Nostalgic Pumpkin Soup

In November of 1994, I was an exchange student in the south of France living with a beautiful family of 5 for about 10 days. The mother made us many wonderful meals, including, of course, escargot. I remember her children telling me how when it rained, their mother would send them outside to collect the snails... I also remember her sending me off to our field trips with bagged lunches of supremely delicious bread covered in such tasty cheese... ahhh... :) And the yogurt that they ate for dessert following dinner... well, there's nothing like it here. Anyhow, all that was just a tangent and an excuse to reminisce!!! :-D

What this post is *really* about is that I still have vivid memories of the night she made pumpkin soup for us. It was a cold, damp night, and we were returning from a judo lesson, and we were nourished by this warm, flavorful soup, bread and a salad. It was perfect.

I have no idea how she made her soup, or accomplished the deep flavors that were in it, but I am trying my best here to come close.

I started like this:

I chopped the onion and garlic, and sauteed them in a little bit of olive oil in a large pan. Then I chopped the pumpkin up and added it to the pan, all of it, because I wanted it to be richly "pumpkin". That's what I remember. I put in about 6 cups of my homemade vegetable stock, and cooked the pumpkin until it was soft. Then I pureed it with my immersion blender until it was nice and smooth. I poured in just a bit of whole milk for creaminess, but not too much, because I didn't want to kill the pumpkin flavor. Then I seasoned the soup to taste with salt and pepper, nutmeg, and a little bit of what Thomas Keller calls "squab spice", a mix of cinnamon, coriander, cloves, pepper, and ginger, because I had some in my pantry and it seemed like a good idea :)

I ended up with this:

I'm sure it's not the same. But it's good!

Saumon au Poivre Vert (Salmon With Green Peppercorns)

"A fashionable discovery of nouvelle cuisine, green peppercorns add piquancy to all kinds of sauces and stews. Available pickled in jars or cans, they are great to keep on hand in your pantry."

Tonight Bill and I decided to frog out. We made a delicious French meal of pan seared salmon with a rich peppercorn cream sauce, accompanied by baked tomatoes topped with garlic. It was tres magnifique!


Buttercup Squash Soup

I recently made this easy soup on a chilly fall night. It had a great balance of flavors and was very warming to the belly and soul :) Buttercup squash is a variety of winter squash that is sweeter than most and has a creamy, dark orange flesh.

I started by sauteeing one small chopped onion and 2 minced garlic cloves in a bit of vegetable oil.

Then I added the cubed squash, 1 large diced potato, 1/2 cup diced celeriac, 1/2 cup diced carrots, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon marjoram, 1/2 teaspoon chervil and salt and pepper to taste.

I added 6 cups water, brought it to a simmer, and cooked everything for about 10 minutes.

Then I added a bunch of chopped kale, and simmered for about 5 more minutes.

I blended it with an immersion blender, but left some chunks of potato in there for texture.

Add some nice bread and you've got a healthy and satisfying meal!


Golden-Fried Pumpkin Purses

Here is a seasonal recipe from Alain Ducasse in his Flavors of France cookbook. It is essentially a fried ravioli stuffed with pumpkin, leeks, rice and Parmesan cheese, that apparently comes from Monaco where the locals call them "Uncle Johns", or "barbajuans".

The first step is to roast a pumpkin in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour and a half. Quarter your pumpkin, place the pieces skin-side-down on a baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil.

Meanwhile, make the pasta:

Mix together:
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup ice-cold water

Knead the dough for a minute, form into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Next, begin to make the filling:

Boil 1/2 cup Arborio rice for 10 minutes with 1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt in 1 1/2 cups water.
Drain the rice and set aside.

Then mince the white and tender green parts of 4 slim leeks, and saute them in a skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil for about 4 minutes.

Once the pumpkin has cooked, remove the skin and mash it til smooth in a large bowl.

Mix in:
the cooked rice
the sauteed leeks
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (6 oz) Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

(I forgot to take a photo of the mixture all together, but here is the pumpkin; you'll see the filling below as it is assembled with the pasta.)

Roll the pasta dough out into long sheets.

Spoon 20 walnut-sized scoops of filling along the bottom half of each pasta sheet, then fold the top half over to cover the mounds.

Press the edges together around each mound, then cut into ravioli shapes:

Heat 6 cups of peanut oil to 325-350 degrees F.

Fry the ravioli, about 6 at a time, until golden.

Transfer to paper towels to drain, and salt immediately with a high quality sea salt.

Serve hot as an appetizer.


Pumpkin and Basil Lasagne

Tis the season for pumpkin! Here's the recipe for the delicious seasonal lasagna that we made tonight...
1.5 lbs pumpkin
2 Tbsp olive oil
16 oz ricotta cheese
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 oz Parmesan, grated
4 oz fresh lasagna sheets
6 oz grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Cut the pumpkin into thin slices and arrange in a single layer on the tray. Brush with oil and cook for 1 hour, or until softened, turning halfway through cooking.

