Roasted Butternut Squash (or Pumpkin) Soup

Butternut Squash Soup tastefoodButternut Squash, Apples, Cider, Spice 

There is something magical about roasted butternut squash. Its orange flesh softens into a sweet and nutty squidginess, which is easily transformed into a puree. It’s hard to believe something so rich and sugary can be loaded with nutrients and betacarotene, but so it is. One cup of butternut squash provides a glutton’s worth of Vitamins A, B, and C, as well as potassium, fiber and manganese. When roasted, its natural sugars are coaxed out and gently caramelized, accentuating the squash’s inherent nutty flavor – simply delicious with a pinch of salt. In this recipe, roasted butternut mingles with its fall buddies – apples, cider and loads of warm spices – yielding an essential autumn soup.

Spicy Butternut Squash (or Pumpkin) Soup

Serve as a starter to any meal, including Thanksgiving dinner. If you are entertaining a crowd, consider small servings in little cups or demi-tasse as a light hors d’oeuvre. Pumpkin may be substituted for the squash. I prefer small hokkaido pumpkins.

Serves 4 to 6 in bowls or 8 to 12 in small cups.

1 medium butternut squash (or 1 large hokkaido pumpkin) about 2 pounds
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, cut in 1/2-inch dice
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Heat the oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Lightly brush the exposed flesh with olive oil. Place squash, cut-side-down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the flesh is fork tender, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened without coloring, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the apple, curry powder, cumin, coriander and cayenne.  Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the squash and chicken stock. (There should be just enough stock to cover the squash and apples. If needed, add additional stock to cover). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until the apples are very soft, about 20 minutes.

Carefully puree the soup in batches in a food processor (or with an immersion blender). Return to the pot. The soup should be thick. Thin it to your desired consistency with the apple cider. Stir in the brown sugar, salt and pepper. Warm thoroughly over medium-low heat and taste for seasoning. Serve warm, garnished with fresh cilantro leaves.

Grilled Ratatouille Salad

ratatouille  salad

~ Grilled Ratatouille Salad with Couscous ~

It’s that time of year when the garden is lobbing bushels of vegetables at us faster than a tennis ball machine. And it means one thing: It’s time for ratatouille. Now, mind you, this is not your traditional ratatouille. Instead of simmering a stew of Provencal vegetables on the stovetop, I’ve thrown eggplant, squash, onions and peppers on the grill until lightly charred, then tossed them with olive oil and fresh herbs. It’s a lighter version that’s very versatile. I like to serve it over couscous, tossed with pasta or spooned on top of grilled garlic bread.

Grilled Ratatouille Salad

If you don’t have a grill, the veggies may be broiled in the oven. You may either roast the tomatoes with the vegetables or toss them in at the end. (If you grill them, thread on pre-soaked bamboo skewers to prevent them from falling through the grates). If desired, sprinkle with crumbled feta or goat cheese before serving.

Serves 4.

2 medium zucchini or yellow squash, cut in 1/2 inch slices
2 red or yellow bell peppers, quartered, stems and seeds removed
1 small eggplant, sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick
1 large red onion, slice crosswise, 1/2 inch thick
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grape tomatoes
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup Italian parsley sprigs, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, shredded

Prepare a grill for direct cooking over medium heat. Spread the vegetables on a tray. Brush with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. Grill until lightly charred and cooked to desired doneness, 6 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut in large chunks. Place in a bowl with tomatoes, garlic, parsley and basil. Gently toss to combine. Taste for seasoning and add more olive oil if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.  

Ratatouille Gratin

~ Ratatouille Gratin ~

It’s that time of year when the vegetables sneak up on you. A month ago, summer squash were elusive, appearing in the markets in small groups at a price. In the garden they were merely a hint of themselves peeking from their flowers. Purchases felt premature, tasting a little bitter, and costing too much for something you knew would soon be prolific.

~
Then, before you know it, a month has passed and squash are teeming everywhere. The garden is lobbing them to you like tennis balls, the market shelves are stacked with zucchini, crooknecks, and patty pans, ripe and ready for consumption. With the bounty, it’s time to get creative, because, ironically, it’s easy to tire of this abundance, and that is a shame.  So, yesterday I was determined to use my imagination to celebrate summer squash. Instead of a traditional ratatouille, I made a gratin. And before I made the gratin, I played a little bit with my food and made Ratatouille Stacks.

~ Ratatouille Stacks ~

The ingredients are identical, only the arrangement is different. Serve the gratins as side dishes or a light vegetarian meal. The stacks are fun appetizers.

Ratatouille Gratin with Goat Cheese and Basil

Try to choose squash and eggplant of a similar diameter. This recipe makes enough for an 8 to 9-inch square or round pan. Alternatively, you can arrange the vegetables in smaller individual gratin dishes.

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Serves 4

1 narrow eggplant, about 10 ounces
1 medium zucchini, about 6 ounces
1 medium yellow squash, about 6 ounces
1 large red bell pepper, quartered and seeded
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup basil leaves, torn into 1/2-inch pieces, plus extra for garnish
3 ounces soft fresh goat cheese

1. Preheat the oven broiler.
2. Slice the eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash crosswise about 1/3 inch thick. (If the eggplant is much wider than the squash, quarter lengthwise and slice 1/3 inch thick.)
3. Arrange the eggplant, zucchini, squash, and peppers in one layer on an oiled baking tray. Brush the tops with additional oil and lightly season with salt and black pepper. Broil on the top shelf of the oven until the vegetables are tender, but not mushy, and brown in spots, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once. Remove and cool to the touch.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil an 8 or 9-inch square or round gratin dish. Arrange the vegetables, alternating and slightly overlapping, in rows or a circular pattern. Tuck the basil between the vegetables in a random pattern so that it is evenly distributed. Scatter grape-size amounts of the goat cheese evenly over the vegetables.
5. Bake the gratin in the oven until the cheese is soft and light golden in spots, about 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with extra basil if desired.