Friday, March 24, 2023

Warm Spiced Sweet Potato Soup

Whenever I'm in London (where my daughter and her family live), I try to get to one of Yotam Ottolenghi's restaurants, which are scattered throughout the city. On my most recent visit a few weeks ago, we ate lunch at his Marylebone location -- a fun neighborhood not just for eating, but for good shopping too and home to the fabulous Wallace Collection. It was a cold March day and this soup, with warm spices and topped with feta cheese, was the perfect antidote to the chill outside. I tried recreating it at home, but couldn't find the exact recipe in any of his cookbooks. So I searched a bunch of different ones online and came up with this recipe, which was every bit as delicious as the one I ate in London. It may even have usurped my favorite cold weather soup till now of butternut squash. The two vegetables are very similar in flavor when used in soups, especially after infusing the soup with all the spices. I used about three and a half pounds of potatoes, which made enough soup to serve at least 8-10 people. You can cut it in half if you prefer, or just freeze the leftovers for another day.

I served the soup to company a couple of weeks ago, and included a tray of accompaniments on the table -- a small pitcher of warmed cream, some feta cheese, olive oil, and pepitas (pumpkin seeds). The soup is delicious all by itself without any cream or other toppings, but it's nice to give guests the options, if you have them.

The version at Ottolenghi (photo below) was served with feta, a drizzle of olive oil and chopped chives and it was perfect.

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Spiced Sweet Potato Soup

printable recipe here


3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 large stalks of celery, diced

4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into slices

4 large sweet potatoes (about 3 1/2-4 pounds), peeled and cut into chunks

1 tablespoon salt

2 T. zatar

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of red pepper flakes

4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you want to keep it vegetarian)

2 cups water

optional accompaniments:

heavy cream, warmed to drizzle on top

crumbled feta cheese

pepita or sunflower seeds

olive oil to drizzle

Saute the onions in the olive oil until golden brown.
Add the celery and saute until softened.
Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.
Use a stick blender or a regular blender to homogenize everything and eliminate any lumps.
Add more water if the soup is too thick.
If you have leftover, it will thicken more overnight in the refrigerator, so add more water then too.
Top with optional ingredients

Monday, March 13, 2023

Latvian Stew

I served this stew to my book club during the monthly dinner we hold in conjunction with our book selection. We try to prepare food that has a connection to the book, and in this case, it was Amor Towles, "A Gentleman In Moscow." It's a book that I've read twice now, and could read it again and again, for its witty, elegant style and its urbane central character, a Russian count who is confined by the Bolsheviks in Moscow's famed Metropol Hotel, and is relegated to a tiny garret from his opulent suite. The book is filled with myriad references to food and wine, as well as history, music, politics, friendship, family ties and more. But the overarching theme of the book to me, at least, is one's ability to adapt to changing circumstances and not only tolerate them, but find the joy in them.

At one point in the book when the count is in the hotel's main dining room, he sees a young man struggling to order something from among the extensive (and mostly expensive) items on the menu to impress his date, but one that won't break the bank.

"The young man’s gaze drifted back and forth between these opposing hazards. But in a stroke of genius, he ordered the Latvian stew. While this traditional dish of pork, onions, and apricots was reasonably priced, it was also reasonably exotic; and it somehow harkened back to that world of grandmothers and holidays and sentimental melodies that they had been about to discuss when so rudely interrupted."

Further, when the headwaiter, who is later to become the count's nemesis and manager of the Metropol Hotel, suggests an expensive Rioja wine, the count overhears this and recoils, knowing that the Spanish wine is not only too  expensive for the young man, but the wrong wine to accompany the stew. Overriding the headwaiter's suggestion, (and foreshadowing a future perilous confrontration) the count interjects and says “If I may, For a serving of Latvian stew, you will find no better choice than a bottle of Mukuzani.”

While there are food references galore in the book, the Latvian stew scene cinched the deal for me, and I was determined to find the Mukuzani wine to serve along with the stew to my book club compatriots. It was easier to find than I imagined, and was not only delicious, but at $10.00 a bottle, was a real bargain.

There are several recipes for the stew on the internet, but the one I settled on came from the website "A Little And A Lot." Even so, I changed it somewhat to eliminate the liquid smoke she used, to add more carrots and increase the amount of pork. I also found that after cooking the stew at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, it was bubbling too much and the liquid was reducing and thickening too quickly. The meat was already nearly tender, so rather than cook the meat for another hour at the same temperature as the recipe suggested , I lowered the temperature to 200 degrees, added a little more water, and let it gently simmer for another hour in the oven until my guests arrived.  Make sure to use a boneless pork shoulder because it needs the fat marbling to produce succulent, tender meat. I bought mine at Costco and there was actually too much outer fat on my pork roast, which I trimmed. From a piece of meat that weighed 6 pounds at the start, it was only 4 1/2 pounds after I finished trimming it -- more than enough to easily serve 8-10 people. 

