Zesty Winter Squash Soup

December 20, 2015

Zesty Winter Squash SoupAunt Suzy says . . .

It’s winter! Time for soups and stews. This one from our local newspaper caught my eye because Beth Dooley, creator the this recipe, is one of our local food/cooking gems here in the Twin Cities. Also, this looked so different from the soups I’ve been making with a mirepoix base. While some ingredients are familiar – squash, beans, tomatoes and kale – others sounded exotic in a soup – za’atar, orange zest and juice. Randy and I both loved this – we could hardly stop eating it! The recipe says it serves 4-6, but honestly after one meal we only had a tiny portion left for my lunch the next day. I will probably double the ingredients next time I make it.  I was excited that I met Beth yesterday at one of our local indoor winter farmers markets and was able to tell her how much we liked this soup.

Here’s Beth’s note from the article in the Strib: “Note: Think of this recipe as a series of suggestions; you can add other vegetables you have on hand, substitute chickpeas for white beans, try winter squash in lieu of pumpkin. Toss in leftover turkey or chicken and call it stew. The za’atar blend of spices can be found in the spice aisle of many grocery stores, culinary shops and food co-ops. From Beth Dooley.”  Check out Beth’s website for more about her and see all the great cookbooks she’s authored. A new book, a memoir, has just come out!

And here’s my note: I’ve been obsessed with using dried beans in soups these days following the Cook’s Illustrated brining method, so I’ve made some adaptations to Beth’s original which uses canned. If you want to take the quick and easy route, you can do so with Beth’s approach in her recipe. I won’t judge 🙂  (This makes me laugh because when making this soup, I texted my blog partner “I’m kicking myself for using dried beans instead of canned!”) Actually, this was pretty quick and easy using the dried beans, it just took the extra step to brine/soak them.

Serves 4 to 6.

Ingredients

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2-4 garlic cloves (to taste), minced

1 to 2 tablespoons za’atar (see Beth’s note)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Generous pinch red pepper flakes

4 cups chicken, turkey or vegetable stock

1 cup brined dried cannelinni or red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juices (1 1/2 cups)

3 cups roasted kabocha or butternut squash or pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup chopped parsley

grated orange zest from 1 medium orange (or to taste)

juice from half the medium orange (or to taste)

2 cups thinly sliced kale

Instructions

Brine the beans: Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts of cold water.  Add the beans and soak overnight or up to 24 hours. Alternatively, you can bring the beans, salt and water to a boil, turn off the heat and let sit for 1 hour. In either case, drain the beans and rinse well.

Prepare the squash: Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F. I used Kabocha squash of the orange variety, but green Kabocha, butternut or pumpkin would be excellent in this recipe. Whichever you use, cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Slice into 1-inch slices. Line a baking sheet with foil and then put a skim of vegetable oil on the foil. Place the squash slices on the foil and turn to coat both sides with the oil. Bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees, turn the squash over using tongs and bake for another 8-10 minutes. Let cool. Remove the skin with a knife and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Set aside. (This step can be done up to 2 days ahead of making the soup.)

Make the soup: In a deep stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat, heat the oil and sauté the onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for about a minute till fragrant. Add the Za’atar, red pepper, salt and black pepper. Stir for a minute or two till fragrant.

Add the stock and the dried beans. Bring to a boil, turn down heat to low and simmer, covered, until the beans are done. This can vary depending on type and freshness of the beans you use from 30-60 minutes. I checked after 30 minutes and the cranberry beans I used were cooked through.

Stir in the squash and the tomatoes with their juices and continue simmering for about 10 minutes to blend the flavors.

Stir in the orange zest and juice, and parsley and continue simmering another 5 minutes until the flavors meld. Adjust the seasonings and add the kale before serving hot.

Aunt Suzy says . . .

Recently I asked my brother John to do a guest post on the stuffed pumpkins he makes, but when he sent me the recipe I changed my mind. Instead of a guest post, I decided we should do a joint post!  He’s been telling me about these pumpkins for a couple of years, but I’d never attempted them.  Since I was travelling to his house for Thanksgiving, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to learn from the master.  Since there were so many options for the stuffing, we decided to experiment with three slightly different fillings.  I thought it would be fun to report on the results of the variations.

