Inspiration through authors and gardens

I was lucky enough to spend the day with a bunch of great authors this weekend at The Word on The Street in Toronto. A day to celebrate everything literary from kids books to cookbooks. I was the stage programmer for the Cooks ‘n’ Books stage that included favourite Canadian authors like Food Network’s Mark McEwan, Cityline’s Massimo Capra, Michael Bonacini and Jason Parsons, along with other great authors like Claire Tansey from Chatelaine Magazine and Guelph’s own Betty Bakopoulos as well just to name a few.

I feel so fortunate to work in an industry that has amazing people who have the passion and desire to get people in their kitchens and cooking for their friends and family. Publishing cookbooks is not an easy task and many people will tell you that. So once you have a cookbook and people buy it and enjoy it- that is great cause for celebration. A lot of big names produce cookbooks to go along with their television shows and also to continue a franchise of their brands but most simply create cookbooks to share their desire for cooking delicious dishes. Listening to these cooking demonstrations is a wonderful experience because you get to hear stories and tales of personal experience with work or family and how recipes came to be and why many people want to make them. So many recipes are truly inspired by the ingredients themselves and what they can become once mixed together. Almost like a cookbook, it becomes one because recipes are mixed together and shared.

With all this knowledge I had gained it made me think about what was in my refrigerator and how I could be inspired to cook something. It is my job to develop recipes, but it is my true passion and love of food that drives me to create them, cook and eat.
My friend Gail told me that she was taking care of her neighbour’s garden and it needed to be shared as they are away for awhile and they told her to help herself and share the large crop from their garden. I got the call and I went. I was jealous to say the least, that I did not have such a lush garden with tons of vegetables that needed to be eaten. Beets, leeks, peppers, beans, herbs, lettuces, greens, the list goes on. We went in and plucked from the fresh dirt leeks, beets with fresh tall stalks of red Swiss chard and crisp green peppers and little hot chili peppers. What I gathered a bit more of was the variety of bitter greens like dandelion, escarole and hearty frisee as those strong flavours I adore this time of year. After returning home with this harvest I needed to clean and tidy and put them away as I had a busy weekend ahead of me.
So I decided after all the inspiration of the authors and this incredible selection of greens I would make something hearty and heartwarming. It is getting cooler outside and for me that is a for sure sign of soup. I was pretty cold on the weekend while running around making sure cooking demonstrations and authors had what they needed so I knew a soup would warm me up. I was inspired by my own Italian heritage as well to create a hearty tomato and greens soup that I hope you try with your own few twists and be inspired by your favourite cookbook authors and their stories and recipes to create your own memories in your kitchen.

Tomato and Greens Bread Soup

This soup uses a lot of hearty garden vegetables with some bacon in it. For a vegetarian version simply omit the bacon and add 1 can (19 oz/540 mL) of your favourite beans, drained and rinsed.

What to use for chopped greens? I used a variety of dandelion, escarole and frisee. For something less bitter you can use spinach, Swiss chard or even romaine lettuce. Each time you make the soup, you can vary the flavour by using different greens.

2 tbsp (25 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1 pkg (175 g) extra lean Canadian back bacon, chopped
1 leek, white and light green part only, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 small sweet banana pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp (10 mL) dried oregano leaves
¼ tsp (1 mL) hot pepper flakes
6 cups (1.5 L) chicken stock
1 can (19 oz/796 mL) crushed or diced tomatoes
8 cups (2 L) chopped greens, lightly packed
2 cups (500 mL) chopped day old bread
¼ cup (50 mL) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

In soup pot, heat oil over medium high heat and cook bacon for 2 minutes. Add leek, peppers, garlic, oregano and hot pepper flakes and cook, stirring for about 5 minutes or until softened. Add stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Stir in greens and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until greens are tender. Stir in bread and cheese and cook for 5 minutes or until bread is soft.

Makes 8 servings.

Tips: Look for the extra lean Canadian back bacon in the aisle where you find regular strip bacon. Or try it with leftover ham instead.

For added spicy heat use a hot banana pepper or increase the hot pepper flakes.

For a chunkier soup use the diced canned tomatoes.

I used a day old baguette that was just a bit hard on the outside but still soft inside, which is perfect for this kind of soup.


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