Warm Up Thanksgiving with This Exceptional Soup Recipe
In the cooler months, my kitchen counter is permanently decorated with an array of winter squashes. Hubbard, acorn, butternut, pumpkin, turban – whatever I can find at the grocery store or farmers’ market. They serve the dual purpose of appealing to my aesthetic senses as well as fueling my appetite for seasonal cooking. All winter squashes shine especially brightly in soups, which magnify their flavor and color intensity and smooth texture beautifully. Thankfully, the heirloom varieties (my current favorite is Hubbard) are increasingly available. Lately, I’ve been roasting Hubbard squash, halved and skin-side down in a hot oven (425F) until very soft. Once cool, I mash the flesh with a splash of salt and pepper, cinnamon, perhaps a bit of maple syrup and a pat of butter. It has an exquisite bright orange color and possesses deep, rich winter squash flavor. With a sauteed filet of salmon or cod, it makes a complete and very satisfying meal.
The acorn squash in this soup is treated similarly and finished with minimalist ingredients so the clean, earthy squash flavor takes center stage. The maple syrup is cooked into the soup with just a few more ingredients and the elegance of shallots and a tiny bit of cream. It is pureed to a velvety finish with an immersion blender or a food processor. Because it is so elegant, delicious, seasonal, and just the right, light weight, it is the perfect way to kick off any special meal, especially Thanksgiving. The reverence and gratitude associated with Thanksgiving make soup the perfect starter – a slow and easy debut that gives you and your guests time to sink their hearts and minds into the occasion, pausing for reflection and slow sipping as they go. It also gives the turkey and the cook a little much needed time to rest before the gigantic feast begins.
This Maple Acorn Squash Soup from Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith) was inspired by the maple syrup and butter-filled acorn squash halves my mother made often for my brothers and sisters when we were children. Do use real maple syrup. It makes a huge difference in the authenticity of the soup’s flavor.
Maple Acorn Squash Soup
(Yields 6 to 8 Servings)
2 large acorn squash, halved horizontally and seeded
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and halved vertically
Generous pinch of kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons bourbon (optional but delicious!)
4 cups low sodium vegetable stock
1 cup water
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
Preheat oven to 425F (22oC). Place the acorn squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Roast for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the flesh is very tender. Set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh from the interior of the squash, discarding the shells. You should have about 4 cups.
In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and celery and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until just softened. Add the ginger, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and bourbon; stir to combine. Cook until the bourbon has reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes. Add the stock, water, squash, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil over high and reduce to a simmer, cooking, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove ginger pieces and discard.
In the same pot, puree the soup with an immersion blender until very smooth. Finish with the cream, heating through. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve hot in individual soup bowls garnished with a flutter of fresh chives. (Note: The soup can be prepared ahead a day or 2 and refrigerated, but remember to add the cream and the chives when reheating, not prior).
Wishing everyone a beautiful, happy and delicious Thanksgiving!
The Birth of Cookbook #8
My publisher Gibbs Smith surprised me with a phone call late last September and described their vision for a cookbook featuring entirely mashed foods, a sophisticated and internationally inspired ode to perhaps the ultimate comfort food – all things mashed. Immediately, my brain flooded with the possibilities of texture and flavor plays runnning the gamut from potatoes (of course), every vegetable under the sun, legumes, fruits, even meats and eggs. I jotted them down as fast as my fingertips allowed, and before I knew it, I had an outline, a contract and a deadline – 75 tested recipes and corresponding pages within 3 months.
The holidays were just around the corner, my Dad was about to have a stroke (this unforeseen and sad part of the story ended well, thank God), and life seems to move faster with each passing year, but I didn’t hesitate to say yes, yes and yes! Saying no to virtually every social and professional invitation that came my way, I huddled closely to my stove and my assorted mashing tools until my work was done, which I wholly enjoyed. I’m happy to report that the first leg of the “Mashed” journey is joyfully complete. The pages were submitted a few short weeks ago. I’m breathing deep sighs of relief because I believe the recipes will be enjoyed around many happy tables for many years to come. My wonderful and patient editor Michelle Branson tells me the photos by photographer Alexandra DeFurio and stylist Anni Daulter are “exquisitely beautiful” (note photo below is by me) and cover design are underway now. I can’t wait to see all of the above and start the editing process. The book, simply and aptly titled “Mashed” (Gibbs Smith) will be released in early September.
The recipe that follows is one of my favorites featuring fabulous root vegetables. It’s already become a staple on my table. I have a bowl waiting for me to go with a seared peppered steak for lunch. The pretty, pale green colors recall early spring days and holidays such as Easter and St. Patrick’s day. By adding a bit more cream and stock, this turns into a beautiful, and delicious soup.
