Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Baseball Soup" --Plymouth's Portuguese Comfort Food

Plenty of fresh kale and spicy Portuguese sausage with a flavorful broth and small pasta
We spent a huge part of our growing up years in Plymouth, Massachusetts. There were the expected chowders, lobster rolls and corn breads, and lots of Italian American markets full of all the Italian food you could think of. But there is also a very vibrant and distinct Portuguese tradition in Plymouth, and it certainly comes through in much of the food we all came to know and love. No trip downtown was complete without stopping at one of the bakeries and getting a linguica roll, a long white yeast roll with chunks of grilled juicy linguica, a Portuguese pork sausage, baked inside. There is also the mysteriously named Baseball Soup, full of kale and rounds of chouriso sausage. It is an item you could get at some restaurants, but probably was more of a staple in many, many Plymouth homes. My Dad got a recipe from the chef at the now-closed 1620 restaurant that was on Samoset and Water streets. Even the chef did not know why this soup has the name it does. I have recently asked a lot of Plymouth natives and there is no real answer (yet!). I have just had a great discussion on facebook with lots of Plymouth friends, some who have grown up with this soup. The reasons for the name include "you can THROW anything and everything in it, including a baseball." Many friends commented that their grandmothers and mothers explained it that way, and it was also called "garbage soup."Another likely one is "They sold this before baseball games in Plymouth, so the non-Portuguese customers nicknamed it baseball soup."  A couple other good possibilities are that it comes from the Portuguese word "curves,"  which is the local word for kale/green (I think it may be a more regional word for kale, meaning curvy, curly)  And yet another reason given is because when made with potatoes, the potatoes looked like baseballs. But I have to add the best comment from my friend Michael Eric Pereira's dad:

"Only heard that expression in Plymouth. Since it is an English word which has nothing to do with Portugal or Brazil, I imagine it is word play made up by who? That means throw all the leftovers in. Also had plenty of soup growing up at home and at the feasts all with their own names. Baseball was baseball, not soup."

Mr. Pereira, who is in his 80s, grew up in New Bedford, MA, which has the largest population of Portuguese people outside of Portugal, and he never heard the name there, only in Plymouth. So I do agree that this is very likely a Plymouth-only name! How cool is that?

Variations include using potatoes instead of pasta; adding red kidney beans and the liquid from the can; and also a version with short ribs. I love it!
I know my Dad attested to the authenticity of this recipe in matching the one served at 1620, but I also believe this soup probably took on many versions home to home. This recipe calls for linguica, but I used chouriso, which is similar, but a little spicier. I was able to make this with the real thing because my friend Art Guertin from Plymouth recently sent me a care package of Portuguese sausage. So here is the recipe as my Dad collected it, a staple in Southeastern Massachusetts, even without the Plymouth name:

Baseball Soup

1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, grated
4 Tbl. olive oil
3 cups of chicken broth
1 lb. of fresh kale, trimmed and chopped
1/2 pound of linguica, sliced and cut into half rounds
2 cloves of garlic, minced
8 oz crushed tomatoes
3/4 small dried pasta (like acini de pepe, orzo or ditalini)
1 salt
white pepper to taste

In the bottom of a heavy kettle, add oil, and saute the onions and carrots until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, salt, chicken broth, kale and linguica. Add pepper to taste. The kale will shrink down pretty quickly.

The sausage is pork, has a very thin casing, and has a firm meat filling that has fairly noticeable bits and pieces on the interior, so if you are looking for a substitution, look for something more firm than, say, an Italian sausage, maybe more like kielbasa. Or you could get some real linguica delivered from Gaspar's in Fall River, Mass. 

Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure the kale is cooking down evenly.

