Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Butternut Bisque: Gearing up for the cold

This morning I rolled out of bed to a grey and breezy morning. The thermometer read 47 degrees. So I fixed myself a cup of tea, pulled my puffy coat out from it’s summer hibernation, donned my fuzziest slippers, and stepped outside. From my down-warmed perch on the porch, I watched the waters of Lena Cove ripple and swirl like a moving picture of the wind. Seagulls navigated the gusts, and a murder of crows flapped their way from one tree to another. I sat for almost an hour out there, and all the while I was utterly cozy, nestled in my black down jacket like an oversized raven.

How lovely, I thought to myself, to be so comfortable outdoors, feeling, hearing, and touching the weather rather than watching it through a window.

It’s getting colder and I feel genuinely happy about that. Much as I welcome the heat of summer, the shift in seasons is a beautiful thing, regardless of the weather it brings. Loving the cold, I’ve discovered, is about having the right gear. Noah bought me this coat in Wyoming last year, for Christmas, right before a cross-country ski trip into the heart of Yellowstone—commonly one of the coldest places in the lower 48. Temperatures barely brushed the positive side of zero while we were there. I loved that trip, and thanks to Noah and my new puffy, I was never cold.

Yellowstone N.P., Lone Star Trail (Where's Ginzo?)

“I am in love with this jacket,” I told Noah. “I can’t believe I ever went into the backcountry without one. Why have I ever been cold cold, ever?”

Loving the cold is about having the right gear on the inside too. People of the Northern regions, this is no time for gazpacho! It’s time to eat warming foods. Seasonal foods. Foods that are nutrient dense. Foods like root vegetables, winter squash, dried beans and grains, served in soups, stews, gratins, and with slow-roasted meats.

There are a lot of ways to think about warming foods, but any way you slice it, winter is approaching in the Northern hemisphere, and if you want to feel joyful about that, give yourself the right gear, both inside and out. You’re on your own with the puffy coat, but what I can do is give you this recipe for Butternut Squash Bisque. It’s like a down jacket for your tummy.

Butternut Bisque (serves 6 as a main course)

When I made this soup for one of the Thursday night feasts at Rainbow Foods, I got feedback from more than one customer saying, “I don’t like squash, but I loved this soup.” Luscious, smooth, and deceptively healthy, this is squash even your kiddos might like. Serve with Cheese Toast (recipe below) for a satisfying meal.

Dairy does not freeze or boil well. Soup may be frozen for up to 2 months, if you hold the milk and cream, and add it just before serving. When reheating the soup, take care not to let it come to a hard boil.

1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, roughly chopped
¼ cup sherry
1 med. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1” cubes
2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Few grinds of black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
½ cup half and half
½ cup milk

1. In a large (5 quart) soup pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion. Saute until onions begin to brown in spots, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Add half the sherry and continue cooking until liquid has evaporated and onions once again begin to brown in spots, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan by adding the remaining sherry and continue cooking until liquid has evaporated and onions are a rich brown, about 1 minute, stirring. This process is called caramelization, and caramelizing the onions will help bring out their sugars (i.e. sweetness).

2. Add squash, carrots, celery, and apples to the pot along with ¼ cup stock, and cook covered, stirring occasionally until vegetables have begun to soften, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Add stock, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook until squash is very soft, 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Remove from heat, and add rosemary, milk and half and half to the pot. Using a blender, puree the soup in batches. USE CAUTION when blending hot liquids. Steam pressure can build up in the pitcher, causing the lid to pop off when you turn the machine on. The easiest way to avoid burns and a hot mess is to fill the blender no more than halfway when pureeing hot liquids, and start on a low speed, and gradually work your way up.

Serve warm with cheese toast (recipe below).

Cheese Toast (makes 6 hearty servings)

1 baguette or artisanal loaf, sliced into 12 – 1/4” thick pieces
1 cup grated cheese (Gruyere is best, but any good melter will do)
Olive oil, or olive oil cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray or lightly brush bread with olive oil. Sprinkle with cheese, and bake 12 to 15 minutes or until crisp and melty. Serve warm with Butternut Bisque.


Joy said...

Ginny! It's so great to read your blog, you've got such great ideas and a warm, conversational way of writing. Glad to hear things are well up north...


Ginny Mahar said...

Thanks for stopping by Joy! So great to hear from you. Hope your music and your writing are both going well.

Southern Grace Gourmet said...

I like your photo better! Good addition with the apples, I'll have to try that next time. The only difference is its actually cold where your at, I just cranked the A/C and pretended it was cold. Florida's hot and humid!

{kiss my spatula} said...

there's nothing quite like a warm bisque on a cold day. i've never been very good at adapting to the turning of summer to fall...but maybe it's been my lack of the right puffy coat all these years!

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