Place the ricotta, pine nuts, basil, garlic, and Parmesan in a bowl and mix with wooden spoon.

Brush a square 8 inch ovenproof dish with oil. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Arrange one third of the pasta sheets over the base of the dish and spread with the ricotta mixture. Top with half of the remaining lasagna sheets.

Arrange the pumpkin evenly over the pasta wtih as few gaps as possible. Season with salt and cracked black pepper and top with the final layer of mozzarella.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese is golden. Leave for 10 minutes, then cut into squares.


Braised Rabbit with Fresh Pasta

I made an impulse purchase of fresh rabbit yesterday and then came home and didn't know what I was going to do with it... so I searched for a recipe and thought this one was appealing (source, Gourmet May 2003). It calls for braising rabbit in a red wine and tomato sauce scented with cinnamon and orange.

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Then, using a cleaver, cut the rabbit into about 6 individual serving pieces. Make sure to remove the kidneys, heart and liver. Season the pieces with salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in an oven-safe casserole, then brown the pieces of rabbit.

Remove the rabbit and set aside.

Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil to the pot, then stir in 2 sliced onions, 2 minced garlic cloves, a long strip of orange zest, 1 cinnamon stick and 2 bay leaves. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.

Add half a cup of dry red wine, and reduce for about 2 minutes.

Add 2 cups chopped canned tomato and 1/2 cup water.

Add the rabbit back to the casserole and nestle it into the sauce, covering it as well as possible.

Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook at 350 degrees for one hour, turning the rabbit after 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, ask your sous-chef to whip up a batch of homemade egg noodles.

Serve the rabbit and sauce over the boiled noodles with a bit of finishing salt.

(I forgot the parsley :( Next time!)


Roasted Eggplant Salad with Feta Cheese and Pine Nuts

I really just love eggplant so much! I think I could eat it everyday. But, out of consideration for my lovely family and their opinion that is quite different from mine, I do not! Even though summer has come to an end, eggplant is still growing and going strong in our neck of the woods, and I had a big hankering for it yesterday and so I made this really delicious salad for dinner.

Ingredients (to serve 6)

2 large eggplants, sliced into 1-inch-thick rounds
1 tsp dried marjoram (or 2 tsp fresh, if you can find it)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 oz. mixed salad greens
1/3 lb feta cheese, crumbled or cut into small cubes
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
cherry tomatoes

juice of one small lemon

  • First, toss the sliced eggplant with the olive oil and marjoram in a large roasting pan, and roast at 400 degrees until done, about 30 minutes, stirring every so often.

  • Meanwhile, wash the salad greens.

  • When the eggplant is done, toss the salad greens with the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Divide the greens among 6 plates, sprinkle some pine nuts and feta cheese on top of the greens, then arrange the slices of roasted eggplant on top with a handful of cherry tomatoes.



Fabulous Food in Portland, ME

This is a fantastic article. I love the focus on fresh, local ingredients and the collective spirit of local chefs tirelessly striving for the best. Never been there. The article totally makes me want to go.


Vegetable Curry with Sri Lankan Spices

My eldest daughter declared last week that she will henceforth be a vegetarian. While I am not prepared to convert the entire household, I've been doing my best to cook meals that are mostly meatless. It's forced me to go a bit out of my comfort zone and I've been scouring my cookbooks for new and interesting vegetarian recipes that will satisfy the whole family. This one, a vegetable curry dish, was really yummy. It's a definite keeper. I found it in the cookbook Fields of Greens which contains recipes from the Greens Restaurant in San Francisco.

The recipe makes what is essentially a vegetable stew, and should be served over basmati rice. A recommended accompaniment is a mango and papaya chutney. I made it with only mangoes because frankly I'm still deciding whether or not I truly like papaya...

Begin the chutney first, because it is supposed to sit for 1-3 hours before serving in order for the flavors to blend.

You will need:

1/4 small red onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice, about 4 limes
1/4 cup sugar
3/8 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
3 pinches ground cloves
3 pinches cayenne pepper
1 mango, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (having omitted the papaya, I used 2)
1 papaya, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Bring a small pot of water to boil and drop in the onion for 30 seconds. Drain the onions, then immediately combine with the vinegar in a bowl. Combine the lemon juice, sugar and spices in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes to make a light syrup. Mix the fruit together with the onions, then pour the syrup on top and stir.

Now, to start the curry, mix together the following spices:

1 tsp cumin seed
2 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp fenugreek
1/2 tsp black mustard seed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Toast the spices for 1-2 minutes over low heat in a dry, small skillet, stirring often until they become aromatic. Then grind them together with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 lb fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (or 1 16-oz can tomatoes, chopped) with 1 1/2 cups cold water, 1 tsp salt, 2 tablespoons of giner, and 1 tablespoon of the mixed spices. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat for 15-20 minutes.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil and add 1/4 tsp salt. Blanch 1/4 lb (about 2 cups) sugar snap peas in the boiling water for 2 minutes, then scoop them out with a slotted spoon, rinse them under cool water, and set aside.

