My grandmother used to make vermicelli soup on Mondays- she actually had a weekly menu where Mondays were soups, Tuesdays were peas, rice and some meat, Wednesdays offered some sort of pie and so on. I always kind of admired the whole ‘menu’ idea when I was growing up and later came to see the significance of it; being a wife and mother is hard work and I am all for changing things up so that life can be just a bit more manageable. I think my grandmother was on to something!
This soup signifies comfort food for me. It’s not rich or fattening, it’s not fried, breaded or cheesy and creamy…but it reminds me of my grandmother. It reminds me of her house- the smells, the dust, the way she would serve us this with soft white bread, buttered to exquisite perfection, the translucent white plastic bowls with little small stubs for ‘feet’ that she’d serve us this in. I miss my grandmother- her wisdom, her quietude, the way she did everything ‘just so’. Bless her, she was a lovely woman.
Her food was always superbly cooked, just enough of everything good. Never too salty or spicy and with just the right amount of sugary sweetness. This soup was no exception. I always remember being excited when she told us lunch was vermicelli soup- the long thin noodles bathed in a clear broth with bits of floating bubbles (later I found out these were bits of salt-butter micelles) and soft perfectly cooked potatoes. I don’t really remember there being any meat, but after making this soup I now know why! The meat simply disappears into the background- a stock cooked for hours on end proves too much for the meat’s survival!
I used chicken- just like my grandmother did-and made a beautifully perfumed chicken stock, but if you have a good, high quality store-bought chicken stock that’s also fine. I also made a few adjustments to her original vermicelli soup recipe- adding carrots and pasta shells for my little one’s enjoyment.
What’s great about this soup is that the broth provides a nice unobtrusive milieu to which anything can be added. You can use different types of meat stock/meat- beef would be lovely- and add vegetables to your heart’s content- cabbage would be great.
For me, I wanted to try to come up with a vermicelli soup recipe similar to my grandmother’s. I wanted to stay as true to her delicious light recipe as possible. Since I never got a chance to ask her for her original recipe I had to come up with one that I felt would come close- golden ray salted butter and all. I think I did a pretty good job… my parents agreed!
Today is Saturday here in sunny Trinidad, the sunny blistering hot and the breezes cool. Saturdays are for soup. Traditionally, all across Trinidad and Tobago people are either making or buying soup, either way, we’re eating soup! Normally it’s sancoche (pr.sancoach)– split pea soup with ground provisions, some sort of meat and a variety of herbs and spices- today in our house it’s fennel pumpkin soup with ciabatta parmesan crostini!
I came up with the recipe while thinking about the fennel I had sitting in my fridge for the last week! I know, it’s terrible, but I never used fennel before and I think I felt just a tad bit intimidated? I bought the fennel at Gourmet Genie in San Fernando, check back soon to see a review.
Anyway, I broke off a small piece and tasted it raw and decided to use it in pumpkin soup. Now, I love pumpkin soup. I make it at least once a month if not twice. My mother taught me how to make pumpkin soup when I was around 19 years old and I’ve loved it and made it ever since. It’s simple yet satisfying and many ingredients can be added to it to make it more complex or filling.
This is a very easy, quick recipe- come on, Saturdays are for liming, nobody wants to stand around in a hot kitchen all day long cooking!
Fennel pumpkin soup
1 fennel bulb thinly sliced, reserve a few fronds for garnish
3 cloves garlic sliced thinly
1 sweet potato roughly cut into large pieces
1 lb fresh pumpkin roughly chopped into large pieces
10 cups boiled, hot water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
3 bunches of fresh parsley, finely chopped
7 chive stalks
2 chadon beni leaves, finely chopped
2 cups evaporated milk
1/2 Tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 Tsp saffron powder
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
In a large stock pot heat olive oil at high heat, add fennel and garlic until fennel is properly sweated. Then add sweet potato and pumpkin chunks. Cook these for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 10 cups of hot water, chives, 1/2 of chopped parsley, saffron powder and bouillon cubes. Bring all to a roaring boil. Simmer when all vegetables are soft and tender. Taste for seasoning adding salt and black pepper if desired. Add red pepper flakes. Pulse with electric hand blender or swizzle stick until all vegetables are soft and soup becomes smooth. Leave to simmer for and additional 15 minutes so that soup can acquire a full flavor. In the meantime you can prepare crostini. When the flavor is full enough, add in 2 cups of whole evaporated milk and stir. Off heat. Add chopped chadon beni(these are always best added at the end of dish preparation so that its flavor can be bolder).
Ciabatta parmesan crostini
Ciabatta bread cut into 1/2-1 inch thick slices (see photos)
Olive oil for drizzling
1 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
Salt and black pepper
Parmesan cheese, julienned.
Preheat oven at 450F. Place ciabatta slices on baking trap and assemble julienned parmesan and parsley on top. Drizzle good extra virgin olive oil,(I use a red pepper infused olive oil, but this isn’t necessary) salt and pepper. Bake for about 5 minutes until the ciabatta becomes toasted and crispy and the cheese melts.
Serve soup hot with crostini immersed or at the side.
Serving~ 4 persons
Suggestion ~ Top with heavy cream or grated parmesan for that extra flair or use low fat evaporated milk as a substitute for a healthier alternative. Try Caprese salad crostini or garlic croutons as an alternative. Enjoy with a crisp glass of Chardonay or white zinfandel.