Three Easy Squash Soup Variations on Second City Soiree

It’s winter and therefore, perfect weather for cozying up to a piping hot bowl of creamy, sweet and spicy, winter squash soup. Below is a recipe for the soup, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, then visit Second City Soiree for three easy ideas for garnishes that transform this one soup into three different but equally delicious variations.

  • 1 medium winter squash of your choice, be it butternut, sugar pumpkin, or kuri (pictured above), peeled, seeded, and chopped, yielding about 4 cups of 1 inch pieces
  • 1 large leek, trimmed of dark green and root ends, quartered length wise and thinly sliced. Place slices in a bowl full of water and stir around to release dirt. Use a strainer to remove leek pieces to drain.
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4-6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1-2 tablespoons of a mix of spices of your choice– I’m a fan of ground cinnamon, curry powder, cayenne, and ground ginger
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper

Spray a large glass or microwave safe bowl with cooking spray. Add the squash. Microwave on high for 7 minutes. Take bowl out and stir. If squash pieces are fork tender, you’re done. If not, microwave for another 3-7 minutes. Place a colander over a medium bowl and drain squash, reserving any liquid. Set aside squash and squash juice.

In a large soup pot, melt butter over medium high heat. When butter’s foam has subsided, add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally for 4-5 minutes. Add the squash and squash juice along with the spices and thyme. Cook for 10 minutes or until juices have evaporated and a fond has formed on the bottom of the pot. Deglaze with 1 cup of stock. Add another 3 cups of stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes. Puree using an immersion blender (or in batches of no more than 2 cups at a time in a regular blender, holding the lid down with a towel.) Add more stock to reach your preferred consistency then season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

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Peruvian Chicken Noodle Soup

In November 2009, John, our friend Doug, and I visited Peru to spend some time with John’s sister and her family and of course, to see Macchu Picchu. Home to hundreds of species of potatoes, this was a culinary haven to a carbohydrates addict like me. Meals frequently combined rice, potatoes, and corn. I could eat lots of carbs and not feel guilty about it since it was all part of enjoying the local food.

While in Cusco on our way back from Macchu Picchu, we stumbled into a restaurant off the main square that had more casual, local food, a welcome change after the various pizza, chop suey, and chicharrones menus accompanied with the offer of “all day happy hour for you” restaurants that had relentlessly sought our patronage in Aguas Calientes. For me in particular, I was on day 2 of treatment for food poisoning (done in by an avocado salad at a respectable restaurant, sadly not by some adventurous street fare) so I was wary about what I could test out on my still troubled stomach. I settled on a chicken soup and soon found myself in comfort food heaven: a rich and flavorful chicken broth brimming with soft vermicelli style noodles, strands of airy egg white, powdery chunks of potato, and bright with fresh cilantro. No wonder we love chicken noodle soup while sick.

We decided to get this same soup to go for John’s sister who was shut in at our hotel with her sleeping son. John looked up how to say “take out” in Spanish with our free iPhone Spanish dictionary app but something must have been lost in translation as the waitress brought out another steaming hot mini cast iron cauldron of the soup. Through hand gestures and more broken Spanish, we explained that we needed to take the soup to go with us, but the waitress shook her head and said she didn’t have any containers to do that. I then spotted our empty bottle of water, and thought that if we could carefully spoon the soup through the narrow neck, we could recap it and take it back to Anne to eat. Surprisingly skilled at this, I managed to fill the bottle about 1/3 of the way when the waitress saw us, shook her head as if to say, “Stupid gringos,” grabbed the bottle and the cauldron of soup from me then unceremoniously dumped everything into a plastic bag before handing it back to us with our bill.

Maybe it was the lasting impression of how comforting that soup was, but I was determined to recreate it to the best of my ability back home. It took a year and a half later with a return trip to Peru to remind me of that intention. Here’s my version– probably not at all authentic but still hits the spot: I used dried angel hair pasta, homemade chicken stock, peeled Yukon gold potatoes, and to add a little bit more protein, some shredded chicken breast. Spring has been slow in coming out here in Seattle, so I don’t mind having warm, chicken noodle soup even though it’s now May, but if it’s warmer out where you live, you still might consider making this soup. There’s just something about the bright yellows from the egg and the vibrant green of the cilantro that makes this a very spring-time soup to me. So make a pot, and I bet that there won’t be any leftovers to try spooning into a plastic bottle.

