A Lighter Shade of Gray

Sunday afternoon was chilly and rainy, but this is Seattle in January, after all, and rain is to be expected.  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t see a whole lot of daylight on weekdays, so the siren song of the outdoors was irresistible.  Suited up in running jacket and hat and gloves, I set off around Greenlake.   

I turned my face up to the watery gray sky, greedy for any vitamin D that came my way.  Dodging puddles and jacketed dogs, I passed squadrons of busy ducks, quacking and bustling and poking around in the wet grass.  The trees dripped.  Mist floated off the lake in tulle wisps.  The rain intensified, turning hard and sideways and stinging, but I didn’t care.  I picked up my pace and breathed the damp air all the way down to my toes, then exhaled a trail of steam like a cartoon train.  Some days I could run forever…

But when I was finally done, dripping wet and rapidly cooling to a shivering clammy state, there were two things I wanted, and both steaming hot: a bowl of soup and a bubble bath. 

While the bath was running, I had a bowl of my friend Rob’s Pork-a-leekie Soup, a riff on traditional Cock a Leekie Soup, with an Asian feel.  Mad culinary genius that he is, Rob has created the perfect warm-up-after-cold-run soup.  Light, brothy, and unexpectedly full of flavor, this soup banishes the cold without resting too heavily on a post-exercise tummy.  The pork meatballs are little islands of zing that make it substantial and satisfying. 

Rob’s recipe makes a large enough batch to share (luckily for me!) but could easily be halved or even quartered.  With his kind permission, I’m giving you his recipe in his own inimitable words. 

Rob’s Pork-a- leekie Soup

(Serves several)

Ingredients:

  • 4 x 32 oz box of low sodium free range chicken broth or a corresponding amount of homemade broth + water
  • 7 leeks
  • 1 head of celery or celery heart
  • 1 package thyme
  • 1 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 heads of garlic
  • 2 lbs ground pork
  • 6 or so strips of bacon, (in my case center-cut bacon)
  • Sea or kosher salt
  • Pepper, and plenty of it
  • Barley (optional)

Take your strips of bacon and use some kitchen shears to cut them into thin strips.  I cut once length-wise and then into about 1/2 inch or so strips.  Needlessly, as it turned out, but you will be more disciplined than I was and not be starving when you start to make this.

Fry it on up.  Crispy.  Then put it on a plate with a paper towel to soak up the grease.  DO NOT EAT IT ALL BEFORE YOU CAN PUT IT IN YOUR SOUP.  That was for your own good.

Meanwhile, put an entire head of garlic through a garlic press (although, you know, a clove at a time).  Add that to the 2 lbs of ground pork.  Chop up 2 or 3 tablespoons of thyme, add that.  Add some sea salt and far too much pepper.  You want each of these little pork meatballs to really pop in your mouth so too much pepper is exactly enough.

Make leetle pork meatballs with them all.  Put them in the pan with your delicious bacon grease, you probably will need to turn the pan down while you do this as it takes a little bit of time to turn 2 lbs of pork into tiny leetle pork meatballs.  Totally worth it, though.

So, once you’ve got them all going, fry them up.  You may need to do it in batches.  I had a 12″ risotto pan full of them, and had to add a few after the first few shrunk down a bit.  Fry them up, toss and turn them a bit, put a lid on so they all get cooked through. Partway through you’ll want to dump out some of the liquid.

Take the meatballs out when done and put them on the dish that formerly held bacon.  That was a trap. You ate the bacon, didn’t you?  You may need another plate if you have some restraint. Same deal, though, paper towel to pull off any excess grease. Yadda yadda yadda.

OK, now take your leeks.  You’re going to cut off the tough part of the leek (so you just have the usual white and greenish-white good bits).  Slice that part once length-wise in half, then rinse out any dirt or grit. Then cut them into little half-moons about 1/4 inch wide or so.

Take the celery. If you bought a whole head, get rid of the outer stems and just use the more delightful inner ones.  Same thing, but them into little half-moons, discarding the tough bits at top and bottom.

Slice a couple cloves of garlic, or put them through the press if you want.

Put all that into the pan with the leftover bacon/pork meatball grease.  Sweat all the veggies.

Once you’ve got them sweaty, then dump in one of the things of broth. Cook it long enough to have gotten all the delicious pork cruft off the bottom of the pan.  Dump it all into your large stock pot.  Add the rest of the broth and a sachet with a ton of thyme and Italian flat-leaf parsley. Heat it until it’s just boiling.  Turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes or so, so the herbs have a chance to embiggen the broth taste.  Add the meatballs to the leeky broth somewhere in there.  Probably 10 minutes of meatballs in the simmering broth will heat them up just fine.  Taste the broth and add salt and pepper to taste.  Pull the sachet out, squeeze it as you do for extra tastiness.  Serve it up.  4 of 5 meatballs to a bowl.

The idea is kinda like wonton soup or something with a tasty broth with light vegetables and then these little pows of sweet, delicious pork.

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