A Return to Bacon, the Senses, and the Stove.
In deference to the lingering illness that had me running wounded on three of my five sensory cylinders this May, I decided to make soup. Soup is a troublesome topic in my house, as my wife prefers a smooth purée and I like a spoonful with a variety of textures in it. I ask you, how can you eat something that's going to be precisely the same uniform liquid experience sixty sips in a row? The brain softens. The spine goes insensate. Dignity takes a dive and the dog wanders from the table. There is no joy for her here. Give me a spoonful of hot broth in which I can quickly determine a bean, a bit of ham, tiny flecks of carrot, and perhaps something small and green, and I am comforted. The dog returns and assumes her expectant tableside seat. A plane lands. Everyone is safe. Everyone is home. A setting sun refracts through a ruby glass of wine...then a restorative sup. A sweater beckons from a drawer, a book beckons from the floor by that bronze thing that adjusts the disconnected furnace.
Speaking of my wife, she is also not much for the high art and pastime of meat-eating, so her gift of the Bacon of the Month Club was an open invitation to make foods we wouldn't be sharing, which is normally taboo in our family of two (the tot doesn't count yet, as she thrives solely on a diet of Bunny Grahams and alphabet-shaped pasta). Kill two birds with one stone, then, I thought: make a chunky white bean soup and flavor it with some cubed Canadian-style bacon that has had the hell browned out of it. From the mythical three-day Toulousain cassoulet to the cheap chop with black-eyed peas of my youth...one hates to invoke the term "gestalt," so I won't, but if I did, would you walk out on this sentence?
I'm by no means an accomplished soup cook, but I've done my share of reading, so I set at it with a knife and a hot little cuprous-complected fellow we picked up at the wedding. One of the discoveries I took away from this go was just how many cans of beans thirty-two ounces of chicken stock can absorb if you take a stick-blender to the pot (hint: the upcoming Achewood Cookbook II will have this highly controversial and hotly debated information).
Other soup cookery discoveries:
1) You hear it all the time -- even occasionally in an empty room, which causes you to jump with a start -- but soup really is best a day or two after the initial preparation. The ingredients have heated and cooled and heated and cooled and essentially rotted a little longer -- "rotting" being a word that you won't find in many cookbook titles. The art of controlling the process of going bad is the secret of many of the table's greatest pleasures: aged beef and pheasant, cheese, wine (particularly the aptly named "noble rot" Botrytis), then vinegar...the list is as long as the time Europeans can find to laugh at our refrigerator culture.
2) You can use a Benriner or mandoline to quickly julienne the carrots for your mirepoix. From there it's just a quick pass with the knife until they're a fancy little brunoise. Why am I talking about this? Because I am praying that Christopher Kimball will show up at my doorstep with a Ford Ranger King-Cab limo and a passel of glycerine essays about what lath and plaster walls mean to him.
3) Kidney beans are kind of nasty. I'm not sure why they're around. I can't put my finger on their flavor but it's sort of like something that would be smeared on a building to keep coyotes from urinating on it.
4) If you own a building and coyotes are always urinating on it, consider smearing kidney beans around the foundation, instead of using them in soup.