  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 2 chicken breast halves (about 1 pound), cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • handful (about 1/4 of a pound) angel hair pasta, broken in half
  • 3 eggs, beaten with a 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch of ground cumin
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, plus more for serving.

In a large soup pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Reduce the heat to barely a simmer, then place the chicken pieces in the stock and cover the pot with a lid. Poach until chicken is cooked through about 10-15 minutes. Remove chicken from stock to a plate to cool slightly. Add the potatoes and bring stock back up to a gentle boil. Cook for about 7-8 minutes then add pasta and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes or until pasta is cooked through and potatoes are tender, falling apart when touched with a fork but otherwise holding their shape. While boiling the potatoes, shred the chicken meat with two forks then return to the pot. Pour in the egg and cornstarch mixture while stirring soup with a wooden spoon to help egg form strands. Add cumin and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cilantro then ladle soup into bowls, topping with more chopped cilantro if desired.

Albondigas Soup

Albondigas is a Mexican soup: a spicy, tomatoey broth that simmers around soft meatballs made with beef, pork, and rice. This sounded so perfect, so warm, so comforting to me when I found myself craving soup while sick with a cold recently.

Straying from tradition, I made my meatballs with ground chicken since that’s what I had on hand. I grated some onion and garlic and mixed it into the chicken meat along with a handful of uncooked, short grain rice, some cilantro, and some spices. I then chopped up some carrots, celery, onion, and potato for the soup base that was made with chicken stock and fire roasted tomatoes, along with a special ingredient:

Smoked almonds! I ground them up in a food processor before adding them to the soup, hoping that they’d give the soup some body along with enhancing the smoke flavor of those charred tomatoes. Then plop, plop, plop! I set the meatballs into the soup to let them simmer and cook through. No extra mess of browning in a pan of grease. Simmering the meatballs in the broth did several things: it imparted more meaty flavor to the stock, softened the rice in the meatballs so that it was tender, and made the meatballs themselves soft like dumplings. Topped with a handful of fresh cilantro, this soup with its subtle heat and bright flavors, was the perfect twist on chicken noodle soup when sick.

Albondigas Meatballs

  • 13 oz ground chicken
  • 1/2 small white onion, grated
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic, grated on a rasp or finely minced
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup uncooked short grain rice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 medium stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 medium jalapeno, diced (seeds removed if you’re a wuss)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (yields about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 small red potatoes, diced
  • 4 cups chicken stock plus 2 cups water
  • 14.5 oz can fire roasted tomatoes with green chiles
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 oz smoked almonds, ground in a food processor
  • hot sauce to taste
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

In a large bowl, combine meatball ingredients and mix with your hands until just combined. Roll into 1 inch meatballs and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium high heat. Add onions, carrots, celery, jalapeno, and garlic and saute until onion has softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add potatoes, chicken stock, water, fire roasted tomatoes with their juices, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and ground almonds. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Gently add meatballs and continue to simmer for 30-35 minutes or until meatballs are cooked through. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste. Serve in bowls, garnished with fresh cilantro.

Fish Chowder

As I was unpacking my purchases from a local produce stand yesterday, I realized that if there’s one thing I tend to overstock in our house, it’s potatoes. Our kitchen table, home to bowls of neatly organized fruit, citrus, and onions (as well as the mail and appliances I’m too lazy to put away) was also littered with several bags each containing 2-3 greening potatoes. Oops.

I admit it’s because each week I buy more potatoes than I need to compensate for the ones leftover from the previous week that I see are turning that unfortunately shade of green instead of creamy yellow. So I suppose I should either get better at estimating how many potatoes I actually will need or start making more things that use more potatoes.

More things that use potatoes… well, chowder certainly comes to mind. I made this one with chunks of beautiful wild salmon and Pacific halibut– firm fleshed fish that could retain texture after poaching in a broth that combined clam juice and chicken stock and had thickened from the starches of boiled potatoes. Also adding flavor to the soup was a base of celery, onion, and garlic cooked in some rendered bacon fat and butter. Using half and half and the bright flavors of fresh dill helped to lighten this chowder a bit rather than making it a pot of thick and heavy wallpaper paste. Finally, a garnish of crispy bacon pieces added salt and subtle smoke as well as pleasant crunch to all that softness. Have a pantry full of potatoes? Then add them to a soup pot and warm up with a bowl of fish chowder.

