A quick look back at all the pandemic cooking I’ve done reveals a penchant for soup and sandwiches. Chiefly because it’s easy and economical to keep ingredients for those dishes on hand.
Quality rolls in the freezer, sliced cheese and deli meats in the fridge. For soups, I rely on a stock of vegetables that store well such as broccoli, parsnips and squash. Dry and tinned beans and tomatoes and some frozen vegetables, such as bell peppers, add variety to my soup-making endeavors.
Hot sandwiches prove magical.
A hot sandwich, individually wrapped and tucked into a 400-degree oven, makes it ideal fare to serve at our socially distanced get-togethers. This year, we move the cars out of the heated garage, open the big door and gather on folding chairs to visit with friends. Everyone brings their cooler of beverages, and I pass the sandwiches and mugs of steaming hot soup.
The hot and spicy submarine sandwich recipe that follows reminds us of the classic New Orleans-style muffaletta we first enjoyed there at Central Grocery. Layers of deli meats with a spicy olive relish on a crusty round loaf. Memorable, indeed.
At home, we layer nearly all combinations of thinly sliced cheese and fully cooked meats on crusty small sourdough rounds or square, chewy ciabatta buns. I usually include one layer of peppered salami or spicy capicola for texture and piquancy. A quick mix of chopped olives, celery, carrots and vinaigrette re-creates the marinated olive salad that makes the sandwich so distinctive. Use a refrigerated bottled olive spread to save time, if desired.
Grainy mustard and hot chile oil stirred into mayonnaise makes a zesty sandwich spread (or, try the combination on a fish fillet destined for the broiler). Thinly sliced and rinsed red onion, along with a piece of a roasted, bottled red bell pepper, add flavor and texture to the warmed sandwich.
Broccoli soup does not need gobs of cream or melting cheese to taste good. The recipe that follows simply tastes like highly seasoned broccoli. The broccoli stays bright green when cooked, uncovered, in water. That water, which tastes beautifully of broccoli, forms the base of the soup. For a richer soup, swap out the water with low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth. A puree of most of the cooked broccoli gives the soup body; pieces of cooked broccoli add texture.
To stick with the theme of the sandwiches, I add a small amount of Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning to the boiling broccoli. A quick look online shows us that there are many choices for a Cajun or Creole seasoning blend. I also like Louisiana Fish Fry Cajun Seasoning and McCormick’s Perfect Pinch Cajun Seasoning. Read the labels and purchase ones without artificial ingredients. Then, taste a little on a spoon so you’re heat-aware before you sprinkle with abandon.
Tame the heat in the finished soup with a drizzle of olive oil or cream and some crumbled cheese. Or, swirl in some toasted pistachio or walnut oil for a restaurant-quality flourish. Perfect, even if you are dining in the garage.
Hot and Spicy Sub Sandwiches with Olive Relish
Prep: 30 minutes. Cook: 15-20 minutes. Makes: 4 hearty sandwiches.
• ¼ cup simple red wine vinaigrette
• ¼ cup thinly sliced pitted black and green olives
• 2 to 3 tablespoons minced celery
• 2 to 3 tablespoons minced carrots
• ¼ cup mayonnaise
• 1 tablespoon Dijon or spicy brown mustard
• 1 to 2 teaspoons hot chile oil or red pepper hot sauce
• 4 ciabatta rolls (sourdough or pretzel rolls, or everything bagels)
• 8 thin slices Black Forest or other smoky ham
• 8 thin slices havarti or provolone cheese
• 12 thin slices peppered salami or hot capicola
• ½ small red onion, thinly sliced, well rinsed
• 1 roasted red bell pepper, rinsed, sliced into 8 strips
• 8 thin slices roast turkey breast deli meat
1 Mix red wine vinaigrette, olives, celery and carrots in a small dish.
2 Mix mayonnaise, mustard and chile oil in a small dish.
3 Split rolls in half horizontally. Remove some of the bread from the inside of the tops of the rolls. Spread the mayonnaise mixture over the cut side of the bottoms of the rolls.
Layer the ham on the bottoms of the rolls. Top with the salami and 1 slice of cheese. Top with red onion, roasted pepper, then the second slice of cheese. Top with turkey.
Spoon the olive mixture over the insides of the tops of the rolls. Put the tops of the rolls in place. Wrap each sandwich in a large square of foil. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
6 Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put sandwiches (wrapped in foil) on a baking sheet. Bake 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.
Simple Red Wine Vinaigrette
Mix 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon thyme and several grinds black pepper in a jar. Shake well. Let stand at room temperature up to 2 days or refrigerate for several weeks.
Green and Spicy Broccoli Soup
Prep: 15 minutes. Cook: 10 minutes. Makes: 6 cups, 4 servings.
• 3 broccoli crowns or 6 cups small broccoli florets
• 6 cups water or chicken or vegetable broth
• ½ to 1 teaspoon spicy Cajun or Creole seasoning
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or heavy cream
• Crumbled cheese (goat cheese, feta or farmers)
• Sliced green onions
1 Separate broccoli florets from the stems. Cut florets into bite-size pieces. Slice the stems thinly.
2 Heat 6 cups water or broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Add broccoli stems and seasoning. Cook uncovered, 2 minutes. Stir in broccoli florets. Continue cooking, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until broccoli is fork-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat. Scoop out and set aside about 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
3 Use a slotted spoon to transfer about two-thirds of the broccoli to a blender. Add a couple ladles of the remaining cooking liquid. Cover with blender lid. Puree smooth. Return puree to the saucepan with the remaining broccoli and cooking liquid.
4 Reheat soup to a simmer. Add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to give the soup a light cream consistency. Season to taste with salt. Serve in deep bowls or mugs, drizzled with oil or cream. Garnish with cheese and onions.
JeanMarie Brownson writes for the Chicago Tribune.