Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Most Beautiful Word In the English Language is Butternut

Recipes: Butternut Squash Soup with Celery and Apples
Vegetable Stock

Ah Fall. With the heat of those sultry summer days fading into blustery fall nights, my hunger for crisp and cool salads has turned into a craving for buttery steaming soups. After all, my cold-blooded body needs more than just sweaters and scarves to keep me warm.

My favorite kinds of soups around this time of year are actually not soups, but stews. Chili con carne (with extra carne!), beef bourgeon, beef barley, and a dish my mom calls "Dana Dinner," which is beef, carrots, and onions stewed together and served over mashed potatoes. These are the hearty meals that really warm a girl for the cold fall and winter months. Especially during fall my appetite revs up as if my body is preparing for hibernation. Just in case my coat isn't warm enough, I can add some extra layers from the inside out.

But, maybe all that red meat isn't so good for my heart. So I tried to come up with a soul-sastifying vegetarian soup that might be a good substitute for my beefy fall appetite.

Fall gives us some of the best flavors for cooking and eating. I love the fruits and vegetables that come in season this time of year more than any other season. Apples, multi-colored potatoes, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes. Don't forget th
e dried fruits and nuts that pair so well with the squashes. But perhaps the most delicious of all the fall veggies is the butternut squash. I know most people would argue that pumpkin is the quintessential fall flavor, but for me the butternut squash is more versatile. Pumpkins belong in the pie I eat on Thanksgiving, while butternut squashes can be eaten in soups, pastas, salads, stews,.... the list goes on. Also, you can substitute it for any recipe that calls for pumpkin and I find that it's a little easier to work with.

Butternuts (besides fun to say!) are high in potassium, vitamins A and C, and fiber. Because of the fiber they are going to keep your stomach full and happy, and the nutty flavor will satisfy your mouth. Other flavors that mix well with butternuts are apples, celery, fennel, almonds, parmesan, sage, cinnamon, tomatoes, Moroccan spices, etc.

Now, a butternut is not going to be any substitute for meat but it has a great flavor to savor all on its own. Maybe that's one of the real challenges of cutting meat out: enjoying the taste of vegetables without the addition of meat. In any case, I've come up a recipe for butternut squash soup that captures the essence of the squash. Now you can get acquainted with this delicious fall favorite all on your own.

Butternut Squash Soup with Celery and Apples

Vegetable Stock (recipe to follow) 8 cups
Olive Oil 1/4 cup
Medium Butternut Squash, peeled and pulp and seeds removed small diced 1
Apples, small diced 2 (I used Gala, but Granny Smith would be nice here too)
Celery, small diced 6-7 stalks
Medium Onion, small diced 1
Garlic, minced 4 cloves
Rice Wine Vinegar 1/4 cup
Cinnamon 2 tsp
Cayenne Pepper 1 TBS (I like it spicy, but add less if you prefer)
Salt and Pepper, TT

Garnish: Sauteed Sliced Mushrooms, Fried Celery Leaves or Fried Sage Leaves (Thank you MOM!), and Shaved Parmesan Cheese

(Obviously, if you omit the cheese the recipe will be Vegan)

1. Prep all the vegetables. Be sure to save mushroom stems and celery and onions ends for your vegetable stock. That way you won't waste as much and your vegetable stock will be delicious. Also you can save the leaves from the celery for your garnish.

2. Heat olive oil in a large pot. I used my Mom's cast iron pot and it was barely big enough, just to give you an idea of how large the pot needs to be. Add prepped vegetables (squash through garlic including apples) and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Add enough vegetable stock until it just covers the vegetables. You may not need to use all 8 cups of stock, depending on how many prepped vegetables you ended up with. Save the rest for thinning out the soup later. Cook over medium heat on a simmer until the vegetables are cooked.

3. While the soup is cooking, heat 1/4-1/2 cup of oil in a sauté pan over high heat. Fry celery leaves (or sage leaves) in the hot oil for 1 minute or until leaves crisp up. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. You can sauté the mushrooms at the same time.

4. When the vegetables are cooked, place soup in a blender or food processor and buzz until smooth. Depending on how long your machine is, blend the soup in batches making sure there is an even mix of vegetables and stock in the machine. Strain soup through a fine strainer into a clean pot.

5. Bring soup back up to a boil and add cinnamon, cayenne, vinegar, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings and thickness if necessary.

6. Place soup in bowl and serve with garnishes. Enjoy!

Water, cold 8 cups
Onion, small diced 1 Large
Carrots, chopped 3 (washed, can leave the peel on and you can use the ends)
Celery, chopped 1 stalk
Mushroom stems As many as you have!
Parsley Stems 3-6
Thyme, Fresh 5 sprigs
Peppercorns, Black 10
Bay Leaves 2
Cheese Cloth

1. In a large pot, bring the water and mirepoix up to a boil. Skim any scum from the top of the stock and reduce to a simmer.

2. In the cheese cloth, make a sachet out of the rest of the ingredients. Place in the stock and continue simmering for 30 to 45 minutes.

3. Strain into a clean pot. The stock should be clear and a dark-ish amber color.

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