Thursday, April 16, 1998
If you stop to think about it, the archaeology of soup is pretty impressive stuff. By the time somebody figured out that the first concave mud pies--formed out of just the right kind of clay and left to dry in the sun--were pretty handy for holding water, it was just a matter of time before somebody else came along, threw in a few savories and applied heat. It made for some pretty potable stuff, more interesting fare than just softened, mashed-up grains.
Of course, the things that happened in your soup pot were pretty interesting when you left your grains to soak. Grind up the mush, griddle the stuff on a hot rock and pass the butter, you just made flatbread. Let a real liquidy mash sit awhile and you were the first on the block to call the neighbors over for a beer. Have one too many, drop your beer in your grain and you''re on your way to leavened bread.
The primal soup pot played an important role in the development of cuisine and carved out a lasting reputation for itself. Whether you sup it at your supper-table or sop it up with a hunk of bread (all words derivative of soup''s omnipresence), soup is still good food, 11,000 years after the first vegetable stock was born.
In fact, out of the whole sopping phenomenon grew the peasant predilection for bread soup, a thrifty means of reconstituting your old, stale bread and thickening your broth in one deft stroke. Nico Mavris puts Tuscan bread soup on his menus at Nico and La Dolce Vita as a special. "I use extra virgin olive oil, garlic, onions and peppers to flavor the soup," says Nico. "It''s from a recipe handed down in the family of an elderly gentleman from Venice who visited my restaurant, and wanted me to have it."
Maximizing flavor is, of course, the biggest challenge in a recipe where the main ingredient happens to be water. At The Cottage Restaurant in Carmel, co-owner and master thistle-scraper, Steve Cardinalli says only fresh will do. "We use only fresh artichokes in our signature soup," he attests, "and use the water from blanching them as a base, to extract more flavor."
At Mona''s Bistro in Monterey, you''ll find Mona back in the kitchen, roasting her chicken bones to capitalize on flavor. "After I''ve stripped the meat off the roasted chicken, I roast the bones to make a brown chicken stock," she explains. It''s a great trick for punching up the taste in heartier preparations. "Or, if I''m doing a vegetarian soup that needs just a little something more to add body, there''s a Kosher product called Telma--a dry vegetable-based cube that can make a big difference."
Whether your genealogy knew it as pot-au-feu, cioppino, mulligatawny or a New England boil, a close look is likely to reveal certain soup in your family tree--one that''s a sure bet for culinary immortality.
Just opened last week at the site of the former Melac''s... Cypress Grove. Owners Kurt and Rosemarie Steeber are dubbing the menu "Eclectic California-French," with selections like roasted quail with morels, fresh mango and baby leeks, and Monterey boar medallions with rosemary poached apples with a cranberry gin reduction. In another couple of weeks, they''ll be opening the doors for lunch. Look for them at 663 Lighthouse Avenue, Downtown Pacific Grove, 375-1743.