Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Food Post: Squash Soup and Tomorrow's Cheeses

I had another one of those moments this weekend when something I myself cooked tasted like something I'd eat at one of those fancy restaurants I enjoy, in terms of its flavorsome goodness. The key seems to be stock. How very French.

Saturday was a free and relaxing day and evening, so I got it into my head that I wanted to try making pumpkin soup. About 15 years ago I had a bowl of pumpkin soup in an otherwise ordinary neighborhood restaurant and I loved it. I even sent my enthusiasms back to the cook, who sent back the recipe (in quantity to serve a restaurant). It turns out the soup was basically chicken soup with pumpkin puree, and looked home-doable. So it was time to try. I couldn't find that scrawled recipe, so I went to Marion Cunningham's update of Fannie Farmer, which I find reliable for basics.

I found out that you can't buy pumpkin easily in February, so I bought some yellow acorn squash. This turns out to be notably milder in flavor than pumpkin, which concerned me at first. I got out some boxed chicken broth and simmered it for nearly an hour with lots of celery and carrots and onion and peppercorns and a bay leaf, adding water periodically. The result tasted strongly of the vegetables, but was a strong and good stock.

I cut up the raw squash and steamed it (!) in a big $10 spaghetti pot I have with what I always thought was a spaghetti strainer but turns out to work much better as a steamer insert for a large quantity of squash. This worked out much easier for me than my previous attempts to cook squash, baked in the oven or cut from the skin while still raw and simmered in water. It was easy as could be to scoop out the steamed squash and puree it in a food processor.

I chopped up two largish onions and cooked them up in my big heavy Le Creuset saucepan with some butter, on low heat for a long long time stirring away. I whisked in the chicken/vegetable stock, then the squash puree, and cooked the soup up for about 15 minutes. That was it. It tasted better after sitting for half an hour or so, I learned, so next time I'll wait longer to eat it. I tasted the soup to see how much salt and pepper to finish it off with and while it tasted complex, there was something it seemed to be missing to feel as hearty as what I was going for. I added more pepper, which helped some.

What it was missing was the finishing touch in the individual bowl: A sprinkling of grated nutmeg and a spoonful of whipped cream (I happened to have the glorious Cedar Summit Farms cream on hand). Stirring in that cream finished it off to be exactly what I wanted. It was better the next day; if I make this for company I'll make it the day before, and add cream after reheating. It really didn't take much cream at all to taste so rich, certainly less per bowl than you'd put in a cup of coffee.

Oh, and just to show you how productive I was: I washed the squash seeds and baked them dry in a low oven for about an hour, no salt or soy or oil or anything. They are fun to eat like this, although they didn't work as soup garnish, which was the point. Next time I'll coat them in tamari before baking them.

I've been enjoying the soup for two days. I look forward to having more for dinner tonight, with some nice challah I was able to pick up at the market where I bought the squash. Yum.

On the menu for tomorrow's cholesterol-fest:

- "Surdyk's Selection" which is Farmstead Manchengo today. A Surdyk's Selection is a cheese of limited availability, something that is not mass produced. This is an aged cheese, so it's crumbly, but I had a sample and I really liked it. So if none of you like it I get to take it home and buy myself some good wine and have a fine old time. This is definitely a cheese to try in a small amount and savor for its aged complexity.

- Goat Milk Raclette from France. This is mild, but still with that back tang of goat's milk cheese. It's smooth and meant for melting.

- Saloirs de Lescun Fermier from France. This is a raw cow's milk cheese, definitely complex, but with what seems almost a citrus tang to me that I wasn't sure about. We'll see how this goes over.

Since all three of those cheeses might be considered stretching the cheesebuds, I picked up something very basic and good in addition. Remembering how much everybody liked Nate's guest cheese of Vermont Cabot, I got Canadian Black Diamond Cheddar which is your basic good Cheddar cheese. Actually Black Diamond is inconsistent -- it's never bad, but it varies between good and very good. I think I remember reading that the name "Black Diamond" is a license at this point, so while there's probably some sort of quality control it comes from varous producers. This stuff looks very good and should remind you of the Cabot.

My father told me last week that somebody who knows me only through my blog would get the impression that food plays a central role in my life. Now that I report on the weekly cheeses I suppose that's inevitable.
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