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I'm happiest when the food I make becomes a backdrop to a lively conversation. When I'm not cooking, I'm traveling or dreaming about travel. Come sit with me, and enjoy! Read more here.

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« candied citrus peels: a holiday treat for anytime of the year | Main | gnocchi with chanterelles and sage butter »

kale and barley soup with guanciale: office lunches have never been so good

It’s a dilemma for office workers everywhere: How to warm up your lunchtime soup without turning the microwave into a scene from Hatchet Meets Hellraiser II. There are various, unsavory methods, such as wrapping plastic tightly over the top (and watching the soup explode and drip down the sides of the plastic and then pool at the bottom glass tray), or placing a plate on top of the bowl, which has the same volatile, messy effect.

My company has two microwaves for every 80 – 100 people. In an office of nearly 500, lunchtime is busy. There is no time to make a mess. For months, I skulked out the back alley and plunked down $6 a day for sushi at our local buffet counter but as the winter months set in and our budget got tighter, I wanted a hot meal for less than $3. That meant finding a way to make soups, carry them in, and heat them properly without messy explosions.

Thankfully, with Google championing my cause, I found a solution. Meet the Corningware soup mug with a vented plastic lid on top, which I bought on Amazon for $8.99.

The special lid allows you to cover it for transport and open while heating. I can now enjoy hearty soups at work without the mess.

This delicious, earthy soup draws its flavors from rich, homemade beef broth and guanciale, Italian pork cheek, which you can order online. But pancetta will work well too.

Good cooking is only half of the equation when reheating lunches in the office. Thankfully, with my well-designed soup mug, meals at the office have never been so good.

Kale and Barley Soup with Guanciale

4-5 slices (about 6 – 8 ounces) guanciale or pancetta
1 cup barley
1 medium bunch kale, chopped into small bits
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
1/2 head cauliflower, broken into small pieces
1 onion, diced
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can garbonzo beans, drained and rinsed
3 sprigs marjoram, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pinch red pepper flakes
8 cups homemade or high quality beef broth plus 2 cups extra water*

In a large soup pot over medium heat, saute gaunciale in the olive oil until the fat turns translucent. Add the marjoram, garlic, red pepper flakes and saute about a minute longer. Add the onion and saute for three more minutes. Next add the stock, tomato paste, vegetables, and barley, and simmer over low heat for about an hour. About 10 minutes before the soup has finished cooking, add the chickpeas.

*You can make your own beef broth by roasting about three pounds of pure beef marrow bones (straight portions of leg bones that contain marrow) with one carrot, one onion, and one stalk of celery, roughly chopped, for about 35 - 40 minutes. When the vegetables start to caramelize, remove them from the oven and add the vegetable/bone mixture to 10 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for two hours. Remove the bones and vegetables from the liquid and add the broth to the soup.

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