt and pepper. Add 5 cups of water or stock to the pot and bring to a boil. When it is boiling, reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook 1 to 2 hours, according to your taste.
When serving, drizzle each bowl with olive oil, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and herbs, if using.
Variation: For an even more Southern variation, add a ham hock to the soup with the broth, removing the meat from the bone before serving and discarding the bone.
Nathalie Dupree is the author of 11 cookbooks, most recently "Southern Biscuits." She lives in Charleston and may be reached through Nathaliedupree.com.