For a blog about eating locally and sustainably, I've sure been cooking a lot of grocery store ingredients this past month. Paht thai is pretty much straight Trader Joe's provender, and the pasta al sarde and lasagna both were born of Wegmans. But when there's three feet of snow on the ground, it's so easy to slip back into old food habits, buying stuff that's traveled a long way from producer to my table with many stops in between.
Time to get serious about eating locally even though it's February, bleakest month of the food year. (In the Cherokee language, the word for February translates as "hungry month"). The larder is emptying, and space on the once-crammed freezer shelves is starting to open up. We've eaten through much of what I squirreled away last summer and fall, and it's time to take a hard look at what's left.
I estimate 7 weeks until asparagus rings in the new food year, so these next couple of months are going to be all about combining things, possibly in unexpected new ways. If indeed, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A creative economy is the fuel of magnificence," then things are going to be getting pretty freaking magnificent up in here.
But for my first shot at cleaning out the freezer I can pick the low hanging fruit, make something from ingredients that obviously go together. Like winter squash and apples, rendered into a soul-salving soup. The squash grew in my garden, we picked the apples on a nearby farm, the onions from Tuscarora Organic Co-op and the butter and milk that I used to make the yogurt came from the Amish grass farmer we buy our outlaw raw milk products from (for more about that, check out this raw milk story I wrote a couple years back for the Baltimore City Paper). So, other than some sea salt and spices, the ingredients tossed into the pot for this particular soup are all local.
I was waiting for my friend Brian to send me the recipe he came up with for his subtle but very nice butternut squash soup -- the boy's got some big butternuts -- but got impatient and went ahead on my own. It turns out I would've had to be inventive anyway, because I was using squash I'd roasted, then puréed and frozen in 2-cup portions. My squash purée stash is a mix of butternut, acorn, sugar pumpkin and freak delicata, all of which cook up into basically the same sweet-savory orangish goo. Winter squash is sort of universal, so use whatever.
The freak delicata grew from my compost heap -- two years ago I composted a couple rotten delicata from our CSA share, and the seeds volunteered in last summer's garden after I spread the compost on it in the spring. Apparently by late fall my compost pile wasn't hot enough to sterilize their seeds. I also tossed in our Hallowe'en pumpkins that year, so I can only conjecture as to what kind of squash nookie took place in there: cucurbits are rampant cross-pollinators, among the sluttier citizens of the vegetable patch. Their offspring came up as extremely vigorous squash vines producing bright orange squash with delicata's distinctive striated ridges, some oblong, some ballooning into pumpkin form. Here are a couple as yet uneaten freak squash:
Brian's recipe, which I'll post after my recipe, calls for using butternut in the raw. Either way you try you'll end up with some very good soup, but the two are very different destinations!
CURRIED WINTER SQUASH & APPLE SOUP
4 cups winter squash, cooked & puréed*
2 cups coarsely chopped apples (cored, but not peeled) (2 c applesauce would work too)
1.5 cups onion, chopped
1 cup cider, apple juice or water
2 cups stock (vegetable or chicken)
2 teaspoons curry powder, or more or less to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup or more whole milk yogurt, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1. Melt butter in heavy deep skillet or pot over medium-high heat. Sauté onions and apples until soft, about 8-10 min.
2. Add squash purée, cider, stock, salt, and curry powder -- add this in increments and taste as you go, because you want deep curry flavor but too much can make things bitter -- it's a thin line. Add fresh ground pepper to taste. Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer 15 minutes partially covered.
3. Purée soup in blender/food processor, or in pot using immersion blender. Return to pot, add yogurt to taste, and heat gently until warmed through about 3 minutes. Alternatively, I add the yogurt to each bowl as it is served, swirling it in the soup to make a pretty presentation.
4. Soup tastes even better garnished with very thin apple slices, cilantro, or big crispy croutons.
* To make squash purée: heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut squash in half (lengthwise) and scoop out seeds. Put halves cut side down in baking pan and bake until tender, 45 minutes to an hour. Let cool. Scrape flesh from inside squash skins, and press through sieve or pulse in blender/food processor. Freezes well and you can always throw the extra in muffins, pancakes, etc.
BRIAN'S BUTTERNUT SOUP
1 butternut squash, peeled, cut into 1/4" slices
1 onion, chopped
chile powder (i just ground up some dried random chiles i had - a mixture of different chiles is nice)
chicken/turkey stock (a cup or two) - not absolutely necessary
plain, whole milk yogurt
1. Saute onion, butter, garlic, thyme and cinnamon with a pinch of salt.
2. Add BN squash slices. Add stock and then enough water to cover squash.
3. Simmer ~1 hr, or until squash is very soft.
4. Puree all of the soup in a food processor.
5. Return soup to pot.
6. Salt as needed to taste.
7. Start adding chile power a little bit at a time and tasting. The soup will start becoming more complex before you notice any added heat. Keep adding chile powder until there's just a tiny about of spiciness. It shouldn't be a spicy soup, but there should be just a hint of the heat.
8. Add yogurt to balance acidity. You might need to add a little more chile powder after adding the yogurt.