By Gina Marinelli, Gourmet Cook & Contributing Writer
It's mid-winter and I sense that soon I will have to let it go. California is this way. Already I can see that the warmth of the sun has wooed the trees to swell with eagerness. Suddenly the air is fragrant with the scent of the flowering tulip and the promise of new growth and vitality. My hands itch to go out back and start digging in the soil. Am I mad to want to hold the hand of the barren land? Mad as a hatter!
Winter is beautiful. The landscape, naked and exposed, moved into unique sounds and configurations by the wind, the rain and the snow. Sharp, stark, quivering and crisp. These vital and active forces of nature cultivate in me profound appreciation for everything. Food, literature, music, art, dance, philosophy, film, language, history and devotional practice: All of these and more come to greater light during the winter months.
At the farmers' market the dark colors and eccentric shapes of winter squash stand firm as the heart and soul of the winter. Thick skinned strength, canyon like ribs, and hidden sweet rich flesh, are so characteristic of the last harvest course. I pick up a dark green Acorn squash feeling its weight and admiring the single orange spot on one of its ribs. This is it, a symbol to honor my winter enchantment. A fruit of the vine that holds all of the rich magnificence of winters charm. I will use these squash in a winter squash soup. Thick, colorful, warm and sweet, with a little spice of fire! a touch of sage, parsley and thyme.
I will keep winter and eat it too! .
There are a plethora of varieties of squash. The names and types are always changing ,but these are the most reliably available.
Acorn, Delicata, Butternut, Buttercup, Hubbard, Kabocha, Turban, Spaghetti, Mini Squash and pumpkin. When choosing Winter squash look and feel for firmness and heaviness. The heavier they are the denser and moister the flesh.
Winter squash have thick, tough shells that protect the sweet flesh inside which makes them excellent " keepers." Some varieties are available year-round, but their natural season runs from late summer to mid-winter.
Every part of the squash plant can be eaten, including the leaves and tender shoots!
A Winter Song
Winter Squash Soup with Fried Sage Leaves (serves 6-8)
3 or more 1-2 pound Organic winter squash of your choice
quarter cup of olive oil plus extra for rubbing on the squash
softened butter for rubbing on squash and carrots
8 garlic cloves skins left on
2 onions,finely chopped
about 16 whole sage leaves, plus 2 tablespoons chopped
tablespoon of chopped thyme (if available)
half a cup of finely chopped parsley
Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper
red pepper flakes to taste
curried spice (optional)
2 or more quarts of pure water or No Fuss Stock
I prefer stock it adds so much to the depth of this naturally sweet and nutty flavored soup pecorino or ricotta salata to garnish.
*Please choose certified organic as often as possible, particularly squash, it absorbs and stores contaminants.
Preheat the oven to 225
cut squash in half leave on skins
wash and peel carrots cut into pieces that can fit under the dome of the squash some can be scattered about the squash
scoop out seeds and save for No Fuss vegetable stock
Brush the surface with olive oil and softened butter, stuff the garlic cloves into the cavities place the squash cut sides down on a baking sheet. Bake until tender when pressed with a finger.
While the squash is baking prepare easy soup stock.
NO FUSS STOCK
at least 10 cups of pure water
1 whole fennel cut into pieces
2 carrots cut
seeds from winter squash and strings if any
1 onion coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves peeled and mashed
1 celery stalk cut
Heat the oil over low heat and add the onion,carrot,celery and fennel. While they are simmering finish chopping vegetables and any aromatics that you will be adding to the stock, use all of the trimmings. Stir and then mix in water bring to a boil and lower to a simmer, uncovered for no longer than a half an hour. Strain and reserve for soup.
It may seem like a waste of time to cut the vegetables since they will be discarded but I learned from one of the best chefs that I know that the more surface area that is exposed the quicker and greater the yield of flavor from the vegetables.
In a small skillet heat the remaining olive oil to hot drop in the whole sage leaves and fry until dark and speckled. Place the leaves on a brown paper bag to drain off the oil. Transfer the sage infused olive oil to a large soup pot. Add the onions,chopped sage, parsley and thyme. Saute over low heat, until the onions begin to brown around the edges. Scoop all of the squash flesh into the pot with the onions and herbs and and add any of the juices from roasting. Squeeze the garlic from the skins and add to pot. Add carrots as well. Add No Fuss Stock. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer, partially covered for about 25 minutes. The soup will thicken, add some pure water to thin. Add sea salt to taste, red pepper flakes and a hint of curry spice.
If you want a rough looking soup there is no need to strain or puree. I prefer the smooth refined texture of a puree.
Ladle soup into a beautiful bowl,sprinkle on the pecorino cheese garnish the top with a fried sage leaf. Absolutely gorgeous!
Everyone that ate this soup asked if I had added honey to it! Not a drop. Simply the sweetness of the sun held still and waiting. My son added some coconut oil to the mix in his bowl and a lot more spice. Some like it hot!
My winter melody all in one pot.
Thick, colorful, warm and sweet, with a little spice of fire! a touch of sage, parsley and thyme.
I hold the hand of winter long enough to feel it's wisdom and am now unafraid to cast off its shelter. I know that it is with me as I turn my face to meet the sun.
For Nutritional Benefits of the Gourd Family refer to: