Monday, September 27, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

It’s official; summer is over. Gone are the days of flip flops and Bermuda shorts, here to stay are hoodies and long underwear. It was our turn to cook lunch for the young adult group at church last Sunday, and we wanted to make something that reflected the change in season and warmed us from the inside out. Right about now the gardens go from offering all those tart, bright tomatoes to the heartier vegetables like squash, so that’s what we went with.

We made a creamy and spicy roasted butternut squash soup without using cream or milk. The key is making something called a velouté, which is basically a roux that’s thinned a little with stock to remove that raw flour taste and give your soup the thickness it needs. For those steering clear of dairy but love creamy soups this is a great technique to learn.

This recipe also calls for Five Spice, sometimes marked as Chinese Five Spice in stores. This little jar changed our lives (not really, but it’s still pretty cool). It’s a mixture of cinnamon, clove and other spices, which vary from maker to maker, but they all provide a sweet and spicy powder that’s great in everything from tempura batter to pumpkin pie. If you don’t have it, you should get it. If you don’t want to get it, I guess you could leave it out, but you don’t know what you’re missing.

As a finish touch, we recommend a dollop of sour cream, some chopped sage and a few homemade thyme croutons. We served our soup with bistro BLTs and used the heels of the bread to make these crunchy salty bites, and the recipes for both will be on another post.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Step One: Roast the squash:

About 3 pounds butternut squash (preferably 1 large squash)
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil 
¼ cup of water
2 tbl finely chopped fresh sage leaves
2 tbl granulated sugar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp of five spice (optional)

Peel, seed, and cube the squash and place in a bowl and cover with olive oil. In a saucepan, stir together water and sugar and boil to make simple syrup. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, sage leaves, salt and pepper and the five spice, if using. Pour over the squash. Place the squash on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes at 400 degrees until tender. Blend in a processor until smooth.

Step Two: Make velouté.

½ stick of butter
1/3 cup of flour
½ cup of chicken stock

In a pan melt your butter and add flour over medium heat to make a roux. After the roux has been mixed well add the stock. After the stock is well-incorporated set aside.

Step three: Make the rest of the soup already.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup onion, diced
½ cup celery, diced
½ cup carrot, diced
1 cinnamon stick
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

In a pot, sauté your onion, celery and carrot in olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the volute to the vegetable mixture and gradually add the rest of your stock. Add your butternut squash and mix until smooth. At this point you can add a cinnamon stick, extra salt, or cayenne pepper to taste. Cayenne pepper adds an extra kick and works well with the sweetness of the soup.

Let the soup simmer for about 1 hour. Before you serve or store, fish out the cinnamon stick. If you refrigerate make sure to add more stock or water when you reheat or it will be too thick. Serve in bowls, obviously, with a dollop of sour cream, chopped sage and croutons, if desired.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Herbs and Parmesan

Have you ever had one of those Saturdays where you had plenty to do, but decided early on nothing was gonna get done? That was me last Saturday. After a busy week, I didn’t want to spend a fortune at a restaurant or the grocery store for dinner. I needed something I could make with what I already had on hand but would still be delicious. Now, you don’t need one more person telling how important a well-stocked pantry is. However, a well-stocked pantry along with a garden with some of my favorite veggies and herbs saved me from shelling out major dollars and, for that matter, changing out of my jammies.

This dish has the classic pairing of fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil and cheese, but the residual heat from the pasta gives the tomatoes’ acidity an extra punch when you bite into them. Make sure they’re balanced well with the richness of butter and oil, and, of course, the more cheese the better.

Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Herbs and Parmesan

½ lb. pasta of choice (I used whole wheat linguine)
15-20 cherry tomatoes
1 bunch of basil
2 sprigs oregano
1 ½ cups grated parmesan cheese
Olive oil
2 tbl. butter
Salt and pepper

Boil pasta in salted water according to packaged instructions. In the meantime, slice the bigger cherry tomatoes in half and leave the smaller ones whole. Sprinkle them with salt and leave them to drain in a colander. Pick the leaves of basil and oregano and chop.

When the pasta is al dente, reserve some of the pasta water and drain. Transfer the pasta back to the pot and add the herbs, butter and a few cracks of black pepper.  Stir gently so as not to break up the pasta. Add some reserved pasta water to keep the pasta moist, but only a little at a time so it doesn't get water-logged. Add the cheese and stir until melted.

Transfer to plates and drizzle with olive oil. Top with more cheese and a few whole leaves of basil and serve.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Fresh Tomato Salad

We like to call this an "ode to Oliver". Jamie Oliver is a huge influence on our cooking style. Ryan starting watching his show "Jamie at Home" a few years ago. What he likes about this show is that it focuses on fresh, local ingredients. The idea is using everything that is indigenous to your area and refueling the local agricultural and food markets rather than ordering away for outsourced and often times over-preserved foods.

If you have taken on the challenge of growing a garden this year or at least have helped in maintaining one this recipe is for you. At the end of summer tomatoes are often (if it is a good year) everywhere and it is difficult to find things to do with them. There is the option of canning (which is a whole other subject) or making spaghetti....again. Fresh Tomato Salad is an easy, no nonsense way to impress your friends and watch your waste line. All you need is a few ingredients and a good glass of your favorite wine. A good paring would be Cabernet Savingnon (if you like red) and a Pinot Grigio (if you like white). Add your favorite cheese and eat up!

Fresh Tomato Salad

10-12 assorted tomatoes, big and small (The greater variety of types, colors and sizes the more interesting and flavorful your salad will be)

2 tsp. coarse salt

1/2 clove garlic, grated

Red wine vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil

3 oz. mozzarella cheese (or feta)

1 chile (salsa, fresno, or your favorite), seeded and diced

5-6 basil leaves

2 sprigs thyme and oregano

Fresh cracked pepper


Take the stems out of the bigger tomatoes and slice them however you like. I like to slice some, dice others and cut the rest into wedges. For smaller tomatoes, such as cherries, just cut them in half. Place all the tomato pieces into a colander and sprinkle with salt. Mix together and leave to sit in the sink for 10-15 minutes to let some of the excess moisture drain out of the tomatoes.

Put your drained tomatoes in a big bowl and add your grated garlic, diced chile pepper and a couple grinds of black pepper. Drizzle in enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the tomatoes and a few dashes of red wine vinegar and gently mix everything together. The ratio of olive oil to vinegar should be about like a salad dressing - 3:1.


To serve, place the bigger slices around the bottom of the plate, top with the remaining tomatoes and drizzle some of the dressing over them. Tear up some mozzarella or feta cheese and sprinkle on the salad. Rip up the basil leaves and let them fall over the salad. Take the thyme and oregano of their stems and do the same.

Serve in the middle of the table on its own or with some toasted bread. Goes will with roasted fish or pork.