Almost six years ago (December of 2004 to be exact) I graduated from college. I’d completed all my course work. I’d landed a great job in my field. I’d done everything I could to prepare myself for the real world, yet so much remained uncertain. With my friends still in school and living in the dorms (I’d graduated a semester ahead of my peers) I had nowhere lined up to live, and concerns over whether my entry level salary could cover more than a cardboard box. My mind hummed with questions and very little in the way of answers. Would my new co-workers like me? Could I hack it? Would I be able to survive living entirely alone for the first time ever? It was enough to keep a girl up at night, and it did. Looking back I see a time that should have been about new beginnings and promise, but instead was about uncertainty and fear.
In the weeks leading up to my new job and my move I packed up the belongings in my childhood bedroom. Boxes and plastic totes carefully labeled for the trek across half the country in the back of my Volkswagen Jetta. I tried to prepare as much as I mentally could. But mostly, I filled out recipe cards.
I copied recipes from my mother’s recipe box, tried and true favorites from my childhood, some passed along from her mother, others ripped out of newspapers or magazines. I borrowed some from cookbooks from the library, most reflecting the kind of food I loved at the time – pasta and lots of it. With all I had to get done for my move and my “big girl” life ahead it may seem like a useless activity. I never psychoanalyzed it at my time, never saw it as much more than a break from the packing. But now, looking back I cannot help but wonder if it wasn’t a small pocket of comfort. There was so much in my life then that I couldn’t control (And all these years later I’ve realized that there will always be SO much I still cannot.) but at least, with a little preparation I could ensure I could eat well.
I’ve since entered most of these recipes into my computer, but I kept many of the index cards. I still pass over them from time to time, remembering what a different place I was in at the time and how much I have grown and changed. This recipe was one of the ones I scribbled and took. It’s a creamy, indulgent wild rice soup that has been made in-house for as long as I can remember at an upscale grocery store in my home state of Minnesota. I’m sure my mother got the original recipe out of the newspaper as it long predates the internet. It’s simple to make and oh so comforting, perfect for these cool fall evenings. The ham, carrots, and wild rice are harmonious together in the creamy broth with the occasional, yet perfectly punctuated crunch of the almonds. I’ve also made it with shredded roasted chicken in place of the ham and it’s equally delicious.
This time, to give it a slight twist of my own I used salty pancetta in place of the ham.
-6 tablespoons butter
-1 tablespoon minced sweet onion
-½ cup flour
-3 cups low sodium chicken broth
-2 cups cooked wild rice
-1/3 cup minced ham or pancetta
-½ cup finely grated carrots
-3 tablespoons chopped slivered almonds
-½ teaspoon sea salt
-1 cup half-and-half
-2 tablespoons dry sherry, optional
-Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and stir-fry until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Blend in flour until well combined with butter and onion; gradually add broth. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil; boil 1 minute. Stir in rice, ham, carrots, almonds, and salt; simmer about 5 minutes. Blend in half-and-half. Add sherry, if using. Heat to serving temperature. Season with freshly ground black pepper to taste. Garnish, if desired, with minced parsley or chives.