Six-and-a-half years ago, Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan’s husband Maxwell started a blog called Apartment Therapy. His mission is ‘helping people make their homes more beautiful, organised and healthy by connecting them to a wealth of resources, ideas and community online’.
When the blog began, Sara Kate was a food writer. She says, ‘We both believe that if you talk about the health and vitality and style of the home, you cannot ignore the kitchen and the cooking that goes on there.’
She began writing a weekly food column for Apartment Therapy. ‘When I had time, I wrote more. I was also doing freelance print writing. At a certain point we held our breath and took the leap for a dedicated cooking site. That was five years ago. We haven't looked back.’
And so began The Kitchn, an inspiring blog filled with food information, recipes and kitchen tours. With more than one million readers, it is obvious that many of us believe that a kitchen is central to our feelings about home.
For Sara Kate, her favourite kitchen is the one she cooks in now; ‘It's where I feed my family every day. It's not fancy. I have a pretty crappy 24" stove and a small refrigerator, one drawer, two upper and one lower cabinet all along one wall. Then a long Ikea butcher block for chopping and serving. But from it I sustain my daughter's life and her love of food, so for that reason, it wins.’
‘My least favourite kitchen was probably the one I had in a shared apartment before I was married. Roaches, ants, you name it. New York City shared living at its best.’
Having a small kitchen means that Sara Kate is forced to ‘pare down constantly. I don't have anything that I don't use.’
What she loves most about the kitchen is it’s ‘(tiny) skylight’. ‘I can watch the sun pass, sometimes a full moon, and pelting rain. I also love that the "bar" (butcher block) allows people to be in the kitchen with me without being in the way.’
Anytime is a good time to be in her kitchen; ‘Whenever something is cooking. Also, that time when the sun passes over the skylight. The light is magic.’
Although the family has a small, round dining table, they have most of their meals at ‘the bar’.
Since becoming a mother, Sara Kate’s feelings about her kitchen have not changed. ‘It has only reinforced my belief that cooking is one of the most important things we can do for our children.’
For Sara Kate, the kitchen will always be the heart of the home; ‘It feeds us. We need that to be alive, and we also get so much pleasure from it.’
As for a favourite meal to cook in her kitchen? It’s Sara Kate’s mother’s Italian Wedding Soup.
‘When it comes to soups, I can easily say I have a hands-down favorite. My vote for this soup is heavily influenced by nostalgia; it was one of the first real meals my mother fed me when I was a baby. The legend is that I'd slurp it loudly and the broth would dribble down my neck and into my clothes.
The recipe was handed down to my mother, and adapted at each stop, from a man named Fran, whose daughter was my first babyhood friend. I don't really remember Fran — he passed away when we were still tiny — but he lives within me every time I make this soup. Now I feed it to everyone — from my own little person, who also slurps and dribbles it, to Saturday night company, who usually use a napkin.
We always call it Italian Escarole Soup, but it's also known as zuppa di scarola, or Italian Wedding Soup because it is a traditional course at Italian nuptials. It is simple to prepare, but has enough flourishes — herby meatballs and a last-minute addition of cheesy egg ribbons — to make it special enough for guests.
Italian Wedding Soup is highly adaptable; try other greens like kale (as I did in the photo below) or chard, add grated lemon rind to the meatballs and some lemon juice to the broth for brightness, or consider spicing it up with some ground red pepper flakes added with the onions and garlic.’
Italian Wedding Soup
3/4 pound ground organic meat (chicken, turkey, pork or beef)
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
3 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese, divided
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups chicken stock
1 bunch greens trimmed and torn into bite-sized pieces (about 6 lightly packed cups)
Combine the ground meat, bread crumbs, 1 egg, 1/4 cup of each cheese, oregano, salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix thoroughly, then form the mixture into 3/4-inch to 1 1/2-inch balls. You should have 20 to 30 meatballs, depending on how large you form them.
In large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium high heat. Add the meatballs in batches, and cook, turning, until browned all over, 3 to 5 minutes. (If they are still a bit pink in the middle, don't worry, they will continue to cook in the broth.) Set them aside on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
In a 4 to 6 quart soup pot, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until onions are tender and garlic is soft, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the greens, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the meatballs and cook another 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine remaining 2 eggs and remaining cheeses in small bowl and stir with a fork to blend. Slow pour the egg mixture into hot soup, stirring constantly. Cover and simmer just until egg bits are set, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and black pepper, maybe even a squirt of lemon juice, and serve immediately in a low bowl if possible so the meatballs are visible.
To re-heat, simmer gently over low heat.
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Sara Kate also has a new recipe book coming out next week, February 1st. Good Food to Share is available here.
Photos of Sara Kate and her kitchen © Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan
Photo of Italian Wedding Soup and recipe reprinted courtesy of The Kitchn