Uncle John says . . . 

This recipe comes from an NPR story from a couple of years ago featuring Dorie Greenspan’s stuffed pumpkin recipe.  This struck me because I was looking for something to do with winter squash beyond the typical sweet recipes made with butter, brown sugar or maple syrup.  I particularly liked the flexibility of Dorie’s recipe – you can use many different approaches to the ingredients and proportions of the stuffing.  I’ve experimented over the last couple of years and landed on our favorite ingredients.  I’ve also developed a philosophy of how to make sure you have the right amounts and proportions.  I’ve never had anyone eat these pumpkins who didn’t say “wow!”.

Savory Stuffed Pumpkins

For this recipe, we will not provide exact amounts but the “philosophy”  ingredients and amounts.  Half the fun of making these pumpkins is inventing the stuffing.  Here are the guidelines, as well as the instructions for how to assemble and bake:

Start with the pumpkins:  Select pie pumpkins at about 3 pounds.  This size will serve 2 people as a main dish and 4 people as a side.  In our experiment, we tried a red kabocha squash and thought it superior to the traditional pumpkin, but either work well.  Cut a “lid” out of the top of the pumpkin/squash by running a sharp knife around the top at a 45-degree angle. Set the lid aside – do not discard. Scoop out the seeds and use a spoon to remove the strings from the flesh.  Wash out the cavity and then dry with a paper towel.

Determine the amount of stuffing: Uncle John’s trademarked technique is to fill the cavity with water and then pour into a measuring cup.  This will tell you the capacity of  the pumpkin, determining the total quantity of ingredients.

Decide on your ingredients: The stuffing is comprised of a starch base, a meat flavoring, cheese (optional), vegetables, aromatics and spices – the exact ingredients and combinations of which are variable.  Here are some guidelines.

Starch base options – cooked brown rice and stale bread cubes will form the base. We cooked both and liked the rice better, but the bread was good as well.

Meat flavoring – we used sage breakfast sausage and bacon and think ham would work as well.  Whatever your choice, it must be cooked prior to combining with the other ingredients.  I can also see a vegetarian version with a combo of chipotle peppers and chickpeas or black beans.

Cheese – we used sharp cheddar with sausage/rice stuffing and pepper Jack with bread/bacon.  Gruyere, Swiss, blue and Parmesan would all be good options.  We made the kabocha without cheese and it was delicious.

Vegetables – we used cooked spinach and cooked Lacinato kale and thought the kale more flavorful as well as substantial.  Cooked Swiss chard, peas and Brussels sprouts leaves also sound good.

Aromatics and spices – for savory fillings you will want sauteed onions and garlic at the least.  Add celery, carrots and bell pepper to your taste.  We used fresh thyme and in the bread stuffing added nutmeg.

Binder – heavy cream or half and half are recommended to bind the ingredients together. We think stock could be used for a non-dairy version.

Other options – I’d like to try this with nuts and fresh or dried fruits.  Speaking of which, you could take this in a whole different direction with a sweet rice or bread pudding approach to the filling.  But that might have to be another blog post.

Prepare the filling and stuff the pumpkins: Combine all stuffing ingredients in a bowl.  A guideline is roughly 1/3 starch base, 1/3 meat and 1/3 vegetables, which you can vary according to taste.  To this, you’ll add the aromatics, spices and other ingredients until you get slightly more filling than the capacity of the cavity of the pumpkin/squash.

Place the filling in the pumpkin and pack down.  Add 1/4 to 1/3 cup heavy cream, half and half or stock. Place the “lid” back on the pumpkins.

Baking the pumpkins: Place the stuffed pumpkins on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Place in the center rack of a preheated 350 oven and bake for about 90 minutes with the lids on. Don’t be alarmed by the liquid escaping from the pumpkins – that’s natural.  After 90 minutes take the lids off and bake another 20-30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let sit for 30 minutes.

Serving:  Depending on size, cut in half or into wedges to serve.  Or if small, individual pumpkins could be served to eat right out of the shell.

Making ahead:  These reheat really well in the oven.  We made the pumpkins in the morning, then cut in half, put back on the baking sheet and baked at 350 for 30 minutes.  Delicious!!

