Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Will work for soup

I've been working rather a lot lately, its not made me very fun to be around.  Unless I'm in a slightly hysterical over-tired phase, then my jokes are excellent.  The down side to all this is that I'm living off cereal and tea, not much chance to tingle my taste buds and report back to you.  The upside to my heavy work schedule is that I've been making a hell of a lot of soup.  Now the temperature has plummeted (apparently its going to snow next Tuesday according to Mrs C from number 25) were are getting through 3 huge pots everyday.  When lunch service has been hectic there is something quite calming about pottering around the kitchen concocting delicious soups.
This soup I made today and has a special place in my heart.  And my tummy. 

Roast Butternut Squash Soup

This recipe is adapted from both Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and my darling Sous Chef Nayana (who told me about the parmesan secret).  Hugh F-W notes that this soup could be made from roast chicken leftovers (stock, roasted onions and squash).  A great idea and carbon foot friendly too.

I've been mucking about with butternut squash soup for years, adding chilli for a spicy kick, dropping in cumin for earthy flavours - even melting through coconut milk for that taste of Asia.  This soup is different because it really lets the vegetable live up to its name - buttery and nutty with a savory kick from the parmesan.  Stripped back and pared down, this soup makes you happy.

2 medium to large butternut squash
2 white onions
5 cloves of garlic
2 sticks of celery - roughly chopped (optional)
1 large potato, peeled
chicken stock
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
double cream
small knob of butter
1 tbsp of grated parmesan
fresh nutmeg (optional)
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180c/350F/gas 4.

Cut the squashes in half, scoop out the seeds and cut each half into four or five large chunks.  Peel and quarter the onions leaving the roots intact to they hold together while roasting. Place everything into a large roasting tray adding the garlic whole (and not peeled) so they are like soft garliky caramel.  Drizzle olive oil over the whole tray and season with salt, pepper and the dried herbs.  Place in the middle of the oven and roast for around 45 minutes until the squash and onions are soft and golden.  Take out the oven and once cool enough squeeze the garlic out of their papery skins.

Put a large pot on the stove and set on a medium heat, add the butter and when melted add the celery.  Tip the whole roasting tray into the pot and mix around with celery and butter.  Chop the potato into 6 and add to the pot along with enough chicken stock to cover the vegetables.  Simmer on a medium heat with the lid on for half and hour.  Check that the potatoes are cooked through and add a splash of double cream.  Take off the heat and blend until really smooth, take your time - this soup has to be silky.  Sprinkle in the parmesan, blend some more and taste before seasoning.  Nutmeg is delicious with squash so a modest grating is a lovely addition.

Now back to work...

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Of mists and mellow fruitfulness

The only season that, last year, made me feel glad to be home after spending 2 weeks lying on Bondi Beach. The only season that allows me to dress up as a pirate, make lots of pumpkin soup and wake up happy every morning. The only season that is never a disappointment because it’s supposed to rain every day.

Autumn – I adore you.

October is the king of months for many reasons but mostly for the food. It seems that all my favorites are in season at this time of year. From mushrooms to beetroot to squash to apples; you can get a damn fine meal in October. I'm also still getting late season tomatoes coming through in my balcony boxes, 1-0 Mr Blackbird! With the nights drawing in comfort food is on the menu.

I’m never going to be a no carb, light bite kind of girl – I like bowls of food that warm your cockles, whatever cockles may be. For comfort bowl food you can’t go far wrong with gnocchi, and I’ve eaten a lot of gnocchi in my time. The first taste was a stolen forkful from my aunt Dianne’s plate whilst eating out in Sydney over a decade ago. Nestled in a simple Neapolitan sauce it was worth the thievery. That trip was a lot of first tastes but the pillowy softness of that rustled potato dumpling was something that I knew I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) live without.

Despite eating a lot of gnocchi, I have never actually made it myself – something to do with not owning a potato ricer. A couple of weeks ago I made that purchase and it changed my life. Not actually, but it’s the simple things. So I read up on my favourite little dumplings, the Romans like to use semolina flour whereas the Tuscans favour ricotta, there is pumpkin gnocchi (Autumnal heaven!), basil gnocchi; the list is endless and delicious. For something relatively simple gnocchi sure does come in a lot of guises. I have a potato ricer and I like potatoes so the classic potato gnocchi it was.

Potato Gnocchi with Chestnut Mushrooms,
Goats Cheese and Pinenuts

A celebration of Autumnal ingredients this dish is perfect for a cozy supper.  You can bake the potatoes in advance to cut down the prep time.  I tried to track down some local, wild mushrooms for this dish but unfortunately our brilliant local grocer has had to close its doors.  Sad times but chestnut are a good substitute.

Serves 2

For the gnocchi:
4 medium potatoes
2 tbsp of 00 flour
1 egg
fresh nutmeg
salt and pepper

For the sauce:
8 large chestnut mushrooms
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
a selection of fresh herbs - I used thyme, purple sage and parsley
splash of white wine
splash of chicken stock
small knob of butter
soft goats cheese
small handful of pinenuts

Turn the oven on to 220c/425F/gas 7.  Rub the potatoes with olive oil, score the tops and bake in the oven for about an hour until the potatoes are fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside.  Allow to cool a little and then, while they are still warm, cut in half and scoop out the insides into a ricer.  'Rice' (is that a word?!) the potatoes into a large mixing bowl until lovely and smooth.  Add generous pinch of salt, grind in some black pepper and grate in a little fresh nutmeg.  Remember with nutmeg a little goes a long way.  Whisk the egg and add into the potato mixture.   Little by little add the flour, only using enough to bind the mixture.  The less flour used, the lighter your gnocchi will be so only use as much as you need to make the dough easy to handle.  Split the dough three ways and roll each piece into a long sausage shape.  Cut the sausages into inch long pieces, place on a floured plate and leave to set in the fridge for 10 to 20 minutes.

Put a saucepan of salted water on to boil.  Get a large frying on the heat and toss in the pinenuts.  Toast them for half a minute and put to the side.  In the same pan add a good glug of olive oil, add the mushrooms to the frying pan and toss until golden brown.  Add in the butter, garlic, seasoning and any hardy herbs (thyme, sage etc).  When the garlic has cooked, splash in the wine, add the stock and cook for another 5 minutes on a medium heat.  While the sauce is cooking take the gnocchi from the fridge and cook in the salted water until they rise to the surface.  It should only take a couple of minutes.  Remove, gently, with a slotted spoon and add to the sauce.  Sprinkle roughly chopped fresh parsley and the toasted pine nuts into the pan, shake everything together and spoon into pasta bowls.  Crumble a little soft goats cheese over the top and serve.

Note: I have read that gnocchi can be made without using a potato ricer although it is very important to get the mash as smooth as possible.  I picked up my ricer for under a tenner at Tescos.

The herbs I used in this recipe were from our brand-spanking-new community herb garden that I stumbled upon while picking up the papers last week.  Perfect timing as my own herb pots and boxes are past their best now.  They seem to be very well looked after (particularly the purple sage which is bursting with health) and I hope it is treasured by everyone.  A lovely idea for gardenless people like myself.

This post has been entered into the 'In The Bag' food blogging event where 3 seasonal ingredients are brought together to make something delicious and then blogged about.  This month it was mushrooms, nuts and herbs.  To find out more about 'In The Bag' check out Julia's blog A Slice Of Cherry Pie

Julia Parsons is the founder of the UK Food Bloggers Association which is a brilliant way to get to know other food bloggers as well as an invaluable source of help and support.