I have been remiss. It's not that I haven't been cooking, or writing, or even photographing. It's just that I've been up to my nose in other stuff and I haven't been posting. In going through my photographs from the last few months, I'm struck by how many lovely things graced our kitchen table that I've not shared. I shall do my best to make amends.
And speaking of sharing, just maybe, this is a good time to discuss the saga of "the great pantry debacle" which may provide some comfort, or at least amusement to you, my equally fraught fellow home cooks.
Over the holidayswhen I was in a frenzy (just like you) doing a million things, I had to produce two columns for The Richmond Times Dispatch in quick succession. The second one was entitled "Culinary Resolutions" and described things I intended to do better in the New Year. One of those things was organize my pantry which, just let me assure you, was in parlous state having had things hurled in its general direction sans any organization whatsoever since, well, probably, Halloween. Suffice it to say, it was a raging disaster. Anyway, my friendly photographer Joe, while shooting the story, ran to the pantry, quick as a bunny, and shot it without my knowing. I had intended to edit it slightly (read tidy it)so that it wouldn't appear to be such complete mayhem, but I didn't get around to it, and then Joe took the photograph before I knew what was what. C'est la Vie.
Well, I knew something was wrong when Jeff handed me the newspaper on January 2 and said, "You've really gone too far this time!" In horror I surveyed the front of the food section and there, front and center, for the whole world to see, was my pantry in all of its chaotic glory. Shelves and shelves of falling over boxes of pasta, willy nilly bags of nuts and chocolate, spices on top of olive oil on top of flour on top of...well, you get the idea. I was mortified!
What I was also, was completely unprepared for the public hue and cry. They wrote, they called, they stopped me in the grocery store--all to tell me that they loved it! One writer summed it up thus:
"Jerry and I had a great discussion of whose pantry was worse, yours or mine. He thinks mine is but I think yours may be. At any rate, you were a great sport to let the world see... Your pantry made me feel much better about you. Your food photos always look so professional and your recipes so sophisticated that, I am totally intimidated. Your pantry relieved me a lot."
So there it is. It never occurred to me that my cooking was intimidating and surely, anyone who has ever actually met me is completely aware of my vast limitations as a cook, as a pantry organizer, as, well, as everything! So, if intimidation in any way stops you from trying one of my recipes, then worry not, everyone now knows I'm a disaster, but a disaster who soldiers on cooking regardless, and you can too.
The reason I bring this up now, is that the contents of my pantry are apropos in the making of this wonderful soup. I have all sorts of obscure things in there which you may not have, in this case, I'm talking about Gentleman's Relish and really great Stilton. If you don't (and really, why should you?) then perhaps substitute a dab of anchovy paste for the Gentleman's Relish, and some other deeply flavorful cheese that you have at hand. It will still be perfectly delicious and worth the effort to make it.
However, if it doesn't work out, and for some reason is a complete disaster, I'm sorry to say, strangers are unlikely to stop you in the street to tell you how much more they like you because of it. That is a joy that's clearly reserved just for me.
Cauliflower Cheese Soup
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 slices thick, center cut bacon, thinly sliced
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Gentleman's Relish
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves
1 large cauliflower
salt and pepper
8 cups chicken stock
1 loaf, rustic sourdough bread cut into 1/2 " slices
1/2 pound Stilton cheese
Put a large pan on medium heat. Add butter and olive oil. Add bacon to the pan and cook until slightly brown. Add onions, Gentleman's Relish, thyme and sage leaves. Stir.
Cut the cauliflower in half, then cut the florets off and set them aside. Finely slice the stalk and leaves and add to the pan with salt and pepper, and perhaps a little bit of water if it seems dry. Place lid on pan, and cook over a medium low heat, stirring occasionally for 40 minutes until cauliflower is very soft. Mash it a bit with the back of your spoon to thicken it slightly. Add the cauliflower florets and stock, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cauliflower florets are cooked through.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Make toast from the bread and place it upright in a rack so it won't get soggy. In a very large, deep casserole dish start to make the three layers of soup consisting of soup, toast and cheese. Add a third of the soup, then lay on a third of the toast and a third of the crumbled cheese followed by a good sprinkle of the rosemary leaves. Repeat the layers twice more, finishing with a final layer of toast and cheese and rosemary leaves.
Place in the oven for around 25 minutes or until golden and bubbling. You will get a crispy, gooey top, layered on top of softer chunks of bread and cauliflower soup underneath, not dissimilar to French onion soup.
--adapted from"Jamie Oliver's Great Britain" by Jamie Oliver.