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!
Charleston’s King of Rice Takes this Classic Comfort Food to a New Level
Growing up in rural New England in the 1970’s, rice (which usually came from a tired plastic bag or Minute brand white rice box) didn’t thrill me, to say the least. Potatoes, especially my Nanna’s mashed version, were another matter. It wasn’t until much later when I became acquainted with aromatic rices and Arborio that I started to really appreciate it and experiment with it in both savory and sweet dishes. But, when I moved to Charleston in 2000, I discovered rice nirvana in the form of Carolina Gold rice. Almost golden, you can taste it well before you put it in your mouth. Its buttery, hazelnut aroma/flavor entices your nose even as you sift it through the canvas bag in which it is most often stored. It is on every Charleston holiday table and supper tables several times a week and is the stuff of pirlou dreams.
Carolina Gold was the first commercial rice produced in the United States. By 1820, 100,000 acres of the rice was growing throughout the South, where it especially thrived growing in the tidewaters and marshes of South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina. It was a staple of the Lowcountry economy, which prior to The Civil War, was supported largely by the rice planting and harvesting skills of slaves imported from western Africa. The commerce thrived, and by the middle of the 18th century, was a dominant stepping stone of both the Charleston/Lowcountry economy as well as her inhabitant’s lusty appetite for the gloriously fragrant and delicious rice. The Civil War and merciful end to slavery as well as time all but killed production of the the cherished rice. Fortunately, growers such as Anson Mills (click for purchase or to learn more about the rice) resurrected its complicated production and harvesting.
The composition of the rice lends itself to fluffy, individual grains, a creamy risotto kind of mixture or sticky, depending on how it’s cooked. Fall gets me thinking about all things comfort, which gets me thinking about Carolina Gold rice, which gets me thinking about Carolina Gold rice pudding, which is exactly what I put together this past weekend. Cooked in milk and stirred frequently, like a risotto, it naturally forms a pudding “sauce” of its own, no eggs required. While it’s still hot, stir in some sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, orange zest, and butter and let it set and cool for a for a few hours. Meanwhile, simmer raisins in fresh orange juice, cinnamon and rum. That also sits to absorb and eventually they’re all mixed together and the pudding is blended with a final kiss of freshly whipped cream to give it a mousseline airiness. It is divine. Try some on your holiday table this year. Rice pudding will never taste quite the same to any of your guests ever again. Don’t add the fresh whipped cream until within an hour or so of serving. All the rest can easily be prepared a day ahead.
Comforting Carolina Gold Rice & Rum Raisin Pudding
(Makes 8 generous servings)
4 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
3/4 cup well rinsed and drained Carolina Gold rice
Zest of 1 orange
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Generous pinch salt
For the raisins:
1 cup raisins
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup light rum
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Generous pinch salt
To finish the pudding:
1 cup very cold heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Bring the milk and the 1/2 teaspoon salt to a low boil in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Add the rinsed rice and stir to combine. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered and stirring every few minutes, until very tender and most of the milk is absorbed, about 25 minutes. It will have a creamy, wet consistency similar to risotto. Meanwhile, turn your attention to the raisins. Combine the raisins, orange juice, rum, vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt in a small saucepan. Bring up to a boil and reduce to a lively simmer. Cook until the liquid has reduced to just about 1/4 cup, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and turn out into a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least three hours or overnight to macerate and mature the flavors. Return to finish the rice, when done cooking and still very warm, turn out into a large bowl with the orange zest, 3/4 cup sugar, butter, vanilla, cinnamon and generous pinch salt. Stir well to combine. Cover tightly and refrigerate three hours or overnight.
To finish the pudding (within an hour or so of serving), whip the heavy cream with the remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar until firm peaks have formed. Stir one-third of the whipped cream into the cold pudding along with the reserved, cold raisins. Gently fold another third of the whipped cream into the rice pudding until well but gently blended. Serve cold in an attractive serving bowl or in individual pudding cups or ramekins with a generous dollop of the remaining whipped cream.
Upcoming Book Signing
Come see me this Saturday, October 20 for the Daniel Island Library Harvest Tour of Homes.
I will be situated in the beautiful home at 341 Lesesne Street on Daniel Island from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. signing copies of my latest cookbook, The New Charleston Chef’s Table. Would love to see you there! It makes a lovely gift anytime of year, but especially during the holidays for the Charleston loving cook in your life.
The older you get, the more you realize how important it is to be grateful for all that life, God and the universe have given you. When I was a kid (though always grateful), I think I took for granted that I would always have a warm house, a full refrigerator, parents who loved and disciplined me, and a merry future with a great education, hopefully marriage and children, and a rewarding career. And, except for children, all of those things were always there.