Holiday Pumpkin Bundt Cake

December 15, 2010

Aunt Suzy says . . .

I first heard about this cake on the radio a few years ago in a  Dorie Greenspan spot around Thanksgiving. This cake immediately became a holiday staple at my house, and even though I’ve seen this on a dozen other blogs, I’m compelled to share it!  It’s sometimes called “All In One Cake”, most likely because it contains many ingredients used in fall/winter holiday cooking.  I made this prior to Thanksgiving intending to post it then, but had a cake “fail” – the cake stuck to the bundt pan!  So I hotfooted it over to the NordicWare store to get the lowdown on how to make sure this didn’t happen again.  Since the founder of NordicWare, David Dahlquist, invented the bundt pan back in the 1950’s, I knew they’d be able to help.  They have compiled these tips on how to make the perfect bundt cake, and I heartily recommend that you check these out.

Margaux says . . .

This cake is fantastic!  I’ve made it for the past few years at the holidays since Aunt Suzy first shared it with me.  As I’ve said before, I’m a lover of all things pumpkin, and this cake has so many other goodies in it, too!  I really think it’s a must for Christmas or Thanksgiving…I would even give up pumpkin pie to have it.   I am a sucker for cakes, though!  🙂  The last time I made it, I didn’t chop the cranberries, apples and nuts small enough, and it kind of fell apart when we served it.  It’s especially important, I think, to make sure the apples are in really small pieces (like 1/4″).   I might even use the food processor to chop the apples and cranberries next time I make it (just pulse them a few times).

Aunt Suzy says . . .

Great point, Margaux, about making sure all the pieces of goodies aren’t too big.  Thanks for mentioning this!  I, for one, am looking forward to having a piece of this for breakfast with a cup of strong coffee!  It occurs to me to also note that this cake is a great dessert when there’s going to be a crowd – it serves many!

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.  You will need a 9-10 inch greased and floured bundt pan and an electric mixer.

2 cups sifted all purpose flour                               2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda                                           2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg                                      Pinch of salt

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl.  If you do not have fresh ginger, you can substitute 1 teaspoon dried with the dry ingredients.  Set aside.

1 ¼ sticks butter (10 Tablespoons)                    2 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar                                             ½ cup packed brown sugar

1 ¼ cups canned pumpkin puree                        1 tsp vanilla

1 ½ teaspoons grated fresh ginger                     1 large apple, peeled and diced

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar on high speed until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time and beat on high after each for 1 minute.  Add the vanilla and beat a little more.  Reduce speed to low and add the pumpkin, chopped apple and grated ginger and beat till mixed.  Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until incorporated.

1 cup halved or chopped fresh cranberries           1 cup chopped pecans

Fold in the cranberries and pecans with a rubber spatula and stir until spread evenly through the batter.  Spoon the batter into the bundt pan and then smooth the top with the spatula.  Tap the pan on the counter a few times to settle the batter into the pattern in the pan – this is one of the NordicWare tips.

Bake for 60-70 minutes until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 10 minutes.  Unmold onto the rack and cool to room temperature.

Just before serving, dust with powdered sugar.

COOK’S NOTES: Pay careful attention to quantities in this recipe – there’s a lot going on.  For example, this time I used the entire can of pumpkin instead of measuring out the 1 1/4 cups.  I ended up with a custard-like cake vs. cake-like cake.  One time I put in 2 sticks of butter instead of measuring 10 Tablespoons because I had set both sticks out to soften.  This didn’t ruin the cake either, but made it a lot more buttery!  Some would say not such a bad thing.  On another note, you can store the cake, wrapped, for up to 4 days or wrap in foil and freeze.  Unless we are making this for a crowd, half goes in the freezer for later use.  You can use the Maple Glaze that follows if you want, although I think this cake is just delicious plain or with powdered sugar.

Maple Glaze

Sift 6 tablespoons powdered sugar into a bowl.  Stir in 2 tablespoons maple syrup.  Add more syrup a little at a time until the icing runs off the tip of the spoon (maybe ½ tbsp more).  Put the cooled cake on a plate and drizzle with the icing.  Let it set for a few minutes before serving.