The other members of the book group contributed other foods either mentioned in the book, or associated with Russian or Slavic cuisine, starting with a delicious appetizer of ponzu salmon and avocado toast:


Traditional vegetables served in Russia: salad, potatoes and cabbage:

 And for dessert: a multi-layered honey cake --

and chocolate "kielbasa"

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Latvian Stew

printable recipe here

Inspired by Amor Towles and a Latvian Stew recipe from the website, A Little and A Lot


4 lbs (48oz) boneless pork shoulder

salt and ground black pepper

¼ cup (60ml) extra virgin olive oil.

1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

5 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoon tomato paste

6 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 tablespoon paprika

4 tablespoon all-purpose flour

5 cups (1183ml) water

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

7 oz dried apricots

7 oz prunes (dried plums)

½ cup (about 1oz/ 13g) chopped fresh Italian parsley


Cut pork into 2-3 inch pieces.

Trim any excess fat.

Lay the pork on a plate or baking sheet that has been lined with paper towels. Blot the pieces of pork on all sides with another paper towel to dry.

Sprinkle the pork on all sides with a generous amount of salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (232 degrees C).

Add oil to a large, heavy bottom, ovenproof saucepan or dutch oven.

Set it over medium high heat until the oil is very hot and shimmering.

Add the pork and cook, turning the pieces in the hot oil every so often, until the pieces are browned on all sides.

Remove the pork from the pan with tongs or a slotted spoon.

Add the chopped onion to the pan and cook over medium heat until soft and translucent.

Add minced garlic, tomato paste, and 1 teaspoon of salt.

Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

Add carrots and browned pork to the pan, stirring to combine.

Remove the pan from the heat.

Stir together the paprika and flour, sprinkle it over the meat and vegetables, and toss everything around in the pan to coat.

Put the pan in the preheated oven, uncovered, and let bake for 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir, and then bake uncovered for an additional 5 minutes.

Remove pan from the oven.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C).

Add 5 cups of water and worcestershire sauce to pan.

Stir, being sure to scrape up any brown pieces from the bottom of the pan.

Set it over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.

Stir in the dried apricots.

Cover the pan and place back in the oven.

Let cook for 1 ½ hours.

Remove pan from the oven and stir in prunes.

Cover, place back in the oven, and cook for 1 hour longer - OR, until the meat is very tender. (NOTE: Although the original recipe says to cook for another hour, it was tender much before the second hour was over, and bubbling a lot, so I lowered the temperature to 200, added a little more water and let it cook for another hour at the lower temperature, waiting for my guests to arrive. It was perfect.)

Remove the pan from the oven and taste; add more salt if needed.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.




Sunday, March 5, 2023

Butternut Squash Tart

Sometimes the best meals come from digging around in the refrigerator to clear things out just before a trip. A few days before leaving on a recent trip to London, I roasted a piece of butternut squash that had been hanging out in my fridge for a while, and combined it with some other flotsam and jetsam on the shelves, including a leftover piece of fontina cheese, half a container of ricotta and a bit of heavy cream. The combination of ingredients turned out to be an inspired match, and I won't be waiting for leftovers to make this again. Start out by cubing the squash and roasting in the oven with olive oil and seasoned salt at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until softened. Note: I used only about half of this in the tart.

Make sure you blind bake (prebake) the crust so you don't end up with a soggy bottom.

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and gently pour into the tart shell, then bake it for almost a half hour.

The results are creamy, cheesy and wickedly good. It's nearly the same as a quiche, but the ricotta brings it some extra oomph. Serve with a salad on the side for a complete meal.

Butternut Squash Tart

printable recipe here


2 cups butternut squash cubes, roasted in the oven at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, with a drizzle of olive oil, and sprinkling of seasoned salt.

3/4 cup ricotta

2 eggs

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 cup grated fontina (or Swiss, mozzarella or cheddar)

salt, pepper to taste

a small bit of fresh parsley, minced

pastry shell, homemade or store-bought


Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Make or buy the pastry and place in a 9" tart pan.

Prick the dough in the pan, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes

Place a greased sheet of aluminum foil in the tart shell and place pie weights inside (I use a combo of beans and rice that I've had for more than 30 years.)

Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the aluminum foil and pie weights and bake another five minutes.

With a whisk, beat the eggs with the ricotta, cream, seasonings, salt and pepper, parsley and cheese.

Place the tart pan on a cookie sheet (I spray mine first with PAM), and gently pour the filling into the prebaked tart shell.

Bake at 375 degrees F. for 30 minutes.

Raise heat to 400 and bake for another 5 minutes or until top is a little golden.