In the meantime, cook the dried pasta. When the soup has simmered for 30 minutes, add the cooked pasta and the crushed tomatoes, stir, heat through and serve.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Another Great Deetz Classic------ Our Family Chicken Enchilada Recipe

Serve with all your favorite garnishes
We had these all the time when we were growing up. They are a recipe my mom got from a good family friend Sue Owen, who had almost as many kids as we had, so we are all friends. Sue also gave the Deetz family our standard bean taco recipe that we cherish. As we all grew up and traveled, and learned more about all the different styles of Mexican food, many of us lost track of this recipe. We have all been revisiting this one again. It's interesting because it uses very mainstream products, canned tomato paste and regular peppers, no real heat. It makes me wonder what the original recipe may have been before it started to be made in mid-century middle america when access to the real ingredients may have been seriously limited. Then again, this may have been the original recipe, unaltered. I remember in high school, we made a very basic salsa when we could even get any jalapenos. We loved it. When we were even younger, we used to get canned corn tortillas, they were fairly small, and came in cans, about 12 to a can. There was a very distinct corn lime something??? smell when the cans got opened. The brand was something standard like Las Palmas. We used to get them mailed to us in Plymouth from California when we couldn't get them there off the shelf. I have imagined this recipe made with "all the RIGHT ingredients" but for us, this is the right stuff, because it immediately evokes that food/memory thing we all love so much . . . . (Now I need to make my Mom's ground beef/onion and black olive enchiladas with red sauce!). I present the original recipe here, and will make notes at the end on variations you can play with.

just yum

Chicken Enchiladas

2 dozen corn tortillas, soft fried in a little vegetable oil, set aside

2 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 Tbl. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 bell peppers (red, green, yellow or orange, or a mix)
1 8-oz. can tomato paste
3 cups of half and half, heated with 2 chicken boullion cubes dissolved in it
1 lb. grated Jack Cheese

I prefer yellow or orange peppers here, but we always had them with green bell peppers

In a large skillet, saute peppers and onions until softened, stir in tomato paste, and let bubble a little. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in chicken chunks.

What seems like a lot of tomato paste actually is just right once it surrounds all of the filling, it gets diluted during baking as it mixes with all the cream and cheese.
Add a small amount of cream sauce to the bottom of a 9 x 13" baking dish, just enough to add some moisture. Then taking the tortillas, two at a time, dip them in the cream sauce and arrange in bottom of pan, overlapping side by side.

You can visually gauge here how full to make these.
Spread chicken filling evenly across the tortillas, and add some cheese. (I don't know the exact amount of each, I just kind of wing it.) Use about 2/3 of the cheese for the interior, leaving the rest for the topping. Roll, tucking rolled edge under to the bottom of the roll. Continue until the pan is filled. You may need to squeeze them in a bit.

These could certainly be done in a larger pan, just make sure they are not too loose.
Next, pour the cream sauce over the top of the enchiladas, you may not use all of it, but they should be kind of swimming in the sauce.
You want it to be fairly wet, as the cream needs to get in to mix with the tomato based filling on the inside
Sprinkle on the remaining cheese. (You could also garnish with black olives or sliced scallions before baking if you like).
These don't need to be really cheesy, the flavor is more about the tomato and cream.
Cover with foil, and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Check on the progress, the sauce should be absorbed and the cheese melted. Time will vary by how densely you packed the pan.

As you can see, the sauce has all absorbed, leaving the cheesy top.
Serve hot, garnished with shredded lettuce, scallions, tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, olives, avocados/guacamole, radish slices . . . whatever you want.

My deviations: I use 2 cups of half and half mixed with 1 cup strong broth, usually the broth created when I boil the chicken, I add lots of garlic and peppercorns to the water (don't add the peppercorns to the sauce). We also often had these garnished with black olives on the top. We always fastened these with toothpicks, but I just roll them with the seam down and it works fine. I add a little ground chipotle chili to the filling, maybe 1/4 tsp. to just give it a very subtle heat. This is the recipe exactly as I wrote it down when I was 18 and I made a hand made cookbook, including some of those Deetz classics we all made without recipes. I am certain we have all changed this a bit over time. (In talking with sister Cricket, she reminded me that we didn't mix all the veggies with the chicken before filling, I immediately remembered the feel of the onions and peppers as we filled the tortillas. They were usually pretty hot at first! So if you want to lay in the chicken/ tomatoes and the onion/ peppers separately, you can do that too.)

