On Friday, with so much zucchini/tomatoes/onions/spinach/chard in my kitchen I didn’t know where to put it all, I called an emergency after-work minestrone party. I made two batches: one in a giant pot, and another in the slow cooker. (The secret to minestrone that does not turn to mush in the slow cooker: add the zucchini, pasta and greens during the last half hour.) This kind of soup hardly warrants a recipe: saute onion, celery and carrots, add garlic, then a drained can of kidney beans (or black-eyed peas) and one or two thin-skinned diced potatoes, chicken stock and a bunch of chopped overripe tomatoes (or toss in any whole ones that might be lurking in your freezer) or a can of diced (or stewed, or whole) tomatoes, bring it all to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are just tender. Add a chopped zucchini, a handful of green beans with their stems trimmed off (if you have them), a handful of small pasta (I used ditalini) and tear in a couple handfuls of greens – spinach, chard or kale. Cook for another ten minutes or so, until the pasta is tender. If you have a Parmesan rind, this is the soup pot to toss it in. A spoonful of pesto is delicious too.
But. This is not what I’m showing you. I’m showing you the warm garlic-cheese buns that are perfectly suited to soup season. They’re essentially cinnamon buns, brushed with garlic butter and scattered with aged cheddar (or Gouda or Parmesan) cheese instead of the usual cinnamon-sugar goo.
You can assemble them the night before and let them rise in the fridge, or make the dough an after school project that will come to fruition just as dinner arrives at the table, making a meal of vegetable soup far more exciting.
Wind, rain and sleet? Fear not.
Garlic Cheese Buns
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk, warmed
2 large eggs
5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups grated aged white cheddar or Gouda
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
To make the dough, put the warm water in a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer) and sprinkle with the yeast and a pinch of the sugar. Let stand 5 minutes, or until foamy. (If it doesn’t foam, toss it and buy fresh yeast.)
In a small bowl, mix the warm milk and eggs together with a fork. Add to the yeast mixture along with 3 cups of the flour and the remaining sugar; mix until well blended and sticky. Add the butter and remaining flour and stir or beat with the dough hook attachment of your stand mixer until you have a soft, sticky dough; knead for about 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic. It will still be slightly tacky. Place back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for an hour, or until doubled in bulk. Melt the butter in a small dish and add the garlic; set it aside to infuse the butter.
To make the buns, divide the dough in half, shape each into a rough square or rectangle (this will make it roll out more evenly) and on a lightly floured surface, roll into a rectangle that’s about 10×15-inches (or slightly bigger, even) and about 1/4-inch thick. Brush each piece with half the melted butter (including the chunks of garlic – or not) and scatter with grated cheese.
Starting on a long side, roll the dough up into a log, and using a serrated knife, cut it crosswise into thirds. Cut each piece into thirds – this is easier than eyeballing it to get 9 even pieces. Place cut-side-up into two 8 or 9-inch round pans, placing one in the middle and the rest around it, or in an 8×8-inch or 9×9-inch square pan in 3 rows of 3. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for another hour, until doubled in bulk. (If you’re making them the night before, cover and place in the fridge for a slow rise; take them out and leave them on the countertop for 1/2 hour or so before baking.)
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F. Bke for 30-40 minutes, until deep golden. Let cool for 5-10 minutes, but invert onto a plate while still warm. Seve warm.
Makes 1 1/2 dozen garlic-cheese buns.