Saturday, March 01, 2008

Richard Olney's Soupe au Pistou (Page 107)

  • Date: Sunday, February 24, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companion: Brian and Nathan
  • Recipe Rating: B-


It was chilly and rainy when I was in California last weekend, and Em suggested soup for dinner on Sunday. I quickly chimed in with, "We could make soup from The Book!" and sold her and Brian on this vegetable soup. While we were eating it, their friend Nathan showed up and Brian greeted him with, "Hey, want some mediocre soup?" That pretty much summarizes it. There is a reason that most soup recipes start with some kind of broth or stock. Even if the stock is vegetarian, in contributes a slow cooked depth of flavor that water obviously does not. This recipe was a water-based recipe though, which was largely responsible for everyone's major complaint about it: bland. Bland, bland, bland. Everything that went into it was delicious, and nothing about it tasted bad, but even with handfuls of salt added it was still bland. The one saving grace was the pistou (a French version of pesto) which was garlicky and delicious. Even the recipe for the pistou was odd though. I only ended up adding half as much oil as they indicated and it was already way too much. The only way to give the soup any flavor at all was to stir in huge quantities of the flavorful pistou. Unfortunately, the pistou was so oily that then your soup was covered in a small oil slick. Not particularly appealing. This recipe could easily be altered to give something tasty. The soup could start from a chicken (or even vegetable) stock and the veggies could be browned before they are added. Finally, the pistou could be made with about a third as much oil as is called for. With those adaptations I think this soup could be quite good. As it is, it's inoffensive, but bland!

This recipe isn't online.

My students had their midterm exam this morning. I didn't write this exam -- it was departmental, meaning that all 1500 students in this class this semester (of which I have 80) took the same exam. It was 20 multiple choice questions, which made it fantastically easy to grade. In fact, I think grading took me less than 20 minutes! The students did less well than I expected them to... I take comfort in the fact though that no one in my section got less than a 20% (that would be discouraging -- on an exam which is all multiple choice with 5 choices each, you could earn a 20% just by guessing!). The lowest score I heard from other sections was a 10%. Sad. Very sad. Truth be told, although I had no one below 20%, I did have a 20%. I also had a student sleep through the exam. Actually two students, but one of them woke up in time to still make it to part of the exam. The other, though, apparently woke up after the exam was over (at 10:30am). Whoops. I haven't quite figured out what to do with her yet. On the one hand I think, "Damn irresponsible students!" but on the other hand, I slept through an exam once too... Yup, very embarrassing. It was at Stanford and I don't know what happened. It was the final exam for some Political Science class I was taking to meet general education requirements. I was done with all of the finals I was worried about, and apparently I was really tired. I shut off my alarm without waking up, and when I finally did wake up, the exam was halfway over. Luckily Stanford exams were 3 hours, and by the time I got there I had a little more than an hour to do it -- plenty of time! I think it affected my performance on the exam not-at-all, but I still remember the look that the professor and TAs gave me when I came running in more than an hour and a half late. Whoops. So maybe I should have some mercy on my student... As of yet undecided...

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