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.

 

Advertisements

Roasted Autumn Vegetables with Crispy Kale

It’s ridiculous how quickly time has gotten away from me. When I last posted on this blog, we were in the height of our CSA season. Each week, we took home a ridiculous abundance of fruits and vegetables. And even though one might speculate from my blog inactivity that all that produce went to waste, I actually have been cooking at least 5 nights a week; I just haven’t had time to document it here. Oh there are pictures alright as I still took those. It’s just that now that fall is here, and we’re practically at winter’s door, it seems a little silly to post summery ideas like my watermelon jalapeno agua fresca or a poached salmon topped with fresh corn and sungold tomatoes. Guess I’ll just have to keep those in mind for next summer. In the meantime, I’d rather talk about this hearty side dish.

The last few weeks of our CSA season usually means we are up to our eyeballs in various winter squashes. This season was no exception– at least 6-8 delicata squash, one red kuri squash, one sugar pumpkin, and a ginormous butternut squash that makes me tired just looking at it. I just… I just can’t deal with that at the moment.

Delicata squash has been my favorite of the squashes that our farm grows. It’s easy to cut and clean up, not to mention the skin is thin enough that you can just roast and eat it or peeling isn’t a huge difficulty. I chopped up a couple of medium, seeded delicata squash and spread them out on a baking sheet with potatoes, parsnips and leeks from our CSA. I then added some chanterelle mushrooms that I picked up for relatively cheap at the local grocery store. A good drizzle of olive oil, a half palmful of salt and some pepper then a quick mix, and my vegetables were ready to go in the oven for roasting. I decided no other spices or herbs were necessary, just the simple flavors of the vegetables, all nutty and crisp at the edges from the oven’s heat.

But as tasty as those vegetables would be, they could use a boost both in color and in texture contrasts. Seeing a bunch of red kale in the fridge, I decided to chop up the leaves, toss them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne then sprinkled them on top of the vegetables to bake for the last 15-20 minutes of roasting. The kale crisped up, adding some crackly crunch to the vegetables. I loved how all these flavors melded together– subtly sweet squash, woodsy mushrooms, creamy potatoes, and slightly bitter but crispy greens. I piled them next to some pan-fried, pecan coated chicken and ended up serving such a warm and satisfying meal on the first cold, rainy night of the fall. Summer may have flown by, but cozy meals are just one reason why fall is my favorite season.

  • 2 medium delicata squash, seeded and cut into 1.5-2 inch pieces
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, cut into 1.5-2 inch pieces
  • 3 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 pound chanterelle mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 large leek
  • 1 small bunch of red kale
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch of cayenne

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. On a baking sheet lined with foil, add chopped squash, potatoes, chanterelles, and parsnips. Cut the dark green part off of the leek and discard. Split the white/light green part of the leek in half lengthwise then thinly slice crosswise. Add sliced leek to a medium bowl of water and stir around. Use a strainer to remove the leeks from the water and add to the other vegetables. Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper and mix until all the vegetables are evenly coated. Roast for 20-25 min. While vegetables roast, remove kale leaves from stems and discard stems. Chop the leaves then toss with about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper and a pinch of cayenne. Mix together then sprinkle on top of roasting vegetables. Return to the oven and roast for another 15-20 minutes or until kale is crisp and vegetables are tender and browned at edges. Serve while warm. Makes 4-6 side servings.

CSA Count: 5

Delicata squash, russet potatoes, parsnips, leeks, red kale

Smorrebrod

Smorrebrod! I just like saying it– smorrebrod! And if you’re John, you’ll reply, “Gesundheit.”

The challenge destination from My Kitchen, My World this month is Denmark. I admit to having to do an internet search of Danish food to get some ideas of what I might do. I could have taken the easy way out and written a post about a danish (as in your coffee and) inspired apple tart that I have in the hopper, but that seemed, well, like copping out.

