Dinner was butternut squash soup, partially picked for our vegetarian friends who weren't able to make it, but also because the previous time we made it, the soup had been badly blundered, and I felt it needed a retry. I mentioned before in the previous post (Fun in H-town) about often making mistakes of grand proportions when Leslie, Kyle and I are together in the kitchen, and this is the one I think back to with the fondest memory. The time was around thanksgiving 2006. Leslie wanted us to make a butternut squash soup. I found a recipe that sounded delightful on Food Network, however this recipe was three in one. A recipe for the soup, a recipe for the cooked spices, and a recipe for the sweet and spicy nuts. I knew the soup would take time so I began prep work the night before, carefully heating and blending the spices, and almost burning down the house with the frying of nuts. The first batch, I, being the inexperienced fryer, did not understand the qualities of overheated oil. I threw my first batch of nuts in to the boiling oil. A exploding volcano of oil brewed, spilling over the blackened, charred nuts and towards my face. The entire first floor filled with black billowing smoke turning on every smoke alarm. It only took that one time to correct my mistake, and the rest of the nuts were delicious. The next evening was our group cooking event over at Leslie's house. We peeled the squash, (which is a much easier task if you throw it in oven for 20 min. or so beforehand) threw in the ingredients and voila, we had a soup, or did we? Instead of soup, we had a disaster. The disaster occurred when the directions said to throw in the spice. I failed to notice that we were to only use 2 tsp not the entire quantity of 1 1/2 c. that had been prepared. Somehow, with a miracle we saved the soup, and it was a great success.
This time around, we did not make as many mistakes, except that we doubled the recipe and found ourselves with excessive amounts of left over soup. I like the soup but not for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
All in all the party was a success, good food, great company and terrific pumpkins.
Asher's destroyed pumpkin. If nothing else, pumpkins are fun to smash :)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups sliced leeks, white parts only
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 6 cups peeled and roughly diced butternut squash
- 3 cups peeled and roughly diced apples
- 2 teaspoons Toasted Spice Rub, recipe follows
- 6 1/2 cups chicken stock or 2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans low-sodium chicken broth mixed with 3 cups water
- Sea salt, preferably gray salt
- 1 cup chopped Spiced Candied Walnuts, recipe follows, optional
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat, and cook until it turns nut brown. Add the leeks and cook until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute briefly to release its fragrance.
Add the squash and apples, raise the heat to high, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Stir in the Toasted Spice Rub and cook briefly to toast it, about 1 minute.
Add the stock or broth-water mixture, bring to a simmer, and partially cover. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the squash and apples are tender, about 40 minutes.
Transfer in batches to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Return to the pot, reheat to serving temperature, and season with salt.
Divide the soup among warmed bowls and garnish each portion with some of the walnuts, if using. Serve immediately.
Toasted Spice Rub:
- 1/4 cup fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup pure California chili powder (about 1-ounce)
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
In a small heavy pan over medium heat, combine the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns. When the fennel turns light brown, work quickly. Turn on the exhaust fan, add the red pepper flakes, and toss, toss, toss, always under the fan. Immediately turn the spice mixture out onto a plate to cool. Put in a blender with the chili powder, salt, and cinnamon and blend until the spices are evenly ground. If you have a small spice mill or a coffee grinder dedicated to grinding spices, grind only the fennel, coriander, pepper, and chili flakes. Pour into a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients.
Yield: about 1 cup
Spiced Candied Walnuts:
- Peanut or canola oil
- 4 cups walnut halves
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch salt, or more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat about 1-inch of oil to 350 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add walnuts and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain and transfer nuts to a medium bowl. While nuts are still hot and slightly wet, add confectioners' sugar and toss to coat nuts. Stir and toss until all the sugar has melted into the nuts; if bits of unmelted sugar remain on the nuts, they will not fry properly.
Stir the nuts again before frying. Using a large slotted spoon, transfer a few nuts to the hot oil, allowing the foam to subside before adding another spoonful. (Otherwise, the oil could foam over and burn you.) Fry in small batches until the nuts are medium brown, about 45 seconds per batch; be careful not to overcook. Scatter on an unlined baking sheet to cool slightly.
In a small bowl, stir together cayenne, cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and the pepper.
While the nuts are still warm, transfer them to a bowl and sprinkle evenly with about half of the spice mix. Toss well to distribute the spices and then taste a nut. Add more spice mix, to taste, and toss well after each addition. When cool, pack in an airtight jar. They will keep at room temperature for at least 2 weeks.
Yield: 4 cups