2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 lbs. beef soup shanks
1 can chopped tomatoes with chilies (10 oz.)
1 can tomato sauce (8 oz.)
6 quarts water, preferably bottled
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
5 carrots, peeled and chunked
3 small yellow squash, coarsely diced
3 cups green cabbage, chopped
1 can baby lima beans (16 oz.)
1 can yellow whole corn (16 oz.)
1 can cut green beans (16 oz.)
1 can early young peas (16 oz.)
3 medium red potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large root turnip, diced
2 Tbsp. minced parsley
1 lb. pickled meat, washed and trimmed of fat
1 cup acini pepe or alphabet pasta, pre-cooked
Salt and black pepper to taste
3/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced for garnish
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
Drizzle of olive oil for garnish

Place a heavy 8 to 10 quart stockpot over a medium fire, drop in the ground beef and the finely chopped onions, and fry them down stirring continuously until the onions wilt and the beef just beings to brown. Then add to the sauteing beef the soupshanks (with the bone left in) and stir everything together well, so that the hot beef quickly sears the shanks.

Then, one ingredient at a time, add to the pot the chopped tomatoes, the tomato sauce, and the water, along with the onions, celery, carrots, squash, cabbage, lima beans, whole corn, green beans, green peas, potatoes, turnips and parsley. When everything is in the mix, stir, stir, and stir again so that the soup blend is uniformly combined.

Now, bring the pot of soup to a rolling boil. . .but immediately reduce the fire to low. It is at this point that you want three things to happen: (1) Drop in the pickled meat and stir it into the soup (it will intensify the flavor subtly but significantly); (2) Do not allow the soup ever again to 'hard boil' (keep the simmer gentle it will keep the broth clear and clean tasting); and (3) Cover the pot (to keep the flavors locked into the soup). Two hours of cooking stirring occasionally will produce a magnificent flavor; but three hours is the ideal time to allow for the stock to extract concentrated essences from both the beef and the vegetables.

Finally, about 10 minutes before you're ready to eat, season the pot with salt and pepper to taste (maybe even a little touch of crushed red pepper as extra spice) and stir into the soup the mini-pasta. All that's left is to ladle out hot, hearty helpings in deep soup bowls, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of sliced green onions, and a dusting of Parmesan cheese. And for the epitome, serve each bowl next to a short stack of country-fried cornbread. This is comfort food for the dead of winter on those cold January nights; but then I really don't know anyone who'd throw this out even in the dog-days of summer!

So what are you cooking today?

Chef Notes:

Be sure to wash the cure off of the pickled meat before adding it to the soup; otherwise you will have a nasty-looking scum form on the top of the soup which you will laboriously have to skim off.

It is not necessary to drain off the scant amount of oil which renders out of the ground beef. Of course, if you use a fatty grade of ground meat, then you need to drain it!

If your butcher can't cut you soup shanks, you can use lean boneless chuck roast instead. Just remember that the chuck will be a lot more oily than the shanks, so be prepared to skim the excess fats from the soup.

In addition to the salt and black pepper, you can intensify the soup flavor by spicing up the pot in the final few minutes of cooking by sprinkling in a little of my Frank Davis Vegetable Seasoning or Beef Seasoning.

It is perfectly acceptable to serve the soup the minute it's done. But like all good 'N'Awlins' dishes, this tantalizing creation will be better tomorrow than it is today! So if you can wait. . .?

Oh, you're gonna want to know how to make Country Fried Cornbread, huh? Well, you take a big ol' bowl and a wire whisk and whip together 1 beaten egg, 2 cups of buttermilk, 1/4 cup corn oil, 1/3 cup of all purpose flour, 1-1/2 cups of plain yellow corn meal, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of salt just until it's smooth (don't overwhip!). Then you heat up a non-stick skillet until a drop of water dances off in a sizzle, pour in a scant amount of extra corn oil just to glaze the pan, and ladle in the cornbread mix in portions about the size of coffee table drink coasters. Cook them on one side until little craters appear in the top of the pan bread and the bottom side turns golden brown; then flip them over and continue to cook them until they stop steaming and the flip side browns too. All it all, it's like making pancakes but crispy ones!