As I enter the early years of my 5th decade, I realize how lucky and blessed I have been and am grateful for that and all that still remains. First and foremost, health. I’ve witnessed many friends, my age and many much younger, lose beloved friends and family members this year, many to horrific and hard to understand circumstances. I’m grateful to have two parents who are still vital and healthy, even as they both move towards their mid-eighties. I’m grateful for my beautiful house, a house that has become a home in the first full year it’s been lived in by me and my little pet family. It now houses memories and shadows of faces and good, well-lived and sometimes sad days past. I’m grateful for my bed, which I embrace every morning and thank “it” for proferring such a delicious night’s sleep. I’m grateful for my wonderful neighbors. I’m grateful for a steady stream of work in an unpredictable business. I’m grateful for the beauty of the world that surrounds me in Charleston, my adopted home of almost seventeen years. She still stuns me and silences me with the glory of her sunsets and the wisdom of her old soul. I’m grateful to have made it through months and days of mourning the dual loss of my beloved Tann Mann and Chutney Cat last spring. Days and months that felt like I was walking through milk (no, make that bechamel, cold bechamel and not a well seasoned one) wearing a blindfold on my eyes and shackles on my feet. Finally the blindfold and shackles fell, milk cleared to bright and eventually happy, and for that I credit God, faith, family and friends, and especially Mr. Purrfect, my slate grey and pure white Tuxedo cat who thinks he’s a dog, walks on a leash, and curls up on my back as I sleep. He also loves yogurt and a nice bit of cheese and has been the source of much amusement and joy since he entered my life six months ago. I’m grateful to my darling Michael (affectionately known as The Adorable One, or TAO), a constant rainbow of love and laughter who walked with me every step of the way, good and bad, this year and for several past.
Finally, I’m grateful for Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith, Sept. 6, 2016) which was a joy to create and write and I’ve loved watching people cook from it this fall and tell me how much they’ve enjoyed it. The recipe that follows is one of my top three favorites in the book, and one of the top ten I’ve ever created for any cookbook or anyone. It’s perfect. The celery trifecta – celery root, fresh celery, and celery seeds – is the idyllic foil to the creamy potatoes and offer delightful little bites of texture and flavor in each bite. And, what goes better with celery and potatoes than turkey? This is THE consummate side for your table. Make it today or on Thanksgiving, refrigerate, and reheat it over a water bath while the turkey’s resting and everyone begins to toast the holiday, giving thanks for all they love and value.
Triple Threat Celery Mash
(Yields 8 servings)
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.)
Love, Holly and Mr. Purrfect, The Cat who Thinks He’s a Dog
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.
The Thanksgiving countdown has begun, and hopefully you’re all taking time to smell the roses and savor the goodwill as you’re prepping your way toward the feast and the occasion.
I love gratins in general, and especially as an easy, delicious do-ahead side for Thanksgiving and other holiday meals. A kind of sassed up casserole, they’re hugely versatile and look as sophisticated as they taste homey and nurturing.
The recipe to follow (like the grits from a post earlier this week) is from my Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith, June 2008). Although when I created it, I thought of it as more of a late fall, early spring dish, in retrospect I think it’s splendid for Thanksgiving, too. Onions are glorious with turkey, and the acidic bite and creamy edge of gooey Brie should marry beautifully with a good pan gravy.
Fresh Sweet Onion and Tomato Gratin
(Serves 6 to 8)
For the gratin:
5 tablespoons unslated butter, divided
3 medium fresh sweet onions, trimmed, quartered and thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
For the custard:
1 1/4 cups whole milk
4 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion greens (from tops of onions or substitute scallions)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the topping:
1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
Zest of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Six (1-inch long) slices Brie
Putting it together:
Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Heat 3 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions, and then season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 12 to 15 minutes; set aside to cool. Coat a deep-dish 9-inch pie pan or gratin dish with remaining butter.
Meanwhile, prepare the custard. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth; set aside. To prepare the topping, combine the breadcrumbs with the zest and seasonings in a small bowl.
To assemble, drain any excess liquid off the cooked onions. Distribute about one-third of the onions evenly on the bottom of the buttered pan. Top with a single layer of sliced tomatoes. Top with half of the remaining onions, another layer of tomato, and finish with remaining onions. If needed, season lightly with salt and pepper. Pour the custard mix over the entire surface of the layered onions and tomatoes. Top with cheese, spaced about 3 to 4 inches apart, along the top of the gratin. Finish with an even layer of the breadcrumb mixture.
Bake until golden and bubbly and the custard has set, about 35 to 40 minutes. If desired, finish under a hot broiler or a flame torch for an extra golden glow. Allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing into wedges or squares.
NOTE: The gratin can be prepared ahead, covered and refrigerated, and then baked just before serving.
Bon appetit and Happy Thanksgiving!