The Alphabakes blogging challenge, organized by Caroline of Caroline Makes and Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker, who is this month’s host, is a favourite of mine. I have long cherished a weakness for recipe collections presented along alphabetical lines. My very first cookbook, I recall, was a compilation of children’s recipes, put together by Gold Medal Flour, that was organized from A to Z. The concept delighted me then; it still delights me now.
And with such a bounty of culinary resources on the grocers’ shelves, the challenge of finding a recipe that starts with a certain letter or prominently features an ingredient starting with that letter, is not particularly onerous. Personally, I think that trying to decide on just one recipe is the hardest part.
Last month, for example, the letter was O. I made oat biscotti, but plenty of other ingredients beginning with O were also clamoring for the spotlight, such as olives, oregano, oranges, and orecchiette. (Somehow all of these ingredients seem to point to Italy, and yet I used oats, a distinctly northern crop, to make my biscotti. In retrospect, this seems quite paradoxical.) And if you expand into recipe titles and foreign dishes, the scope becomes truly vast.
Except when it comes to the letter X.
X, which is this month’s letter, has undoubtedly killed numerous clever A-to-Z projects that might, but for the singular modesty of this letter and its decided dislike for placing itself before its fellow members, have eventually been presented to the public. This time around, I felt, Alphabakes definitely merited the name of “blogging challenge.”
Drawing the letter X in December was a fortuitous happening, as it allowed for the use of “Xmas” in the recipe title—provided, of course, that this term is included in your vocabulary. It has no part in mine. Aside from the deeper issues involved, it also happens to be the most unsightly word I’ve ever come across. I had no intention of featuring it in the name of my recipe.
Yes, there are, as some sleuthing on the Internet proved. I found myself confronted with the choice of several recipes from far-flung locations such as Portugal and India, most of them unpronounceable and all of them interesting.
I eventually decided on the one that I could pronounce: Xavier soup. It is a dish traditionally served on the feast day of St. Francis Xavier, which takes place earlier in the Advent season, on December 3rd. This was enough of a connection to the Christmas season to please me, and I greatly enjoyed making the recipe.
It is a simple dish of parmesan-and-parsley dumplings floating in a clear broth, warming and hearty enough for a main dish, yet still light and elegant. I especially liked the grassy note from the parsley. Parsley is so often relegated to mere plate decoration that I had almost forgotten that it had a flavour. I suspect that it will probably always be served at my house on December 3rd from now on.
And for future reference, another stumper, Z, is one of the few letters that has yet to be drawn for the Alphabakes challenge. So it’s bound to come up within the next few months. This recipe, in its original language, would be zuppa di Xavier. Just a thought.
Barely adapted from Cooking With the Saints by Ernst Schuegraf
Ingredients:1 ½ cups flour ½ cup heavy cream ½ cup butter ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated ½ teaspoon kosher salt ½ teaspoon ground black pepper A grating of fresh nutmeg 2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks 1 tablespoon chopped parsley 10 cups chicken stock Additional chopped parsley for garnishing
- Line a large baking sheet with well-buttered parchment paper. Fit a sturdy piping bag with a large round tip.
- In a medium saucepan, over low heat, work the flour, cream, butter, and cheese into a soft dough.
- Remove the pan from the heat and beat in the salt, pepper, nutmeg, eggs, yolks, and tablespoon of chopped parsley.
- Spoon the dough into the piping bag and squeeze out 1-inch lengths onto the prepared pan. Use a butter knife to separate the dough from the tip once you’ve piped out shapes of the proper length.
- Let stand for 30 minutes.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In another, smaller saucepan, warm up the chicken stock.
- Drop one third of the dumplings into the boiling water, and boil until they are tender and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the heated chicken stock.
- Repeat process with the remaining dumplings.
- Once all the dumpling are cooked and in the chicken stock, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with additional chopped parsley. Serve immediately.
Yield: 8 servings