Then use the same pot of boiling water to blanch 1/4 lb (about 1/2 cup) of freshly shelled peas, again for just a couple of minutes, drain, rinse, and set aside.

Chop 1 yellow onion finely, then heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion for about 7-8 minutes, until soft.

Add to the pan:

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium-sized carrots, cut in half lengthwise and sliced 1/2 inch thick on a diagonal
1 lb new potatoes, cut into halves, quarters or 1-inch pieces if large

Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Next, add:

1/2 small head of caulifower chopped into florets
1 medium zucchini, cut in half and sliced 1/2 inch thick on a diagonal
And, the remaining toasted spices

Saute for 5 minutes, until just heated through

Add 1 1/2 cups canned coconut milk and the tomato mixture. Simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook some basmati rice. When it is done, add the snap peas and English peas into the stew, and serve it alongside the rice and the mango chutney. The rice may be tossed with toasted cashews if desired, good for some extra protein.

I love stews... this was sooooo yummy. Highly recommended!


Carrot Flan and Wild Rice with Lentils

The recipes that I am about to post probably will not become standards in our household, however I think they are worthy of a post anyhow. Every one of our 3 children liked this meal which is a success in its own right, plus it was really unique, totally vegetarian and probably not too shabby in terms of total protein content and vitamins.

I combined two recipes from two different sources: one is a "carrot flan" that I got off a French e-mag that I subscribe to, and the other is a wild rice and lentil recipe from Epicurious.com.

If you are making these together, I suggest starting with the wild rice, as it takes the longest to cook. I forgot to take a photo of this step, but first you will boil 2 1/2 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt in a saucepan, then add 1 cup wild rice, lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 45 minutes. When the rice is done you will drain it and set it aside.

Meanwhile, insert 2 whole cloves into half an onion, peel 1 carrot and halve it lengthwise, peel two garlic cloves, and halve one celery stalk lengthwise.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add the vegetables, and saute for about 10 minutes. At this point you may add 4 ounces of chopped pancetta and saute for another 5 minutes as called for in the recipe, but I omitted it. Otherwise, it wouldn't be vegetarian :)

Add 1/2 cup of French green lentils and stir for a minute. Then add 1 3/4 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 35 minutes. I didn't cover the lentils as the recipe says, because all that water needs to go somewhere...

Meanwhile, you may start your carrot flan. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel 200 grams (nearly half a pound) of carrots, and chop a bunch of parsley. Define a bunch? ... you know, really as much as you feel like chopping :-D In my case, not much:

Whisk together 2 eggs, 1 ounce grated Emmenthaler (or Swiss, or Gruyere) cheese, 200 centiliters of heavy cream (somewhere between 3/4 cup to 1 cup), and some salt and pepper.

Divide the carrots and parsley evenly between 4 ramekins (or 5 small, if you're stretching this recipe to serve a family of 5 like me...) Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees F.

Invert onto a plate, and serve alongside the lentils and rice, which have been combined and gently reheated, and the large aromatic vegetables removed.

Et voila! A thoroughly unique vegetarian meal :)

(P.S. The author of the carrot flan recipe says that you can use this recipe with just about any vegetable, zucchini, for example, or cherry tomatoes rather than the carrots.)


Croquettes Baked in Lemon Juice

If you read my polenta recipe below and wondered what you could possibly do with a pound of sirloin that you used to make a sauce yet did not eat, here is one possible answer: Crocchette al Limone, also credited to Giuliani Bugialli from The Fine Art of Italian Cooking. The breaded beef croquettes are fried and then briefly baked in lemon juice, and are very tasty and not too difficult to make.

Start with your cooked beef, 10 sprigs of Italian parsley and 2 large cloves of garlic. Using a food processor, grind up the meat, garlic, and leaves of the parsley into a very fine mixture.

Then cut the crusts off of 4 pieces of white bread.

Bring 1 cup of milk to a boil and add the bread to the pan, stirring for about 7 minutes to form a cooked paste.

Combine the meat mixture with 3 large eggs, 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese, freshly grated nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Next add the cooled bread/milk paste and mix very well.

You will need some bread crumbs to coat the croquettes. Bugialli stresses that the quality of bread crumbs is very important here, should be made from "first-class bread, unflavored, and slightly toasted". I made mine from a good baguette and toasted them in a pan on the stovetop.

Heat 1 quart of vegetable oil (2 parts corn oil to 1 part sunflower oil is recomended) to 375 degrees, as well as your oven. Spread your bread crumbs out on a plate and shape about 2 tablespoons of your meat mixture into a ball, flattening it as you press it gently into the bread crumbs.

When all the croquettes are ready, fry them a few at a time until lightly golden all over, about 1 minute.

Drain the croquettes on paper towels.

Squeeze the juice from 4 large lemons.

Arrange the croquettes in a single layer in a glass or crockery baking dish. Pour the lemon juice all over them, sprinkle on a little salt, and bake at 375 degrees for 5 minutes.

Serve immediately. We garnished ours with parsley and hard-boiled eggs.