Instead, I decided on doing smorrebrod, or Danish open-faced sandwiches. Smorrebrod is traditionally a slice of dark rye bread, spread with bits and pieces of things you might have had in your dinner the night before such as liverwurst or smoked fish. It’s economical since you not only used up leftovers but the bread was your plate which you could eat instead of cleaning. Smorrebrod has greatly evolved as the list of acceptable ingredients– poached lobster, seafood cakes, crisp vegetables– has grown, and now it seems to be just as much about color and plating as it is about taste. I decided that this would be a fun and challenging post topic, an excuse to play with my food and work on my plating skills.

That was before I learned that smorrebrod is serious business. Traditional ones are complicated with a long list of rules governing everything from what ingredients are to be paired together to the order in which you eat them. Well, no offense to the Danes, but I decided to cast tradition aside, putting together my sandwiches with what I had on hand and what sounded good to me.

I decided to make two different kinds of smorrebrod: a roasted vegetable on a lemon zest and dill cream cheese spread and tender pieces of steak on a bed of watercress paired with a stone ground mustard, butter, and truffle salt spread. Both were served on dark rye as I was not crazy enough to buy two different kinds of bread.

If you’re a traditionalist though, you can find so many delicious sounding recipes here. Really, I say put together whatever you want on your smorrebrod and follow tradition by following my simplified rules: 1) it tastes good, 2) it’s texturally interesting, and 3) it looks pretty. Oh, and add a 4th rule: drink some aquavit being sure to say, “Skol!” first.

Note: To make the beef smorrebrod a little more authentic, add some horseradish to the spread. These recipes make 4 smorrebrod each. They of course make great regular sandwiches– I had the best lunch yesterday combining my leftovers into a beef, watercress, roasted fennel and roasted tomato sandwich.

Roasted Vegetable Smorrebrod

  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed of stems and tough outer pieces, then cut into wedges
  • 6 large cherry tomatoes, halved
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 slices dark rye bread, trimmed of crusts
  • 3 oz cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Hold the zucchini next to a slice of bread and cut the zucchini to the same length. Then slice the zucchini lengthwise into quarter-inch thick slices, about 1 inch wide. Do the same with the eggplant.

On a foil lined baking sheet, spread out the zucchini and eggplant slices. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. On a second foil lined baking sheet, spread out the cherry tomatoes and fennel bulbs. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place both sheets in the oven on racks placed in the center of the oven and roast for 20-24 minutes or until zucchini and eggplant are tender and lightly browned and tomatoes are wrinkled and juicy. Set aside to cool.

While vegetables roast, mix together the cream cheese, lemon zest, and dill in a bowl. When vegetables are cool to touch, spread the cream cheese mixture from edge to edge on each slice of rye bread. Shingle the eggplant and zucchini together so that they look like vertical stripes, I was able to fit 2 slices of each on my bread. Slice the fennel into slivers and place a few slivers in the center of each vegetable smorrebrod, topped off with 2 or 3 tomato halves.

Beef and Watercress Smorrebrod

  • 16 oz bone-in rib eye steak
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided and at room temperature
  • olive oil
  • truffle salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon stone ground mustard
  • 1 bunch watercress, leaves removed from stems
  • 4 pieces dark rye bread, crusts removed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large cast iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon unsalted butter over medium high heat. Sprinkle both sides of the steak with a couple of pinches of truffle salt and about 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. When the fats in the pan ripple and smoke a little, add the steak, cooking for 3-4 minutes or until browned on one side. Flip it over and place skillet in the oven, cooking for 12-15 minutes for medium rare or until an instant read thermometer reads 125 degrees F. Remove to a plate and let rest for 15 minutes.

Mix together the remaining 3 tablespoons of softened butter with the mustard and another pinch of truffle salt. Spread from edge to edge on each piece of rye bread. Place a small handful of watercress leaves on top of each slice. Cut the steak on a bias and against the grain in slices about 1/4 inch thick. Place about 4-5 slices on a diagonal on top of watercress.