Note: Use any firm fleshed fish that looks good in the store that day, but being a good, Seattleite, I of course say that with the caveat of it being sustainably harvested. If you have some available, feel free to substitute fish stock for the combination of chicken stock and clam broth.

  • 4 ounces thick cut bacon, diced
  • olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced (about 1.5 cups)
  • 3 medium celery stalks, diced
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme or savory or a mix of both
  • 1 large fresh bay leaf or 2 small dried ones
  • 4 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into about 1/2 inch dice
  • 14 oz clam broth
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 3 pounds mix of wild salmon and Pacific halibut, bones removed and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 to 1.5 cups half and half
  • salt and pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

Add diced bacon and about 1 teaspoon olive oil to the bottom of a Dutch oven or large soup pot. Cook over medium heat until bacon is crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat in the pot. Add the butter and melt over medium heat. When foam subsides, add the onions, celery, and garlic and cook until vegetables have softened but not browned, about 8-10 minutes.

Add the thyme and/or savory, bay leaf, and the potatoes. Pour in clam broth and chicken stock then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle boil and let cook for 7-10 minutes or until potatoes are soft but retain their shapes. Smash some of the potatoes until soup base achieves the level of thickness you desire. Reduce heat so that soup simmers then add the fish. Poach until fish is cooked through, about 10-12 minutes. Stir in half and half and add 1/2 tablespoon of chopped dill. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls, garnished with reserved bacon and additional dill.

Garden Count: 3

Thyme, savory, bay leaf

Greens & Cannellini Stew

Italy is this month’s destination over on My Kitchen, My World, and when I think Italy, I think sun, red ripe tomatoes combined with other market fresh ingredients in brightly flavored pasta dishes to go with warm, sunny climes. Too bad it’s one of those windy, rainy, winter in Seattle weeks outside my window right now.

Instead of tomatoes, I have hearty greens like this kale and escarole pictured above. Instead of market fresh ingredients, I have dried cannellini beans. No worries– this is when I have to force myself out of my ideal Italian meal picture and remember that the great thing about Italian cooking is how it moves with the seasons. With the wintery ingredients available to me, I still have the foundation for a beautiful yet hearty Italian meal.

I decided to make a white bean stew with chunks of crisped pancetta, flecks of fennel and celery for sweetness and ribbons of dark, slightly bitter greens for color and balance of flavors. Rosemary and sage were the herbs of choice, adding a woodsy backdrop to the hearty stew. To finish it off, I drizzled heaping bowls of my stew with some white truffle oil and topped them with garlicky, toasted croutons.

I honestly don’t know which was better– the aromas of sage and pancetta cooking (I want to make everything with this combination now!), the comforting heat and soft bubbling sounds while the stew cooked on the stove, or tucking into the stew itself, so soft and creamy, flavorful, and somehow light yet rib-stickisng at the same time. Make this while it’s cold and blustery outside and it’ll feel just like you’re dining at an Italian osteria.

  • 1 lb dried cannellini beans, soaked over night in a pot filled with 4 quarts of water in which you’ve dissolved 3 tablespoons of table salt.
  • 1/4 lb of thick sliced (about 1/4 inch) pancetta, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chiffonade, divided
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium ribs of celery, diced
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock plus 4 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 medium bunch lacinato kale, leaves removed from stems and chopped
  • 1 medium bunch escarole, chopped
  • salt and pepper

Garnish

  • 1/2 loaf day old Italian or ciabatta bread, torn into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 smashed garlic cloves
  • salt and pepper
  • white truffle oil

Heat olive oil in large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pancetta and 1/2 tablespoon of sage and cook until pancetta is crisped, about 15 minutes. Remove pancetta to a paper towel lined plate to drain and set aside. Pour off fat in pot, leaving about 2 tablespoons for cooking.

Add the onion, fennel, celery, and garlic and cook until softened, but not browned, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse beans then add them to the pot along with stock, water, bay leaf, rosemary, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon of sage. Bring to a boil then reduce heat, simmering for 1.5 hours. In the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the kale and escarole. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

After you’ve added the kale and escarole, make the croutons by heating olive oil with the smashed garlic cloves in a medium skillet over medium heat. Toast garlic on both sides until golden brown, being careful not to burn them then remove from the skillet and discard. Add the torn bread, tossing to coat in the hot oil and cook until toasted, about 10-12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Plate stew in bowls, topping with a sprinkle of pancetta, a handful of croutons, and a drizzle of truffle oil if you have it on hand.

