A quick look back at all the pandemic cooking I've done reveals a penchant for soup and sandwiches. Chiefly because it's easy and economical to keep ingredients for those dishes on hand. Good-quality rolls in the freezer, sliced cheese and deli meats in the fridge. For soups, I rely on a stock of vegetables that store well such as broccoli, parsnips and squash. Dry and tinned beans and tomatoes and some frozen vegetables, such as bell peppers, add variety to my soup-making endeavors.
Hot sandwiches prove magical. Think of the Italian beef, the French croque monsieur, a Rueben or patty melt, a shrimp poor boy. Heck, even a tuna sandwich can soar when served hot under a blanket of melted cheese.
A hot sandwich, individually wrapped and tucked into a 400 degree oven, makes it ideal fare to serve at our socially distanced get-togethers. This year, we move the cars out of the heated garage, open the big door and gather on folding chairs to visit with friends. Everyone brings their own cooler of beverages and I pass the sandwiches and mugs of steaming hot soup.
The hot and spicy submarine sandwich recipe that follows reminds us of the classic New Orleans-style muffaletta we first enjoyed there at Central Grocery. Layers of deli meats with a spicy olive relish on a crusty round loaf. Memorable, indeed.
At home, we layer nearly all combinations of thinly sliced cheese and fully cooked meats on crusty small sourdough rounds or square, chewy ciabatta buns. I usually include one layer of peppered salami or spicy capicola for texture and piquancy. A quick mix of chopped olives, celery, carrots and vinaigrette re-creates the marinated olive salad that makes the sandwich so distinctive. Use a refrigerated bottled olive spread to save time, if desired.
Grainy mustard and hot chile oil stirred into mayonnaise makes a zesty sandwich spread (or, try the combination on a fish fillet destined for the broiler!). Thinly sliced and rinsed red onion, along with a piece of a roasted, bottled red bell pepper, add flavor and texture to the warmed sandwich.
Broccoli soup does not need gobs of cream or melting cheese to taste good. The recipe that follows simply tastes like highly seasoned broccoli. The broccoli stays bright green when cooked, uncovered, in water. That water, which tastes beautifully of broccoli, forms the base of the soup. For a richer soup, swap out the water with low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth. A puree of most of the cooked broccoli gives the soup body; pieces of cooked broccoli add texture.
To stick with the theme of the sandwiches, I add a small amount of Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning to the boiling broccoli. A quick look online shows us that there are many choices for a Cajun or Creole seasoning blend. I also like Louisiana Fish Fry Cajun Seasoning and McCormick's Perfect Pinch Cajun Seasoning. Read the labels and purchase ones without artificial ingredients. Then taste a little on a spoon so you're heat-aware before you sprinkle with abandon.
Tame the heat in the finished soup with a drizzle of olive oil or cream and some crumbled cheese. Or, swirl in some toasted pistachio or walnut oil for a restaurant-quality flourish. Perfect, even if you are dining in the garage!
Hot And Spicy Sub Sandwiches With Olive Relish
Prep: 30 minutes / Cook: 15-20 minutes / Makes: 4 hearty sandwiches
These sandwiches taste great on sourdough rolls, pretzel rolls or everything bagels.
cup simple red wine vinaigrette, see recipe (or best-quality bottled)
cup thinly sliced assorted pitted black and green olives
2 to 3 tablespoons minced celery
2 to 3 tablespoons minced carrots
1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard or spicy brown mustard (not yellow mustard)
1 to 2 teaspoons hot chile oil or red pepper hot sauce
4 ciabatta rolls (total 12 ounces)
8 thin slices Black Forest or other smoky ham (total 4 ounces)
8 thin slices havarti or provolone cheese (total 4 ounces)
12 thin slices peppered salami or hot capicola (total 3 ounces)
small red onion, very thinly sliced, well rinsed
1 roasted red bell pepper (bottled is fine), rinsed, sliced into 8 strips
8 thin slices roast turkey breast deli meat (total 4 ounces)
1. Mix red wine vinaigrette, olives, celery and carrots in a small dish. (Refrigerate covered up to several days.)
2. Mix mayonnaise, mustard and chile oil in a small dish. (Refrigerate covered up to several days.)
3. Split rolls in half horizontally. Remove some of the bread from the inside of the tops of the rolls. (Save excess bread pieces for another use.) Spread the mayonnaise mixture over the cut side of the bottoms of the rolls.
4. Layer the ham on the bottoms of the rolls. Top with the salami and 1 slice of cheese. Top with red onion, roasted pepper, then the second slice of cheese. Top with turkey.
5. Spoon the olive mixture over the insides of the tops of the rolls being sure to moisten the inside well. Put the tops of the rolls in place. Wrap each sandwich well in a large square of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
6. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put sandwiches (still wrapped in foil) in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until nicely heated through, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot with plenty of napkins.
SIMPLE RED WINE VINAIGRETTE:
Mix 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon smooth or grainy Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon thyme and several grinds black pepper in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well. Let stand at room temperature up to 2 days or refrigerate for several weeks.
Nutrition information per serving: 818 calories, 45 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 91 mg cholesterol, 66 g carbohydrates, 4 g sugar, 31 g protein, 2,014 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Green And Spicy Broccoli Soup
Prep: 15 minutes / Cook: 10 minutes / Makes: 6 cups, 4 servings
If desired, replace water with 6 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth for a richer soup. Toasted pistachio or walnut oil tastes great here in place of olive oil or cream.
3 broccoli crowns, about 1 pound total, OR 6 cups small broccoli florets (12 to 14 ounces)
6 cups water OR low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 to 1 teaspoon spicy Cajun or Creole seasoning blend (such as Tony Chachere's Original Creole seasoning blend)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil OR heavy whipping cream
Crumbled cheese, such as mild goat cheese, feta or farmer's cheese
Sliced green onions
1. Separate broccoli florets from the stems. Cut florets into bite-size pieces. You should have 4 very full cups. Slice the stems very thinly. You'll have about 2 cups.
2. Heat 6 cups water or broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Add broccoli stems and seasoning blend. Cook uncovered, 2 minutes. Stir in broccoli florets. Continue cooking, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until broccoli is fork-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat. Scoop out and set aside about 1 cup of the cooking liquid — you'll use this for reheating.
3. Use a slotted spoon to transfer about two-thirds of the broccoli to a blender. (You may need to work in batches depending on the size of your blender.) Add a couple ladles full of the cooking liquid remaining in the pan to the blender. Cover with blender lid and then place a towel over the lid to prevent hot liquid from splashing about. Puree smooth. Return puree to the saucepan with the remaining broccoli and cooking liquid.
4. Reheat soup to a gentle simmer. Add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to give the soup a light cream consistency. Season to taste with salt if needed. Serve in deep bowls or mugs drizzled with oil or cream. Garnish with cheese and onions.
Note: You can use an immersion blender to nearly puree soup. Be sure to leave some pieces of broccoli visible.
Nutrition information per serving: 84 calories, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 3 g protein, 62 mg sodium, 2 g fiber