Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Catholic Girl's Matzo Ball Soup

Don't worry, this isn't some wacky Catholic version of a Jewish soup. I mean, what could I add?...More guilt? A dash of martyrdom? A few firey embers of hell? Could I serve it in a Jesus bowl?

Hey, I can say these things. Because I'm Catholic and I'm allowed to make fun of my own. Even the pope would laugh at that one. Okay, maybe not this pope, but John Paul for sure.

Given my Catholic upbringing, you can be sure that even though I live in a city filled with Jewish people and one of the most rich and abundant cultures in the world, I often am weirdly unaware of Jewish foods, customs and traditions, which I believe is a shame for me.

I must confess - as confession is a big part of being a Catholic and I am particularly good at it - I am aware of Yom Kippur only as it impacts alternate side of the street parking, because finding parking in NYC is actually more important than, well, anything and if you are Jewish and you come to our house for a meal, I will undoubtedly forget and serve you pork chops. Or blood sausage. Or bacon. I like the bacon.

I once offered the most orthodox man I know, a plate of soft shell crab. I'm an idiot.

I can barely keep my own religious observations straight (and my husband's, which require their own post) forget the rest of the city. So, when we recently went to our friend Lara (who writes Ruby Stories) and Shadrup's for fun and a play date (Ruby & Lucy, below, are BFF's) Lara made matzo ball soup and the kids lapped it up like it was candy.

Soups in general have been the saving grace of meals in this house. If I can't get the kids to eat anything else, they'll sit down and slurp up a bowl of soup. I'd say 75% of their vegetable intake is soup-related.

But I had never made matzo ball soup. In fact, I've only had it one time before with the playwright Jerry Sterner, who took me to the Edison Hotel and ordered it for me just after I moved to the city. I was a bit of a hayseed then and he probably found it funny and naive that a girl had never eaten a soup so utterly comforting, familiar and abundant to so many people.

I'm sure I said 10 stupid things during that lunch.

Anyway, after seeing the kids eat like hunger artists, I vowed to make the soup. I would have gotten Lara's grandma's recipe but Lara, Shadrup and Ruby are out camping in a tent someplace and I don't know when they'll be back to civilization and I couldn't wait until they returned. So, I went over to Smitten Kitchen and got their take on Matzo.

Making this soup also gave me a chance to make some stock from the bone bags piling up in my freezer. I keep all my vegetable cuttings and old bones to save for stock, which is great, but if I don't stay on top of it, my freezer starts to look like a compost heap.

You do not have to use homemade stock for this recipe - the stock police will not come and drag you off to Bad Parent Land, I swear - but I suggest it, because it is always better. After the stock is made (obviously you can make it ahead and freeze it until you need it) the rest is quite simple and easy to prepare.

And dare I say, only a bit more work-intensive than Campbells.

Mazal Tov!

xxoo YM

Matzo Ball Soup
Adapted from a recipe at Smitten Kitchen which apparently was tested by their mothers, which when involving mothers, only lends authenticity for me.

How to Make the Chicken Stock

Plan ahead: So any time you have a roast chicken or even if you buy a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, throw the carcass in a ziplock bag and hurl it into the back of the freezer. Do the same with leek greens, discarded onion peels, carrot cuttings, celery tops and leaves, discarded mushroom stems. These little leftovers all add flavor to soups. If you make the bags in advance as you are cooking everyday, you'll have a bunch to run off into stock whenever you have a chance.

Yield: About 3 1/2 quarts

3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds chicken necks, backs, wings or any left over carcass and bones
3 celery ribs, cut into big chunks or leftovers from stock bag
3 carrots, scrubbed and cut into big chunks or leftovers from stock bag
2 onions, unpeeled and quartered or leftovers from stock bag
1 head garlic
1 Bay leaf
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
4 quarts cold water

Bring all ingredients to a boil in an 8- to 10-quart heavy pot. Skim froth. Reduce heat and gently simmer, uncovered for 3 hours.

Pour stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl and discard solids. If you don't have a sieve, I found that if I keep the chunks of veg big enough, I can fish them out with a slotted spoon.

If using stock right away, skim off and discard any fat. If not, cool stock completely, uncovered, before skimming fat, then chill, covered. Reserve a few tablespoons of the skimmed fat if you wish to use them in matzo balls (below).
Stock can be chilled 3 days in the refrigerator or frozen for 1 month.

The Matzo

According to Smitten Kitchen, there are two matzo ball camps: those that like them heavy and leaden at the bottom of a bowl and those that like them light and fluffy. Who knew? We'll be going for light and fluffy today.

Makes 8 to 12 matzo balls

For the Balls

1/2 cup matzo meal
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons reserved chicken fat or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chicken stock or seltzer (which both of our mothers swear by for making the balls extra light)

For the Soup

2 to 3 quarts prepared chicken stock (recipe above)
1 carrot, thinly sliced
A few sprigs of dill

Mix all matzo ball ingredients in a bowl. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Bring 1 1/2 quarts of well-salted water to a brisk boil in a medium sized pot.
Reduce the flame. Run your hands under water so they are thoroughly wet. Form matzo balls by dropping spoonfuls of matzo ball batter approximately 1-inch in diameter into the palm of your wet hands and rolling them loosely into balls. Drop them into the simmering salt water one at a time. Cover the pot and cook them for 30 to 40 minutes.

About ten minutes before the matzo balls are ready, bring prepared chicken stock to a simmer with the sliced carrot in it. Ladle some soup and a couple matzo balls into each bowl and top with a couple snips of dill. Eat immediately.



SaintTigerlily said...

Ok, we hit Spiegel last night so I am outlandishly hungover and barely holding myself together at the moment. I think I might actually be sleep typing.

Just SEEING that soup made me feel better.

Mazel Tov indeed.

krysta said...

how the heck do you get your kids to eat soup? my kids wouldn't touch the stuff until they were at least eight... did you sprinkle them with guilt?

Anonymous said...

Saint Tiger Lily: Get hold of yourself! You are a Spiegel addict!

Eh, I'm just jealous..looking forward to Spiegeling with you soon, wild woman.

Krysta: I tell them Mommy will divorce Daddy if they don't eat the soup. Works every time.

Izzy's Mama said...

Oh you evil shiksa, tempting me with your soup!

Chicken soup only occurs in the the cooler weather around our house. Happy slurping...

Familia said...

my kids eat most of their vegetables in soup too. if not in soup, then in pancake form. i know it's bad to be an ignorant catholic girl (12 years of schooling no less), but are the matzo balls so different from the dumplings that my grandmother used to put in the chicken soup?

Anne Stesney said...

Bring some of that Jewish comfort over to Brooklyn! No seriously, load up the llama and trot over the bridge. But not this weekend. Oh, or next. September?

Melissa said...

You beat me to this one. I've had deb's recipe on my list for about 6 months now and just can't seem to get around to making it. It looks soooo good though. I miss my grandmother's.

Neen said...

"Don't worry, this isn't some wacky Catholic version of a Jewish soup. I mean, what could I add?...More guilt? A dash of martyrdom? A few firey embers of hell? Could I serve it in a Jesus bowl?"

LOVE IT! I'm pulling those lines out for passover next year. It won't work quite as well, since I'm not Catholic, but Episcopalian is close enough... :) Made my first Matzah ball soup this past Passover, and it was a big success. I used a Food&Wine recipe, which is very similar to Smitten Kitchen expect it adds a flavorful dill pistou that was addictive. Probably more work than you're up for, but worth contemplating next time.

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