Nov 252013

With all the fuss about the Thanksgiving bird and all the sides, we too often neglect to talk about what to do with the turkey carcass. Personally, I look forward to it all year. Here’s why, as told to Molly O’Neill, who first published my recipe in her  Cook ‘ Scribble blog three years ago.

Turkey Escarole Soup with Sizzling Olive Oil Croutons, by Julia della Croce  Photo: Nathan Hoyt

My Turkey Soup with Escarole, Parmigiano, and Sizzling Olive Oil Croutons. Photo: Nathan Hoyt

It all started with my mother, who didn’t believe in passing lasagne or big bowls of macaroni and meatballs at the Thanksgiving table like many Italian-American families did when I was growing up in New York. She and my father were native Italians and she always cooked an all-out American feast as a tribute to her adopted country. It was a dazzling spread, but my favorite part of the meal, believe it or not, was the turkey carcass. It held the promise of the turkey and ecarole soup that appeared only once a year, on the day after Thanksgiving. Call it American-Italian fusion—turkey broth with a faint hint of the sage and celery dressing, topped with sizzling olive oil croutons and shavings of parmigiano. We loved it so much that we forewent excavating every morsel of stuffing from the crannies of the cavity and saved the wings and even the drumsticks for the soup pot. The aim is meaty soup with a whalloping flavor.

Turkey Soup with Escarole, Parmigiano and Sizzling Olive Oil Croutons

For 8 people

The proportions in the recipe below are approximate. For larger or smaller birds, adjust the quantities of vegetables in order to get a rich broth and the fullest flavor possible. Because I like a clear soup, I strain the stock, reserving the meat and some of the vegetables for another use. If you prefer, you can pick some of the meat off the bones and return it and some of the solids to the soup after straining. Keep in mind that you need to leave enough room to drop the escarole into the steamy brew during the last few minutes of cooking.

Note: We are using so-called “pure” olive oil here rather than extra-virgin because it is has a higher smoke point, making it suitable for frying.

fresh carcass of one 10-lb. Thanksgiving stuffed turkey as described above

wings and drumsticks from the bird, if available

2 carrots, peeled and quartered

2 onions, quartered

3 celery stalks with leaves, cut up

big handful fresh parsley, stems and leaves

1bay leaf

water just to cover

1 small head (1-1/4 pounds) escarole or curly endive

sea salt

2 cups or more, diced dense, country bread (1/2-inch dice)

“pure” olive oil or a combination of extra-virgin olive oil and vegetable oil for frying

freshly milled black or white pepper

1 cup freshly shaved or shredded parmigiano-reggiano or grana padano cheese for topping

1. Put the carcass, wings and drumsticks, if using, carrots, onions, celery, parsley, and bay leaves in an ample stock pot and cover with no more than 1½ to 2 inches of water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Immediately lower to a gentle simmer and cook, partially covered, until the meat is falling off the bones and the vegetables are cooked, about 1 hour. Skim the foam whenever it forms on the top. The broth should cook gently for the entire cooking time, never returning to a boil.

2. While the broth is simmering, remove and discard any wilted outer leaves of the escarole.  Cut off the tough bottom and trim off any brown spots.  Wash the escarole well to remove any sand trapped in the leaves. Cut into ribbons 1/2 inch wide. Set aside.

3. When the broth is done, cool it slightly. Skim off as much of the fat as you can and strain the soup once to remove the large pieces and strain again through cheese cloth to create a clear broth. Return the broth to the heat.

4. While broth is warming, heat enough of the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet to reach about 1/2-inch up the sides of a frying pan. Fry the bread cubes until they are crisp and golden on both sides. Use a mesh spoon to transfer the croutons onto paper towels and set aside them aside in a warm place. When the soup boils, immediately stir in the shredded escarole. Reduce the heat and cook for 2 minutes. Taste, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Ladle the soup into serving bowls, top with the croutons and the shaved or shredded cheese.

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