Secret Santa Menu
Tri Colore Salad with Shaved Fennel and Parmesan
Fennel Crusted Baby Back Ribs in an Apple Cider Vinegar Honey Sauce
Crispy ‘Smooshed’ Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes
Grilled Herbed Asparagus with Lemon
Whole Wheat Gingerbread Cake with Vanilla Cream
My family is pretty loosy goosy about the holidays. We’ve reduced the mania to a few key factors- a great night together with some Christmas carols, a $50 Secret Santa gift, and a fantastic meal. It’s simple and perfect. My dad is normally responsible for cooking the dinner –which is never a disappointment because he is a fantastic cook. This year, however, my folks had overbooked themselves on Secret Santa day and asked me to take care of the meal. I was thrilled because I had found a few recipes I was dying to take for a test drive and I knew my family would be eager guinea pigs.
I have not yet had the pleasure of eating in Nancy Silverton’s restaurant, Mozza, but that didn’t stop me from buying the cookbook as soon as it was published. Nancy Silverton has the same passion and dedication to the joy of cooking and eating without being a foodie douchebag that I hope to achieve some day.
Her recipes are always inspiring to read. When I say this, I mean that as a chef I read her recipes and am automatically designing menus that will blend with and promote the flavors of the food she is describing. She makes it easy because she understands how simple flavors can be intertwined to create something delicious.
Needless to say, when the Mozza cookbook arrived in my household I spent hours devouring it, bookmarking so many pages that the book is bloated with post-its. When the opportunity to cook for my family showed up, I knew my Mozza moment had come. Almost everything from this menu is from that cookbook.
The very first thing that I bookmarked in the Mozza Cookbook is called “Ribollita ‘Da Delfina’”, which is Mozza’s version of a dish they found at a restaurant called Da Delfina just outside of Florence. It was described to Nancy Silverton as “fried soup”. FRIED SOUP??? How could I not be tantalized?
To be honest, I did have my doubts. My first thought was that the trend of frying things that should not be fried had maybe gone too far.
I understand the thrill of eating fried Oreos or Twinkies or sticks of butter, but that’s not a thing you should do more than once in your life (I’m looking at you Honey Boo Boo). I get that the world is going to end on Friday the 21st and all, but don’t you think we’re getting a little out of control?
My next thought had to do with ingredients.
I had always thought of a Ribollita as a bean-heavy soup made with leftover Minestrone and chunks of bread. I couldn’t imagine how that would work as a fried patty. Well, Mozza’s executive chef Matt Molina and Nancy Silverton chose much more luscious ingredients. Butternut squash, rutabaga, fennel, cavolo nero, and savoy cabbage give this soup base a gorgeous depth of character without any overpowering notes. It’s very easy to ruin a consistent meld of subtle flavors with one intense one – eg. garlic or rosemary (as much as I love them, they can be taste cockblockers if you’re not careful.) This soup gets that perfectly.
And then it gets fried (!).
My warning about this recipe is that it does take a long time, though that time is mostly non-active. The soup takes 3 hours to reduce to the perfect flavor and consistency and then has to chill for a few hours before it’s fried. I do think it’s worth it- but it’s important to note that it’s an all day project for someone who’s not in the kitchen all day anyway like I am. It is a vegetarian soup and would be a perfect lunch or light dinner with a small salad. I made my patties on the large side– which I would not do again because the result is very filling.
Fried Soup (AKA Ribollita “da delfina”)
from The Mozza Cookbook
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus 2 tablespoons
- 2 cups large-diced yellow Spanish onion (about 1 large onion)
- 1 cup large-diced peeled rutabaga (about 5 ounces)
- 1 cup large-diced peeled carrot (about 1 large carrot)
- 1 cup large-diced peeled butternut squash (about 6 ounces)
- 1 cup large-diced fennel (about ½ large bulb)
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 packed cups coarsely chopped savoy cabbage (about ¼ medium head) or napa cabbage
- 3 packed cups cavolo nero (or black kale), stems cut off and discarded, leaves coarsely chopped (about 1 bunch)
- 3 cups canned whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- 1 or 2 rinds of Parmigiano-Reggiano
- ½ pound stale, crustless bread, broken up into small chunks
- Finishing quality extra-virgin olive oil
- Wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating
- Combine ½ cup of the olive oil, the onion, rutabaga, Carrot, squash, and fennel in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Season with 2 teaspoons of the salt, and cook to sweat the vegetables for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent them from browning, until they are tender. Reduce the heat to medium low and let the vegetables sweat in their own juices for another 8 to 10 minutes, until they’re very soft. Add the cabbage and the cavolo nero, season with another 2 teaspoons of the salt, and cook to wilt the cabbages slightly, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add ½ of the remaining olive oil, and cook without stirring until the juices released from the vegetables have boiled down and the pan is almost dry, about 15 minutes. Break the tomatoes up into the pan. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind(s), add 1 cup of water, and cook the soup at a low simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours, adding another cup of water from time to time so the vegetables are very tender but not disintegrated. When the vegetables are done, continue to cook until there is no water left in the pan and the soup is stiff enough that you can stand a wooden spoon straight up in it.
- Transfer the soup to a large mixing bowl and remove and discard the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind(s). Add the bread and beat it vigorously into the soup with a wooden spoon so it breaks up and is suspended in the soup. If you have large chunks of soup, it will cause the patties to fall apart when you fry them. Set the soup aside to cool to room temperature, then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap or transfer the soup to an airtight container and refrigerate it overnight or for at least 1 hour. The soup can be made to this point up to five days in advance.
- Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Scoop out 1 cup of soup and mold the soup between your palms as you would a hamburger patty, forming a square patty about 1 inch thick, and place it on a baking sheet. Repeat, forming the remaining soup patties in the same way. Cover the baking sheet tightly with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill the patties for at least 30 minutes before frying them. The patties can be formed up to one day in advance.
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is almost smoking and slides easily in the pan, 2 to 3 minutes. Add two or three of the soup patties, making sure to leave enough room so you can slide a spatula under and flip the patties. Fry the patties on the first side until they’re crisp and almost black in places, 5 to 6 minutes. Carefully turn the patties and cook them on the second side for 2 minutes. Transfer the patties without turning them (the crisp side will be facing up) to a baking sheet and place them in the oven while you fry the remaining patties in the same way, adding more olive oil as needed, and adding the fried patties to the baking sheet in the oven as they’re done. After the last patties have been fried, leave them all in the oven for 5 minutes to make sure the last batch is warmed through.
- Remove the patties from the oven and place each one on a plate with the crisp side facing up. Drizzle each serving with 1 tablespoon of finishing quality olive oil. Use a microplane or another fine grater to grate a generous layer of Parmigiano-Reggiano over each patty, and serve.