Instead, I offer a brief story of Ash Soup.
It was not intentional. It began life late Wednesday afternoon as a butternut squash, white bean & bacon soup, a recipe I found on epicurious.com and which happened to have great reviews. Our good friends Kirsten and Shane were coming over for dinner and a big pot of soup, warm bread and a salad sounded like the perfect laid back, comfort food dinner: not too much fuss, no last-minute prep, and satisfying without being too filling.
I managed to complete the soup in intervals between chasing after baby Nick (and trying to keep him from fishing out the butternut squash peelings from the garbage can; the safety lock leaves an ideal gap for toddler-size hands to retrieve such goodies—whee!). I pushed the soup to the back burner, combed my hair (sort of), glossed my lips and waited (i.e., bathed & dressed Nicky and read four rhyming books) for K & S to arrive.
And so they did, and everything was great, especially with the assistance of some Chardonnay. Overly cocky that everything culinary was under control, I began re-warming the soup and slicing the bread about 45 minutes in. We were all gathered in the kitchen chatting and playing with Nick, so I had no worries.
Some fifteen (or was it 20? 30?) minutes later, I remember seeing my husband, Kevin, slide up to the stove (to which I had my back turned) and mutter something along the lines of uh-oh/sheesh/oh no/yikes/eeh gads, or other mumblings less suitable for publication. The soup was boiling with cauldron-like intensity, and as Kevin began to stir/churn, lumps of black gook rose from its depths.
With great bravery, Kevin dipped his spoon for a taste.
“Umm, cigarette ash,” he announced.
“Oh, it can’t be that bad,” quipped Kirsten and Shane.
Knowing that I’m the one prone to exaggeration, not Kevin, I knew it was. A dip of the spoon, first by me, then by Shane, confirmed the worst: the brew had aromatic nuances of a rental car ashtray. Umm.
Kevin picked up the phone and dialed for a pizza–and yes, we would like the cheesy bread option, thank you very much.
Such was my recipe for a great dinner party (it really was, both because of and in spite of the soup). Thank goodness for great friends, especially ones who bring fresh spinach salad to accompany Ash Soup or pizza, whichever your preference.
RISING FROM THE ASHES…
And yet there was a bright culinary star that evening worth heralding: spiced rosemary walnuts. I prepared them on a whim shortly before showtime and wow, are they yummy. Were it not for the ash soup distraction/hilarity, we probably would have demolished all.
The recipe is based on one developed by Sara Moulton (of Food Network and Gourmet Magazine fame) and is ridiculously easy to prepare (as in, if you need to make a very last minute/spur-of-the-moment gift/appetizer/nibble, this is it).
What follows is my modified variation. I’m certain pecans would work beautifully in place of the walnuts (I’m planning on trying it later today—I’ll let you know). The egg white makes the spices and herbs adhere perfectly; it makes the nuts perfectly crisp, too. You can do any spice or herb combo you like.
- 1 large egg white
- 1 tablespoon natural cane sugar
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
- 2-1/2 cups walnut halves (or other nuts of choice)
- Preheat oven to 300F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, beat the egg white until frothy. Whisk in the sugar, rosemary, salt, and cayenne. Add the walnuts, stirring until well coated.
- Spread the nut mixture in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheet.
- Bake the walnuts in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then remove from oven. Using a metal spatula, toss, stir, and separate nuts.
- Reduce oven to 250F; bake the nuts 10 minutes longer or until dark golden brown.
- Place sheet on rack and cool completely (they will crisp as they cool). Break up any that stick together. Makes 2-1/2 cups.