 

Delicata Squash Salad

Happy New Year! I don’t know about you but with all the cooking and eating that goes on during the holidays, I tend to suffer from food fatigue. I can’t seem to get excited about talking or thinking about food. But like the bright sun that’s been shining here in Seattle for the last few days after a cold and rainy holiday, I’m back and ready to pick up things with this blog again. Let’s start by talking about this delicata squash salad.

Anyone who knows me personally or reads this blog regularly should know by now that I am not a fan of winter squashes. I like their taste fine enough, I suppose, but it’s just so much trouble trying to cut through their thick skins and painstakingly scrape out the seeds and strings that often, I’m just not sure if it’s worth it in the end. However, if you remind me that roasted squash often involves butter, delicious spices like cinnamon and cardamom, and pairs nicely with a variety of cheeses, well, then you can get me to take on the effort of prepping it.

With a bulk share from the CSA that gave us 6 little delicata squash, I wanted to find a new way to eat them other than making soup. The CSA also gave us a beautiful bunch of rainbow chard and a little head of radicchio. I thought about how warm pieces of roasted squash would contrast nicely with these crisp, slightly bitter greens which would be hearty enough to not wilt and stay crunchy. I roasted the squash, rinsed the greens and made a light dressing with apple juice and cider-like spices to add sweetness and pair with the nutty squash. As if that wasn’t enough, I added some toasted pecans and chunks of tangy blue cheese. With its bright, bold colors, warm and nutty squash mixed with hearty winter greens, this salad would be the perfect meal for anyone giving a good shot at a New Year’s resolution of healthy eating. (Don’t worry– I’m sure there will be something unhealthy posted here in the next few weeks by the time you fall off the wagon.)

Salad

  • 2 small delicata squash, halved, seeded, and cut cross wise into 1/2 inch thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, mixed with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 bunch rainbow chard, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 small head radicchio, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans
  • blue cheese to taste

Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons apple juice
  • 5 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toss the squash slices in the melted butter and olive oil mix. Sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper along with the cinnamon, cardamom, and ground cloves. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until tender and lightly browned, flipping the pieces over after half the cooking time has elapsed. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

While squash cooks, wash and spin dry the chard, radicchio, and spinach leaves. Whisk together the dressing ingredients, adjusting seasoning to taste. Plate the mixed greens and add a few slices of still warm, roasted squash to each plate before drizzling with dressing and topping with pecans and cheese. Makes 4 side salads or 2 entrée salads.

CSA Count: 3

Delicata squash, rainbow chard, radicchio

Forever Summer Gnocchi

When asked what my favorite season is, I always feel a little conflicted: here in Seattle, it’s summer, but anywhere else in the world, it’s autumn. I love the warmth of fall colors, the more temperate climate, and the start of sweater season, but here in Seattle, fall depresses me for the most part. This is the time of year from which we get our bad reputation for non-stop rain. As I’m writing this, it’s a cold, grey, and pouring first day of November, and if this month is anything like the last few years, I can expect the weather to stay like this every day for at least the next three weeks.

But I can’t totally complain about a Pacific Northwest fall. In one very important way, our autumn is better than anywhere else– the mad rush of late summer produce that keeps showing up at markets throughout September and even into October. It’s not uncommon to see produce stands stocked high with ears of corn and tomatoes (well, ok, not this year as this was a rotten summer for tomatoes here) alongside piles of apples and winter squash. It’s my foodie dream and nightmare as I am so excited to have such a variety of produce to play with but also a little overwhelmed by so many options.

For me, this gnocchi represents that transition from summer to fall. I was inspired after John and I had dinner at one of our favorite local ale houses. John ordered their special: a plate of tender chicken and gnocchi enveloped in a rich brown butter sauce. That’s fall comfort food at its ideal, if you ask me. Back at home, however, I had a refrigerator full of summery produce from the CSA: yellow and green squash, red ripe tomatoes, crisp Roma beans, and sweet corn. I wanted to recreate that ale house gnocchi but with the bright, fresh, and crunchy flavors of my summer vegetables. In the end, it was perfect: I had shallow bowls of pillowy gnocchi, specked with bright colors, sweet vegetables, and a light sauce made from browned butter and chicken stock. It’s the perfect reminder of summer to combat the rainy days of November.

