Sopa Seca

You could say that my cooking these days hasn’t been very inspired. For example, there are elder trees currently sprouting tons of elderflower all over my neighborhood, which really excited me at first. Especially considering that Nigel Slater (one of my favorite cookbook authors) seems to use the little white flowers with abandon. But when the weekend came and I could leave Teddy at home with Matt in order to do some solo foraging, it no longer sounded like fun. Suddenly it became just another task on my to-do list.

But then, while going through my archive of cooking magazines, I came across this article on Diana Kennedy, which got me excited about cooking in a way I haven’t felt since first reading MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf or Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking. Of course, I’ve heard of Diana Kennedy and have flipped through her cookbooks at bookstores, but I guess I didn’t realize that she is still alive and cooking (now in her nineties) and that she’s spent the last 32 years living off the land in Michoacán in an adobe house the article’s author describes as “beautiful but not at all grand, more like a thing that sprang from the rocky soil than a structure built by human hands, surrounded by evergreen forest and vegetable gardens heaving with produce.” And last but definitely not least, I didn’t know that she drives a Nissan pickup truck, a small detail perhaps but when coupled with the outfit she’s wearing in the above photo, it made me feel almost as if I knew her. Or at least, it makes me want to know her.

Of course, I’m sure that much of my attraction also stems from the fact that her independence and what one might refer to as culinary chutzpah reminds me of my grandma.
It’s funny. When I set out to write this post, I thought it was going to be about Teddy (duh) and how he’s changed so much in the past two weeks—rolling over, cracking up, being even more adorable than I thought possible. And then I was just going to casually if not abruptly mention Matt’s exciting new venture, Heirloom Lab, a full-service, independent production studio aimed at working with individuals to create lasting records of personal histories, memories, and messages for the sake of preservation, celebration, and posterity. (Check out their site and you’ll get the idea.)
But as I’m writing this, I’m thinking about how cool/amazing it would be to go to Michoacán and get some footage of Ms. Kennedy in her kitchen (both her indoor and outdoor one, obviously.) I’m also thinking about part of Matt’s impetus for starting Heirloom Lab, which was being able to capture my grandma in the kitchen with me just two and a half weeks before she died.

In the days after her death, as my family mourned, my mom kept thanking Matt for the footage of Grandma; and, in fact, she ended up playing the video at the end of Grandma’s widely-attended memorial service, which took place at the church she was a member of for over 60 years.
Point being, I’m really thankful for this recipe, which tasted like Mexican spaghetti. In fact, next time I make it, I might try it without frying the noodles in the canola oil and instead just boiling them to al dente and then tossing with the spicy sauce. (Not sure that Ms. Kennedy would condone this kind of adaptation.)
Second point being, Teddy and I are off to the bookstore with the aim of buying one of her cookbooks for me and perhaps another installment of the Madeline books for him. Any recommendations? Right now I’m leaning toward My Mexico.
Sopa Seca very slightly adapted from Saveur 
serves 4

¼ cup canola oil, plus more for greasing
8 oz. fideos or rice noodles, broken into 3" pieces
3 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed
½ small white onion, roughly chopped
½ cup chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup crumbled Cotija
¾ cup crema or sour cream
2 tbsp. minced cilantro
sliced avocado mashed with a bit of salt and lime (not included in the original recipe, but I added it because I'm a stereotypical Southern Californian who puts avocado on everything)

Heat oven to 350°. Grease an 8" x 8" baking dish with oil; set aside. Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, add broken pasta and cook, stirring, until lightly browned and toasted, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain; set aside.

Purée chipotles, garlic, tomatoes, and onion in a blender until very smooth, at least 2 minutes. Return skillet to heat, and add tomato purée; cook, stirring constantly, until almost all liquid is evaporated, about 18 minutes. Add stock, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add noodles, stir to combine, and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to baking dish, and cover with foil; bake until pasta is tender and sauce is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes.

Divide among serving plates, sprinkle with Cotija, and drizzle with crema; sprinkle with minced cilantro before serving.


Matthew said...

At first I thought this was going to be weird, but it's not. It's totally awesome. Also, thanks for the Heirloom Lab shout out!!! yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy xoxoxox

Brands family blog said...

What a beautiful entry. I'm taking my daughter to the library tomorrow and will be sure to drop by the cookbook section for one of Kennedy's books. Thanks for the tip!

Wendy said...

Oh, you'll have fun. I bought Regional Mexican Cooking yonks ago, and it was so hard to find the ingredients then. Like, chipotles in adobo in Massachusetts. But totally worth the perseverance. And no, I don't think Diana Kennedy is much for "adapting." But oh well.

Mary Anne said...

That looks FREAKING awesome. I am sooooo hungry for Mexican, I am practically dreaming of tacos al pastor. Speaking of inspiration for taking that trip to Mexico to film and cook with DK, did you see the video Mark Bittman made of cooking with Marcella Hazan in her kitchen in Florida, just a week or so before she died?

Anonymous said...

This looks delicious, and what a great post! It made me realize that while I have plenty of photos of my loved ones, I don't really have much/any video footage. I should make it point to take some videos the next time I visit relatives. And to cook this for them, because I'm sure they'd love it!

Anonymous said...

I love Diana Kennedy! I've been using her Mexican Cooking book for 30+ years. She rules. Love your blog, too!

tannaz sassooni said...

beautifully written, amelia. i love this.

also, more from diana kennedy. she is awesome.

KK said...

i've been doing a lot of uninspired cooking as well lately, and this just inspired me to at least make a trip to the grocery store today.

melissab said...

yum, looks delish.
and, good luck to your husband on his photography stuff!
a year or 2 ago, i found diana kennedy in the stacks of my local library (in a book, of course), and totally loved reading about the foods and culture. so, i ordered "the essential cuisines of mexico."
thanks for the inspiration to get it out of my cupboard.

Ileana said...

Wow, I didn't realize Diana Kennedy was still around and cooking either. I've never heard of sopa seca but it looks really interesting.

I love that picture of your grandma. And I love the idea for Heirloom Lab!

Shelley said...

That red close-up was a little too close for me, but the baby picture is a classic. A classic.