Peasant Palate: Dinner For A Dying Ocean

There is a Pacific Coast fisherman, a natural-born cook, who prepares a special soup to warm up dock parties on cold California nights. Oddly, this “Skip’s Meatball Soup” contains no seafood. It is therefore appropriate for these days of Deepwater Horizon, in which oil blowing from an unsane undersea well is denuding the Gulf of Mexico of life. Skip’s soup is true comfort food, and jeebus knows we could all use some comfort.

Though the meatballs hew Italian, and the vegetables smell of the French, there are strong Mexican accents to this dish—indeed, I was introduced to it by Jacqueline Higuera McMahon, sprung of a family that received one of the first Mexican land-grant ranchos in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lost in the latest ignorant populist ferment over immigration is the historical memory that places like California were Mexican far longer than they’ve been gringo . . . and will be again.

Anyway, thanks to the Mexican contributions, the soup as presented here has a bite to it. The heat level can be adjusted, however, in a number of ways: seed or eschew the serranos, settle on a milder chili powder, switch out the Salsa Brava for a less fiery sauce.

Finally, the usual proscriptions against food-touching are suspended here. That is because this is a soup. And soups by their very nature are wanton, promiscuous creatures—hot, steamy baths in which various and sundry ingredients defiantly fondle one another, shamelessly, thoroughly, publicly.

Start with making vegetable stock:

1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 cup coarsely chopped celery (with leaves)
2 leeks, quartered and rinsed (discard tough green portions)
1.5 cups peeled and diced carrots
4 tomatoes, halved and oven-roasted at 400 degrees for 20 minutes
4 garlic cloves, halved and smashed
12 peppercorns, smashed
cobs from 4 ears frozen corn (remove and retain kernels for soup)
1 teaspoon salt
1 gallon water

Combine all ingredients in a heavy stockpot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour. Cool, then drain. Should make four quarts of stock, which is exactly the amount you want for the soup.

Now for the meatballs. You won’t actually create these until you’re deep into witching up the soup, but it’s best to list this here, rather than allowing it to confusedly elbow in later.

2 pounds ground sirloin, 7% fat
2 eggs, beaten
.75 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
.5 cup minced Italian parsley
.25 cup minced cilantro
.25 cup freshly grated reggiano

Mix and mush all the ingredients together with your hands. Form into 24-36 meatballs, depending upon your preference in size. Place on an oiled baking sheet and cook 15 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven. Remove from oven; discard any juices.

If you don’t do beef, I suppose you can leave these out. Then you would be eating “Skip’s Meatball-less Soup.”

The soup itself:

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large leeks, white & light green portions only, rinsed and chopped
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1.5 cups sliced celery (with leaves)
1 tablespoon crushed dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
5 bay leaves
1 cup peeled and diced carrots
4 fresh anaheim chilis, stemmed and cored (but not seeded), sliced
4 fresh serrano chilis, stemmed and diced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, cored, and chopped
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, cored, and chopped
1 cup corn kernels (reserved from stock cobs)
1 14.5-ounce can Muir Glen Organic Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes
1 cup sliced mushrooms
8 green onions, trimmed and diced
10 garlic cloves, minced
2 small zucchini, trimmed and diced
4 quarts vegetable stock
3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon medium-hot chili powder
2 tablespoons Salsa Brava
the meatballs (see above)
.5 cup minced cilantro
grated reggiano

Heat the olive oil in a big ol’ soup pot. Saute the leeks, onion, and celery until golden, with a little carmelization. Add the oregano, cumin, and bay leaves, and saute a bit with the vegetables.

Add the carrots, anaheims, serranos, red and green bell peppers, and corn. Saute until vegetables soften.

Add the tomatoes, mushrooms, green onions, garlic, and zucchini. Dump in the stock. Add the pepper, chili powder, and hot sauce. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. During which time you can prepare and bake the meatballs (see above).

Add the meatballs to the soup and simmer an additional 30 minutes.

Just before serving, add the cilantro.

Allow your guests to sprinkle atop the soup as much grated reggiano as their hearts desire.

Makes a lot.

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1 Response to “Peasant Palate: Dinner For A Dying Ocean”


  1. 1 Elva May 24, 2010 at 9:49 am

    This is a soup that I will ask my son to make for me when I visit him soon. You have added my favorite singing group that I have enjoyed at their concerts, three times.


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