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50 Women Game-Changers (in food): #25 Paula Wolfert - Poor Man's Bread, Kale, and Black Pepper Soup

the "Gourmet" prompt...
25. Paula Wolfert- The guru of the Mediterranean, Wolfert writes a clinically precise, exuberantly flavorsome recipe, and had a hand in bringing couscous, braised lamb shanks, ratatouille, tapenade, and a bunch of other things to your corner bistro.

Wolfert is another "game-changer" who I will admit...I knew nothing about.  At least I'd heard of her, though. Since I frequent the cookbook section at my local library, I've cozied up with a few of her books in the past.  That said, I don't think I've ever brought one home with me or cooked from one before.  But now that I've had an enormously heavy and precariously teetering stack of them hanging around at my "work station" for a couple of weeks, I don't want to give them back.  This happens more often than I'd like to admit.  Though I almost went with some homemade Harissa this week...and longed to have stacks of clay pots in different shapes and sizes for making one of her tempting clay pot meals...I decided to go with a simple soup.  It was a delicious escape in the midst of Thanksgiving dinner preparations.
photo by Sara Remington

Since I'm writing this in a bit of a rush...and her story is long, endearing, and worth checking out, I'd like to direct you over to Paula Wolfert's website to read an article about Wolfert originally written by Josh Sens for San Francisco magazine.  How can you resist a story with this opening paragraph...

"On a sunlit afternoon at her home in the Sonoma hills, Paula Wolfert surveys the collection of clay pots that colonizes her kitchen so completely, the overflow spills into every corner and closet. Moroccan tagines crowd her shelves and cupboards. Turkish guvecs adorn her counters. Small earthenware vessels,stocked with aromatics, occupy the spice drawers across from her six-burner stove."

It's not something I could resist.  And neither was this simple rustic soup chock-full with ribbons of lacinato kale, the hint of porky goodness, and a toasted country bread rubbed with garlic that sucks up the flavorful broth like a brand new sponge.
Poor Man's Bread, Kale, and Black Pepper Soup
"In Florence they put bread in their soup and here we put soup on our bread."  ~from a waiter in Siena to Wolfert
slightly adapted from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen
serves: 3-4

1 lb. Tuscan kale
1¼ oz. pancetta, chilled or frozen
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. minced onion
2 large garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
5 c. water/broth/stock
6-8 slices of dense, dry country-style bread + 1 garlic clove
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated Parmesan
Stem, wash, and finely shred the kale to make ~5½ cups.  Use a large-hole grater to shred the pancetta to make ~3 Tbs.

Heat olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the pancetta, onion, and garlic and cook until soft and golden, ~5 minutes.  Add the kale, turning to mix, and cook for a few minutes more.  Add 5 cups water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and cook slowly for ~20 minutes, or until kale is very tender.  Season to taste with salt.

Toast or grill the slices of bread and rub with the cut side of a garlic clove.  Divide among bowls.  Ladle the greens and liquid into each bowl and garnish with a generous drizzle of olive oil, ¼ tsp. black pepper, and as much freshly grated Parmesan as you like.  Let settle for ~10 minutes and serve with extra cheese and pepper.
In May '11, Gourmet posted a list of 50 Women Game-Changers (in Food) that runs the gamut from food writers to cookbook authors to television personalities to restauranteurs to chefs to food bloggers.  Some are a given.  Some are controversial.  Speaking the names of some brings fond childhood memories.  Speaking the names of others will make some readers cringe.  And of course, some of our favorites were not even included.  We food-lovers are a passionate bunch of people and whether we agree or disagree, every woman on this list has earned her place for a reason.  Being a woman who is passionate about food (cooking, eating, talking about, writing about, photographing), when I caught wind of Mary from One Perfect Bite's idea of cooking/blogging her way through each of these 50 per week...I knew I wanted to join her.  Many of these women paved the way for us in culinary school, in the kitchen, in cookbooks, in food writing, and on television and I think it is a fabulous way to pay tribute to their efforts.  Some of the women on the list have been tops with me for years.  Some I have heard of (perhaps even seen, read, or cooked from) before.  And there are even a handful that I am not familiar with at all.  I excited to educate myself on each of these women game-changers and hope you look forward to reading along.  We are going in order from 1 to 50.
Who is cooking along with these 50 Women Game-Changers?

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