Triple Threat Celery Mash
(Yields 8 servings)
For the longest time, I thought of celery as a rather boring culinary building block. Something you put in stock or aromatic mixes to provide base flavor or fill with peanut butter for a snack, end of story. But, when living in France decades ago, I discovered celery root (or celeriac) which is the bulb that yields that stalks that yield the leaves, all of which have wonderfully distinct and varied levels of celery flavor. The crunch and the freshness of the stalks, the fluttery light aroma of the leaves, and the mysteriously, layered buttery celery essence of the root all come together in one place in this magnificent dish. Its gamey, vegetable flavor would work magic with roasted rabbit, duck, goose, or venison – making it an almost automatic annual holiday table show-stopper!
1 large celery root, rough outer skin and inner skin removed and discarded , and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
2 stalks fresh celery, trimmed, cleaned and cut into 1”-lengths (Note: Reserve any fresh celery leaves for garnish)
Water to cover
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Finely chopped fresh celery leaves for garnish
Place the prepped celery root, potatoes, and fresh celery in a medium pot. Cover generously with fresh, cold water. Add salt. Bring up to a boil over high and reduce to a simmer over medium/medium low heat. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until all ingredients are very tender when pierced with a knife or fork. Pour the potatoes, celery root, celery and water into a colander and drain well. Return to the warm cooking pot. Heat the celery/potato mixture over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, shaking to move around the pan and dry out the ingredients. Separately, heat the cream, butter and celery seed in the microwave or in a saucepan until warm and melted. Pour, in thirds, into the celery and potato mixture, mashing coarsely with a manual masher to combine and puree. Season with salt and pepper, tasting to adjust as needed. Serve hot, and garnish if desired with a few chopped celery leaves. (Note: The mash will store beautifully in a sealed container for up to 3 days. Reheat over water bath or microwave before serving.)
Now, I believe it’s time for lunch. As always, bon appetit!
I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized that Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is a little over a week away. October flew this year, with travel to visit my father who was ill (but thankfully is much better), a dreadful cold that lived in my sinuses for two weeks, and fast and furious recipe development for my newest cookbook baby (working title: Mashed) that will be released by my publisher Gibbs Smith in fall 2016. I wanted to share this recipe with you, because it’s one of my favorites from those yet developed for the book, but also because it’s a perfect ending for your Thanksgiving feast. I love the color and flavor sweet potato adds, and the grist of the grits melts into the pudding as it cooks. Delicious! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I think I’ll be making it again next week.
Sweet Potato Indian Pudding
(Yields 6 to 8 servings)
This rustic and gorgeous sweet pudding combines elements of the traditional Indian pudding I grew to know and love as a child in my native New England, with ingredients widely used in in my adult hometown of Charleston, SC and throughout the South – sweet potatoes and grits. The New England version skips the sweet potatoes all together and uses cornmeal as the “corn” element of the pudding, while this recipe adds the perfectly appropriate flavor and texture girth of mashed sweet potatoes and grits – a rougher, stone-ground version of cornmeal. The results are stunning. As southerners are apt to say, “It’s the best thing you’ll ever put in your mouth.”
It’s best warm with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream on top. If you can’t find stone-ground grits, cornmeal or polenta will work fine. But, skip the instant variety. Longer cooking soaks up all the flavor of the pudding and melts the corn into one integrated bowl of perfection.
1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups Half & Half
1/3 cup stone ground white or yellow grits (or substitute cornmeal)
1/4 cup molasses
2 large eggs
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
The day before cooking, prep the mashed sweet potatoes. Preheat oven to 425F. Scrub and pierce a large sweet potato a couple times with a knife. Bake until soft and skin is puckered, about one hour. Remove skin when cook enough to handle and mash until fine and fluffy. Reserve (refrigerate, covered, for several days).
On pudding day, preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 1 1/2 to 2 quart deep-sided baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Bring the Half & Half up to a simmer over medium high heat in a medium-sized pot. Do not boil! When simmering, whisk in the sweet potatoes, grits and molasses. Whisk, constantly, over medium high heat until thickened to a thin pudding stage, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, salt, vanilla, ginger and cinnamon until frothy. Whisk in 1 cup of the warm pudding mixture. Pour in the remaining pudding mixture and whisk to combine. Pour the pudding into the buttered baking dish. Bake on center rack for 40 minutes. Add the cold butter cubes, sprinkling evenly over the top. Reduce the heat to 325F. Cook 45 – 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The pudding will quiver slightly to the touch. Remove from oven. Rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.