Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Farewell My Chopsticks; Hello My Spork

I used to know that fall was coming when lunchboxes went on sale and my mother suddenly decided that I needed new shoes. One week ago, fall signaled its arrival with far less fanfare: a leaf landed in the brassica bed as I was weeding. I've become accustomed to the man-made signs of fall (tax holidays, first days of school, and Halloween decorations), so I'm quite enjoying a seasonal transition that is signaled almost entirely by the weather. The morning air is laced with the musky aroma of muscadine grapes; the nights are cooling; the crops are changing.

We're in transplanting mode again, and with most fields turned over to winter cover crops, we can devote ourselves to the care and maintenance of what we still have. The fields have never looked better.

All of this change makes me hungry for something earthy and simple, which probably explains my current obsession with soups. Long ago, in July, we harvested our winter squash and began curing them for storage. I've resisted the temptation of butternuts and pumpkins for months as I reveled in the fruits of summer, but now I finally feel justified in introducing orange to my diet. One of my favorite cookbooks, Serving up the Harvest, informs me that scientists and nutritionists somewhere have declared sweet potatoes are the world's single greatest food, in terms of nutritional content and growability. To that, I would add that is also happens to be the tastiest excuse for a vegetable that I have yet encountered.

Thai Pumpkin Soup

Yum. Pumpkin with a kick. This recipe can also be made with precooked pumpkin, you just don't need to simmer the soup for quite as long. Don't skimp on the cilantro, though, as the lemony-ness really makes the soup shine.

1 T olive oil
5 shallots, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 red chili, desseded and chopped
15 g fresh ginger, grated
2.5 lb pumpkin, deseeded and chopped
14 oz. can coconut milk
18 oz chicken stock
cilantro, chopped
salt to taste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the shallots, garlic, chili, and ginger, and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add the pumpkin and stir to coat in oil. Add the coconut milk and stock, stir, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the pumpkin is tender. Remove from heat and add the chopped cilantro.

Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Taste and salt as needed.

Squash, Potato, and Peanut Butter Soup
This recipe requires a bit of foresight, in terms of saving the time to roast the butternut and mash the sweet potato. But boy is it worth it! Be sure to use good, unsweetened peanut butter, and I guarantee that leftover will not be a problem.

1 butternut squash, about 2 lbs
1 large sweet potato, chopped
4 T butter
4 oz smooth, UNSWEETENED peanut butter
1 L vegetable stock
1 t grated nutmeg
1 T honey
1 t salt
black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350. Cut the squash into quarters and scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff. Place the quarters flesh-side down on a baking tray and roast for 1 hour or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

In the meantime, place the sweet potato in a saucepan, cover with cool water and boil until tender. Drain the water and puree. When the squash has cooled, scoop out the flesh and puree.

Heat the butter in a large saucepan. Add the pureed squash and sweet potato and peanut butter. Add the stock, nutmeg, honey, salt, and a pinch of pepper. Simmer gently for 10-15 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve.

Creamy Turnip Soup with Carrot Julienne
I used a mixture of our sweet hakurei turnips and the spicier, magenta Scarlet Queens. The resulting concoction had a delicate pink color and a find balance of sweetness and spice. I garnished it with raw carrot slivers and a a few slices of our beautiful Mizoto rose radishes, rather than additional turnips.

3 T butter
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 1/2 pounds turnips, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 medium russet potato, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
5 cups (or more) canned low-salt chicken broth

1 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup whipping cream
Pinch of ground nutmeg

2 carrots, cut into matchstick-size strips
1 turnip, peeled, cut into matchstick-size strips

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Melt butter in heavy large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks and onion and sauté until onion is translucent, about 12 minutes. Add 5 sliced turnips and potato and sauté 2 minutes. Add 5 cups broth. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Puree soup in blender in batches until very smooth. Return to Dutch oven. Add milk and cream. Bring to simmer. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper

Bring soup to simmer, thinning with more broth if necessary. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with carrot strips, turnip strips and chopped fresh dill.

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