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Archive for January 19th, 2012

the weekend end

As I send this post out into the world, I’m sure most of you are getting ready for the weekend. I like to think that if weekend were a Jewish holiday, Thursday night would be “erev weekend” – the night before the weekend begins and the time to start celebrating.

But, I’m not here to talk about the beginning of the weekend or Friday night dinner. Today, we’re talking about the end of the weekend ritual. The Sunday search through the fridge, quick look on the web, consultation with a towering stack of cookbooks followed by a flurry of knives and cutting boards and pots and pans.

Soup is almost always on the agenda these days as the temperature drops below freezing and I am oh so thankful that I have an indoor parking garage.

For the past two weeks, the weekend end ritual fell on a Monday. A Monday! Twice in a row!

Last Monday, I came home to an empty fridge after hours and hours of flying back from Vienna. A quick trip to the store with an idea or two in mind, and a beautiful parsnip parsley soup emerged (thanks Jess).

This Monday was the end of another particularly joyously long weekend. After waking up late,  I settled on my sofa with a steaming cup of coffee, some toast spread with cheese that tastes better than butter, a pile of cookbooks, and my laptop.

The rummaging turned up a few pounds of  butternut squash, already cleaned and peeled and begging to be used. On the door of the fridge, a bouquet of cilantro in a glass of water. In a mason jar, preserved lemons that I made a few weeks ago, awaiting their debut. In the freezer, broth made last month from a couple of roasted chickens.

The flipping through pages, both virtual and real, turned up a hearty squash soup with a kick (you know how I like a kick).

The hearty would come from beans.

The kick from Middle Eastern spice.

Deciding to hibernate for the day, I made everything the slow, (almost) no shortcuts, from scratch way. I soaked and boiled and cooked and roasted and processed and blended.

The soup warmed the apartment and filled it with the scent of delicious.

Happy erev weekend!

Butternut squash and cannellini soup with chermoula

This soup is a mesh of a few difference recipes I found. The idea for using cannellini beans came from Bon Appetit. The spice mixture is based on Maroud Lahlou‘s red chermoula (Moroccan spice paste)and Yotam Ottolenghi‘s ultimate winter couscous.

This soup is a whole day affair, at least the way I made it with dried beans, oven-roasted squash, and chermoula.  But don’t be daunted. There are a few shortcuts you can take that should give you a very good soup in around an hour tops. First, use canned beans – you’ll just need to saute the onion and garlic in the soup pot before adding the rest of the ingredients. Second, don’t roast the squash. Third, skip the chermoula spice paste and just add half the amount of each of the spices directly to the soup with the squash.  

I use preserved lemons here. You can buy them jarred or make them from scratch. To make then from scratch, quarter lemons (regular or meyers) and layer them in a jar with tons of salt. Make sure the lemons are really tightly packed and have enough juice and salt to completely fill the jar. Let the jar sit in a cabinet for about a week and then transfer to the fridge for three weeks. Every few days, flip the jar upside down to mix everything around. Once the lemon rinds soften, they’re ready to use. When you want to add them to something, discard the pulp and only use the peel.

For the beans:

- 1 1/2 C dried cannellini beans or 4 C canned cannellini beans

- 1 bay leaf

- 1 onion

- 4 garlic cloves

- kosher salt

For the chermoula spice paste:

- 1/2 of a preserved lemon (~2 T chopped rind)

- 4 cloves garlic (~2 t chopped)

- 1 T cumin

- 2 t sweet paprika

- 1/2 t hot paprika

- 1/4 t cinnamon

- small bunch fresh cilantro (~2 T chopped)

- 2 T harissa

- 6 T crushed tomatoes

For the soup:

- 2 large butternut squashes (about 3 – 4 pounds total)

- olive oil

- 2 T cumin

- kosher salt

- 4 C chicken or vegetable broth

Make the beans. I used Michael Ruhlman’s instructions as a guideline.

Boil and soak. Pick through the dried  beans and remove any rocks or discolored beans. Bring to a  boil 3 parts cold water with 1 part dried beans (so, 4.5 C water, 1.5 C beans) and the bay leaf. Boil for 10 minutes and then turn off heat. Soak for an hour. Remove bay leaf, drain beans, rinse out pot, and add back the beans.

Simmer. Rough chop one onion, sliver 4 cloves of garlic, and add them to the beans. Fill the pot one inch over the beans with cold water (for this amount of beans, I used 6 cups of water). Simmer for 1 – 2 more  hours. When you can smell the beans and they’re almost tender enough (after 1.5 hour in my case), generously salt. By generously I mean a good palmful or two. The water should taste as salty as the ocean (similar to pasta water). Continue to cook until tender – you should be able to bite into them with almost no resistance. If the beans start to get mushy, it’s not a big deal because you’ll be pureeing the soup soon anyway.

Drain. Drain the cooked beans and onion and then add them back to the pot.

Make the chermoula.

Prep. Remove the preserved lemon peel from the flesh (slide your finger under the peel and the flesh should pop out pretty easily. Chop the lemon peel finely. Chop garlic.

Process. Put all the spices, cilantro, harissa, and tomatoes into a food processor (a mini one will do just fine). Pulse until everything comes together into a bright red paste.  Add salt to taste.

Make the soup.

Prep. Preheat oven to 450°F. Peel, seed, and chop squash into evenly sized chunks — the bigger the cubes, the longer they will take to roast; I typically cut into 3/4 – 1 inch chunks.

Roast. Cover cookie sheet with parchment. Spread squash out in single layer, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with cumin and salt, and shake around in the pan. Roast for 15-20 minutes, shaking the pan mid-way through to make sure the squash cooks evenly. The squash is ready when it’s nicely browned and yields easily with a fork.

Simmer. Add squash to the pot with the beans in it. Add half the chermoula or spices now and mix everything together. Pour in 4 C broth and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the broth (without any squash or beans) has a nice flavor.

Puree. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.

Serve. Garnish with a nice scoop of chermoula, some cilantro, and a few very thin slivers of preserved lemons.

Or … make it the easy way.

Saute. In a large pot, heat the  olive oil until it glistens. Saute garlic and onion.

Add. Add half the amount of each ingredient in the chermoula spice paste directly to the pan and mix with the garlic and onion.

Add more. Add beans (drained and rinsed) and cubed butternut squash.

One more addition. Pour in broth.

Simmer. Bring the soup to a boil and then drop down to a simmer until the squash is tender.

Blend. Whir the soup with an immersion blender until smooth.

Eat. Garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro and dig in.

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