CSA Count: 5

Sweet onion, fennel bulb, lacinato kale, escarole, garlic

Garden Count: 3

Rosemary, sage, bay leaf

Mango & Pork Chile Verde

A long time ago, well, back when I lived in Cleveland, I spent a lazy Saturday afternoon watching a PBS fund drive. Call it the tragedies of life before we could afford cable. But before you think I’m a total loser, let me mildly try to defend myself by explaining that this PBS station raised its funds with a cookbook series offer as its premium and so the fund drives would frequently showcase demonstrations of recipes from the latest volume in the series. The only one I ever bought was a collection of recipes from local restaurants– a real treasure as now I have some of Michael Symon’s recipes long before Lola was on the national radar.

But on that afternoon, the demonstrations were from home cooks and one demonstration that stuck with me was from a gentleman who made a chile verde spiked with mango. The mango, he explained, not only added sweetness but its acidic enzymes helped to break down the pork, making it even more tender. I was inspired that afternoon to try making that mango and pork chile verde and have returned to it occasionally over the years. This last time I made it, I adapted the process to use my slow cooker.

So yeah, using the slow cooker meant taking a one pot meal and turning it into a multi-pot one, but I hope what makes up for it is not having to worry about leaving a pot cooking over an open flame for a few hours. This way, you can leave for work, go shopping, or I suppose, hang out on the couch and watch a PBS fund drive for hours, while this simmers away without fear. You’ll leave a pot of beautiful, brightly colored ingredients and come back to amazing aromas, a spicy yet fruity broth, and tender morsels of meat eager to be spooned up with some toasted tortillas. And in the end, having a second pot to clean won’t matter since 1) you can either throw the slow cooker pot in the dishwasher or 2) you don’t have to scrub a pot that’s gotten gunked up from sitting on the stove. So it’s totally worth it in the end, right?

Note: Be sure to use a slightly under ripe mango here as it is better for helping to tenderize the pork and will still keep some of its firm texture rather than turning into mush. In other words, choose a mango that is mostly green on the outside with some red or orange color and is firm when squeezed with no soft or mushy spots.

  • 2 pounds pork shoulder or country pork ribs (bones removed), excess fat trimmed off
  • canola oil
  • 1 cup masa harina
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1.5 tablespoons ground cumin, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • big pinch of ground cinnamon
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 pasilla peppers
  • 1 large jalapeno
  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium, slightly under ripe mango, pit removed and cut into 1/2 inch wide, 2 inch long strips.
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • chopped cilantro for garnish
  • warm tortillas, cheese, sour cream, etc. for serving

Preheat your broiler and broiler pan. Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil to a large pot or Dutch oven and heat over medium high heat. Cut pork into 2 inch pieces. Combine masa harina, oregano, 1/2 tablespoon cumin, coriander, and cinnamon on a plate. Sprinkle pork pieces with about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper then toss the pork in the corn flour mixture to coat. Cook in batches, careful not to crowd the pot, browning each side of each piece, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove browned pork to slow cooker pot.

While pork is browning, trim the ends off the peppers and any stems off the tomatillos. Split the pasilla peppers from top to bottom and remove the seeds then flatten the pepper into a wide strip.  Toss these vegetables in about 1 tablespoon of oil and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper. Placed about 4 inches away from the heating element, broil until skins of peppers and tomatillos are charred. A total of 15-20 minutes, checking every now and then and rotating vegetables as necessary. Remove peppers to a bowl covered tightly with plastic wrap. When cool to touch, remove and discard skins. Dice the peppers, then add them and the tomatillos to the pork in the slow cooker pot.

When all pork pieces have been browned, leave about 1 tablespoon of fat in the pot then add the red onion and garlic. Cook over medium heat until onion has softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the onions and garlic to the slow cooker pot then return pot to heat. Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock and using a wooden spoon, scrape browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Pour this into the slow cooker along with the remaining 1.5 cups of stock. Add remaining tablespoon of cumin and the mango pieces, then put the lid on the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6 hours or on high for 3. When cooking time is over, add chopped cilantro (reserving some for garnish) and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Serve stew in bowls garnished with more cilantro and topped with other garnishes as you see fit. With warm tortillas on the side, you can either scoop up some of the stew or wrap it up like a burrito.