Friday, October 4, 2013

No-Bake Pineapple Cheesecake with Berry Topping

Fresh berry topping, pineapple and sweet cream cheese filling and a graham cracker crust

This is a recipe I got out of a Virginia Hospitality Cookbook, one of those self-published cookbooks full of time-tested tried-and-true recipes from home cooks everywhere. I love cookbooks, and when I buy old used ones, I love to look for the most soiled pages, hinting at the best recipes inside. This is a great make ahead dessert. I think you could make this with multiple combinations of fruits in the filling and the topping, for example strawberry cheesecake filling with blackberry topping.

No-Bake Pineapple Cheesecake with Berry Topping

1 nine-inch graham cracker crust or regular pie crust, already baked


2  8-oz packages of cream cheese (at room temperature)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
about 1/4 cup milk
1 small can of pineapple chunks, drained (reserve juice for topping)

1 qt blueberries
2 Tbl. sugar
a splash of pineapple juice
1 Tbl. cornstarch

whipped cream for topping

In a medium mixing bowl using a hand mixer, mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Mix until whipped and smooth, adding small amounts of milk to help make it smooth. Fold in pineapple chunks with a spoon. Scrape out all the filling into the graham cracker crust, chill.

In a small sauce pan, add berries, sugar and a splash of pineapple juices. Simmer until berries start to pop open and soften. Add corn starch thinned with a small amount of water, and simmer until thickened. Let cool to room temperature before putting topping on filling. You can make a full layer of whipped cream if you like, or add dollops of it when you serve it.

This could also be done with strawberries or other fruit.
The filling will be fluffy and sweet
Simmer for just a few minutes before thickening with cornstarch.
Spread topping to the very edges of the filling.

Dal Bhat (Lentils and Rice)

This summer my daughter was in Nepal for school, and early on in her visit, she told me I should learn how to make Dal Bhat. (Dal bhat, Bengali: ডাল-ভাত refers to a traditional meal which is popular in many areas of Bangladesh, India and Nepal. It consists of steamed rice and a cooked lentil soup called dal. It is a staple food in these countries. Dal refers to the lentils, Bhat means boiled rice.) So I looked at multiple recipes on line and found the common factors and came up with this basic variation. I love the brightness the ginger brings to it, and for anyone who either loves lentils, or wants to know how to cook with them, this is a great recipe. The turmeric is key as well, and has been the spice everyone is talking about right now as an anti-inflammatory. For anyone who has spied the packaged steamed lentils in the Trader Joe's produce section, this is a great way to use those, so I have adjusted the amounts to match the amount for one package of those. Otherwise, you could easily just cook some lentils until just tender, and add about 4 cups of those. They hold up to long cooking and retain their texture and flavor very well. Enjoy!

Dal Bhat

1 package Trader Joe's steamed lentils (in the produce section)
3 Tbl olive oil
1 small onion, diced (about 1 to 1-1/2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
 1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp salt
4 cups liquid, such as chicken stock, vegetable stock or water (I use half broth and half water)
Steamed rice

Trader Joe's sells plain steamed lentils, easy to use and no added flavors.

1. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and fry onion, garlic and ginger until softened.

Saute until softened, they will continue to cook as the lentils and broth cook.

2. Add rinsed lentils, turmeric and salt and stir to combine.

Stir the lentils to loosen up, they come out of the package a little clumped. 
3. Pour liquid over lentils and cook over a medium-low heat until lentils are soft and the mixture is like a thick soup.

It will be fairly soupy at first, the lentils hold up well if  you simmer them for about 30 minutes or so to reduce the liquid

4. Serve lentils over rice, or as its own soup. Keeps well in the fridge.