Food is Love, Love is Food.

A blog devoted to the connection between meals, memories and the special moments in our lives.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day: Madelyn Durkin Brennan's Irish Soda Bread

I am half Irish and half Italian.  My coloring is very fair, like my father, who was Irish, whereas my sister has darker hair, eyes and skin tone, like my Italian mother. Subsequently, growing up, she was referred to as 'The Italian One,' and I was 'The Irish One.'  At the time I liked this, because it was another connection to my father, who was beloved by everyone who knew him, and who died when we were young. My mother embraced all that was Irish, and helped us to get to know our Irish heritage and celebrated it always.  As a result, she loves St. Patrick's Day better than anyone I know. 

Growing up, we attended Catholic school and wore uniforms each day.  St. Patrick's Day was the one day of the year that we were allowed to embellish those uniforms.  As there were many kids of Irish descent in our school, there was a lot of embellishing.  We wore green carnations, green socks, boys wore green ties, and just about everyone, it seemed, had a button that said "Kiss Me I'm Irish."  Imagine my surprise, when in sixth grade, Sister Francis Claire actually did just that!  It was perhaps to that point in my life, my most embarrassing moment.

My husband is 100% Irish, so our children, of course, are mostly Irish.  My cousin Kerry moved to Ireland many years ago, and was married outside Cork City in 2008.  It was kind of her to provide us with an excuse to make the trip to Ireland.  All of my aunts, uncles and every single cousin on the Irish side of my family made the trip, all of us on the same airplane.  We went to pubs together, we saw the city and the countryside, we had T-shirts made.  We were quite embarrassing, but it was the trip of a lifetime because we were all there together (more than 28 of us)! We missed those who were not with us; my Nana and Grandpa,  my Auntie Nancy, my Uncle Jimmy and Auntie Kathy, and my dad, but we toasted them well and often, and we carried them in our hearts then and always. 

When we were younger, we usually visited with my Irish Nana around St. Patrick's Day, and although I loathe corned beef and cabbage, I always looked forward to the Irish soda bread she made. As a kid, I did not appreciate the caraway seeds, but as an adult I have come to enjoy them. Here is her recipe.  It is a very moist bread, and with or without the caraway seeds, delicious. Serve with Irish butter for a real treat. These days, my husband and I have Reuben sandwiches for dinner on St. Patrick's Day (corned beef, cabbage in the form of sauerkraut), but I still make Nana's Irish soda bread.

Madelyn Durkin Brennan's Irish Soda Bread
3 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tbs caraway seeds (Unless you don't like them)
1 cup of raisins (I like a mix of regular and golden raisins)
2 eggs
2 cups sour cream
2 Tbs melted butter

Hand mix dry ingredients / liquid ingredients in separate bowls. Combine and add a bit more flour to form 2 mounds. Form the mounds, smooth a bit.  Sprinkle some raw or demerara sugar on top, if desired (this will give it a bit of a crunch on the top).
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Taste of Summer in Winter: Pappa al Pomodoro (Tomato Bread Soup)

If you have ever dipped a piece of bread in a pot of spaghetti sauce, this recipe is for you.  It is apparently the typical after school snack of children in Tuscany, and let me tell you, it beats milk and cookies by a mile. I have run across similar recipes, and have always been intrigued, but until now, have never made it.  It almost seemed too delicious to have for supper, a guilty pleasure for an adult in the same way that having pancakes for dinner might be for a child.  With the right tomatoes, it is a bright taste of summer in the middle of this drab winter, and it is exactly what we needed last week.  I used tomatoes that I had canned last summer, and they were perfect.  You could wait until summer to try pappa al pomodoro, or you could spend a few dollars extra and buy some San Marzano tomatoes, which I think would be almost as good as really good home-canned ones.  Add some fresh basil and some fresh ground pecorino romano, and it really is seriously awesome.

Pappa al Pomodoro (Tomato Bread Soup)
Adapted from Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux

1 medium loaf day old rustic Italian bread, crust removed and cut into cubes
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, or canned plum tomatoes
5 large garlic cloves, sliced very thin
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2-2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup fresh torn basil leaves
extra virgin olive oil for garnish

Put the tomatoes through a foodmill or in a blender to create a chunky puree.  In a large saucepan, saute the garlic slices in the olive oil for a few minutes.  When it is just about to turn golden, place the bread in the pot, and sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the chicken stock over the bread cubes.  Stir to coat the bread in the garlic and oil.  Add the pureed tomatoes, a large pinch of salt, and another cup of chicken stock.  Stir every five minutes or so as the soup comes to a simmer,  After 30 minutes, taste the pappa, add salt if necessary, and add more chicken stock if the consistency is not right.  It should be a mush; not too liquidy.  When ready to serve, add the basil, and serve in small bowls, sprinkled with pecorino romano cheese and drizzled with olive oil.