Two 9 oz packages of prepared gnocchi, cooked according to package directions

  • 1 store-bought rotisserie chicken
  • 1/2 lb Roma beans, cut into 1/2 inch wide squares
  • 3 ears of corn, kernels removed from cob
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 large red onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 4 baby yellow squash
  • 1 medium green squash
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh savory or thyme
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for garnishing at the table
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • salt and pepper

Shred the chicken breasts from the rotisserie chicken and remove the skin. Reserve the rest of the chicken meat for another purpose.

Bring a medium pot full of water to a boil. Add about 1 tablespoon of salt then add the corn and Roma beans. Boil for about 5 minutes then drain and run cold water on top of the vegetables to cool them down and slow the cooking. Meanwhile, heat the canola oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the squash and cook until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Mix in the corn, Roma beans, and savory then season with salt and pepper to taste.

While the vegetables cook, cook the gnocchi according to package directions. Add the butter to a medium skillet and heat over a medium flame. The butter will melt and foam up. Once the foam dissipates, stir the butter frequently and keep a close eye on it, removing it from the heat as soon as the butter turns a nutty brown color and is fragrant. Add the drained gnocchi to the vegetable mix. Over medium heat, add the butter, chicken stock and grated cheese, tossing gently to coat. Cook over a medium flame until the sauce thickens slightly and is absorbed into the gnocchi. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Plate the gnocchi topped with chopped chives and tomatoes with additional cheese to pass at the table.

CSA Count: 7

Roma beans, corn, red onion, baby yellow squash, green squash, chives, tomatoes

Garden Count: 1

Savory

Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad

Growing up in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, I didn’t really go out on picnics. After all, I lived near a huge shopping mall, and amidst many strip malls, box stores, and chain restaurants. The closest thing to a picnic opportunity was going to outdoor concert venues: 4th of July fireworks set to the 1812 overture at Poplar Creek, jazz concerts at Ravinia, alternative rock festivals watched from lawn seats or in Grant Park. When I think about it, the abundance of concert venues that offer lawn seating in Illinois is kind of odd; at least I haven’t located as many out here in Washington.

Last month, we packed up a picnic to take with us to a concert from the National at Marymoor Park. Although I don’t know if that venue is the best place for that band as they could probably benefit from a closed in, dark, and more intimate setting, it was still a great concert and I loved revisiting those lawn seat concert memories, but this time during a cool, slightly misty early fall evening. We ate leftover summer rolls, cold chicken fingers, and this lemon orzo salad.

Admittedly, I wasn’t enthusiastic about this pasta salad at first since it contained some of my least favorite vegetables– tons of summer squash and long, flat Roma beans. I also threw in there sliced sweet onion, a pint of sungold cherry tomatoes, and plenty of fresh basil. Since this pasta salad would serve a dual purpose as part of our picnic at a homebrew/knitting get together earlier in the day, I was definitely enthusiastic about this pasta salad’s ability to spread out the CSA love, using such a huge portion of vegetables we already had in over-abundance in order to feed friends.

But all that changed once I tasted this orzo salad with its crisp yet cool vegetables, the bright and acidic flavors from lemon zest and lemon juice, the burst of sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes. And who can’t get excited when greeted by such lovely, summery colors of yellow, cream, green, and orange? I think I’ve found a new picnic staple with this light, refreshing, yet hearty orzo salad.

Note: For added flavor, cook the orzo in vegetable stock instead of water. Make a non-vegan version of this orzo salad by tossing in some crisped prosciutto (bake in your oven on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet at 375 degrees F for 10-12 minutes) and a handful of feta. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

  • 16 oz dried orzo pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • olive oil
  • 1 pound mixed summer squash, yellow and zucchini
  • 2 large garlic clove, minced (about 1.5 teaspoons) and divided
  • .75 pounds Roma beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch wide squares
  • 1 pint sungold cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 medium sweet, white onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
  • zest and juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the squash and garlic and cook until tender. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until tender, about 10-12 minutes.

