Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Needle Soup

I was reading recently in the New York Times a fun article that encouraged me to eat my Christmas tree.

Well, maybe not the whole tree, but some of the needles. It seems that the recent interest in Nordic cooking - the latest fad - has brought evergreens into focus as an ingredient. I admit, I was intrigued.

Each year, when it's time to take off all the baubles and lights and drag the poor, brittle tree out to the curb to be ignominiously cut up and stuffed into the green bin, I feel a little sad and guilty.

It took several years to grow what was a splendid tree and in less than a month it is reduced to a tired, browning husk of its former self. I love having a Christmas tree and I probably won't stop until I'm too weak to drag one home or too poor to bribe some college kid to do the dragging for me, but there always comes that sad day.

Now, here was an article that said I could at least salvage a few meals out of the tree, a sort of nose-to-tail eating for the evergreen set. So, when we cut the tree up, I saved some of the greenest tips with soup in mind.

Sausage and bean soup, with pine needles. Or, actually, fir needles because, in my view, if it's not a Douglas fir, it's not Christmas.

I chopped and browned and brothed and simmered but the bad news is that I have to admit that the evergreen tang I was hoping for was not there. Either my tree was too dry, I used too few needles, or Douglas firs are not ideal for culinary adventures. I'm still intrigued and I will keep experimenting with the fresh needles off evergreens I pass on my dog walking routes. The good news is that the soup was delicious anyway, so I'll go ahead and give you the recipe in case you're in a mood to try something similar.

Needle Soup with Sausage and Swiss Chard

3 fresh garlic sausages, about 1/2 pound in all
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1-2 ribs of celery chopped, with the leaves
1-2 large carrots, chopped
1 16oz can white beans (I use Navy beans out of sentiment)
1 16 oz can chopped tomatoes
6 (approx) cups chicken broth
1 Tablespoon fir needles, finely minced
3-4 large leaves of Swiss chard, roughly chopped (or you could use spinach, or other greens, but you'd probably need to cook the other greens longer to soften them)

In a large kettle or pot, heat the olive oil to shimmering. Squeeze the sausage out of its casing in little bibbits, sautéing them until nicely browned. Add the rest of the vegetables in this order: onion, garlic, celery, carrot, cooking each successive veggie for a few minutes over medium heat. Add the beans, tomatoes, chicken broth and fir needles, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to simmer for about an hour. Add the Swiss chard and cover until the chard softens and relaxes, perhaps 5 more minutes. Ladle into bowls.

You will need pepper but you may not need salt, depending on how salty your sausage is. With the tang of pine missing, you might want to add some rosemary, too. I'm imagining that they would taste similarly.


Blogger Greg said...

Yikes! While I salute your use everything spirit, pine on my palate equals turpentine. I even have trouble with rosemary. I'm going to salivate over the chicken below :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

I love the flavor of baby fir tips on newly growing boughs. So bright green, chartreuse, almost, and even a little citrussy in flavor.
That would probably work better in cooking than your old, dry Christmas tree needles.
And! Did you even think what kind of poisons might have been sprayed on the tree? Pesticides, fire-retardant...
Glad you are still with us! :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012  
Blogger kudzu said...

Be careful where you gather your needles (sprays -- both insecticide and from animals!) might have contaminated them. The best use of evergreens in comestibles I've encountered was tiny Doug fir tips, fresh and green, just one in the bottom of a glass of sparkling wine, very wintery and Nordic. (This was at my cousin-once-removed's Mendocino restaurant, the Moosse Cafe.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Greg, the chicken was worth salivating over but I'm determined to try some more evergreen ideas.

Cookiecrumb, okay, new tips it is! I was expecting that citrus zest you mentioned but I guess my tips were too old. And, yes, I did think about my tree not being exactly organic, but I figure we are exposed to stuff like that more or less daily in modern life, so I don't worry too much about it. And I washed the needles, of course.

Kudzu, over here there is little worry about chemical sprays - no one seems to care enough about their gardens to warrant spraying in Point Richmond. It's one of the things I like best about the Point, the laissez faire attitude toward weeds. On the other hand, animal "contamination" is very possible. ;-) I love your idea of adding fir tips to champagne - gonna try that, for sure. We got a bottle of sparkling wine as a holiday gift, so I'll try it with that. Thanks for the idea!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012  
Blogger Chilebrown said...

We went to a brewery in Oregon that used the just freshly sprouted tips in their beer. It still was a strech to like it. Actually Anchor Steam did the same thing. Same result. I will applaud you effort. Will pass though.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Chilebrown, you and Greg have the same feeling about evergreens as food. Do you know each other?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012  
Blogger Chilebrown said...

Maybe this is why you do not see evergreen tipw in any store that I know of.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Chilebrown, maybe it's just the wrong season for evergreen tips...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012  

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