While squash cooks, bring a medium pot full of water to a boil. Add the Roma beans and cook until crisp green, about 5 minutes. Drain and cool completely with cold water. Then add to the squash mixture.

In a large mixing bowl, add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Whisk in about 1/3 cup of olive oil until emulsified. Add the sweet onion slices and garlic and let this sit for about 10 minutes. Add cooled, cooked orzo, squash and Roma bean mix, oregano and pine nuts. Toss until well combined. Add the cherry tomato halves and most of the basil, then gently mix until tomatoes are distributed throughout. Season with salt and pepper to taste then serve, sprinkled with remaining basil.

CSA Count: 5

Squash, Roma beans, sweet onion, sungold cherry tomatoes, basil

Garden Count: 1

Fresh oregano

Black Bean Quinoa Cakes

These cakes were inspired by a favorite black bean cake recipe: canned black beans get mixed together with sautéed bell pepper, onion, and garlic along with cilantro and bread crumbs. They’re dipped in cornmeal then pan-fried until crunchy on the outside, tender and spicy on the inside. As if they weren’t good enough on their own, they then get drizzled in a sauce that’s made from soy sauce, finely chopped jalapeno, garlic, and lime juice.

In this case, I was looking for an idea to make summer squash interesting. I was tapped out of ideas and we still had another 2 pounds of it left in the refrigerator. I thought that spicy, crunchy patties topped off with lightly sautéed green and yellow squash might just do the trick. I thought of those black bean cakes, but wanted more texture to contrast with the soft squash, so I swapped out the breadcrumbs for cooked quinoa and to vary the flavors, I added a palmful of yellow curry powder.

As it turns out, the quinoa was a brilliant switch! It crisped up in the hot oil adding a hearty crunch while the yellow curry added fragrance as well as a slight heat. The spice and variety of flavors was balanced with the sweetness of the squash. Yep, I think as far as finding a way to spice up squash, these black bean quinoa cakes definitely did the trick!

Note: I used freshly cooked quinoa and as a result, kept adding corn flour until I had a texture that worked for forming little cakes, but the result was a little on the dry side. I think one way to resolve the issue might be to use leftover quinoa so that it’s sat in the refrigerator and dried out on its own, kind of like how you should always use day old cooked rice for fried rice instead of fresh. Another idea might be to spread out cooked quinoa on a baking sheet and bake in a low temperature oven until the quinoa dries out a bit.

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced and divided (yields about 1.5 teaspoons total)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 can drained black beans
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 teaspoon yellow curry powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup masa harina
  • 1 egg beaten
  • canola oil
  • 1 pound mix of yellow squash and zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

In a small skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add the onion, green pepper, and half of the garlic. Saute until vegetables are tender, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, add the quinoa, black beans, beaten egg, curry powder, cilantro, and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. Add the cooled onion and pepper mix. Mix in 1/2 cup of masa harina and try forming into cakes. If it doesn’t hold its shape, gradually add remaining masa harina until you can form cakes that hold their shape. Form into 4 inch patties and dust both sides of each patty with more masa harina. Refrigerate patties for at least 1 hour.

In a large skillet, pour enough canola oil so that it rises about 1/4 inch above the bottom of the pan. Heat over medium high heat. When oil ripples, add half of the patties, careful not to crowd the pan. Cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes before flipping over and cooking for an additional 5 minutes. Remove to a paper towel lined plate while you cook the remaining patties. Season with additional salt if necessary while cooked cakes are still hot.

While cooking the patties, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add the squash and remaining garlic and cook until squash is translucent and tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, place black bean quinoa cakes on a plate and top with sautéed squash. Garnish with fresh basil. Yields 8 patties.

CSA Count: 5

Onion, green pepper, cilantro, basil, summer squash