14 November 2022
Hurricanes have all moved on to Greenland. Today is going to be cold here, with a high below freezing. So… winter. Tomorrow, the snow moves in. The forecast is now up to 4 inches falling over Tuesday and Wednesday. Mostly overnight on Tuesday. I don’t know if this snow will stay for long. November snows tend to be fickle, dumping a foot and then melting away to brown again within a couple days. I suspect this will be considerably less than a foot, so I also expect it will be gone by the weekend.
However long it remains, my garden is ready. All hatches are battened. I took the row cover off for the hurricane rain, so it should be nice and moist under there for a long while. But I had to put it all back up in the Sunday drizzle, along with a few extra rocks to make sure that it goes nowhere. And then, since I was already cold and damp and dirty, I decided to do a bit more clean-up. Cut down the asparagus canes, the basil tree trunks and the finally dead un-dead eggplant.
Which I should report was terrible! I’ve always heard that eggplant needs heat to ripen properly. Well, that is totally true! These got nice and plump in the cool October weather with good color and scent. But they were so bitter, all through the fruit, not just in the skin. An overnight brining didn’t remove the bitter. It was so bad I got nervous about nightshade poison and tossed them in the compost bin — where they will feed next year’s garden nicely. Decomposers generally don’t care about the bitters…
Squash Soup for Belly Ballast
It being cold and damp, this week’s Pot of Something is a green chile and roasted winter squash curry (ish) with roasted potatoes. This seems like a good recipe to share since it’s highly versatile and is filling and warming for these cold winter nights. Also, with everything from winter squash to turmeric in there, it’s about as packed with nutrition and various beneficial phytochemicals as it gets. A real tonic for the whole body!
To make it, first roast your squash and mash it. I roast mine for several hours on low heat, about 275°F. This roasting and mashing step can take anywhere from one day to one week. I do these sort of long term cooking tasks when I have time and let the roasted thing sit in the fridge until I get to the next step.
When you are ready to make the soup, put chopped potatoes in the oven to roast (however you normally do that). Sauté chopped onions and minced garlic. Amount and kind are to your taste. Also the kind of oil or fat is up to you. I use butter for spiced dishes. Peel and grate an inch or so of ginger root and add that to the alliums.
When the root things are mostly transparent, add the mashed squash and 4-5 peeled and chopped roasted green chiles. You can also use a couple small cans of Hatch chiles, which seem to be everywhere now.
Then add the spices. I used small amounts of mace, ground fennel, fenugreek, cardamom and Vietnamese cinnamon; a very small amount of clove; and maybe a tablespoon or so each of cumin, turmeric and allspice. Or you could just use a curry spice mix, but aim for something you’d use to make a korma, not a British curry.
Today I used a quart of veg stock, two cups of yogurt and one cup of my farmer cheese (sort of cottage, sort of ricotta, not a lot of strong flavor). I sometimes use cream or half-&-half, sometimes leftover creamy tomato soup, and for special weeks I use goat cheese and the turkey stock I make and freeze after roasting birds for the family holiday meals. (Stock is about the only carcass-derived thing I can reliably digest these days…) I put the immersion blender in the pot and puréed the whole thing into a thick soup. You may need to add water to thin it out, depending on the variety of winter squash you use. I used Hubbard which is watery. Things like kabocha and kuri are more starchy and need the added liquid so as to not scorch, particularly if you are going to eat out of the pot all week and therefore will be heating it up repeatedly.
And on that… you can keep this in the fridge for up to a week. Maybe longer. It gets eaten long before that in my house, so I’ve never tested its boundaries. But don’t reheat the whole pot every day. Dole out the serving size you need and warm that in another smaller pot. This saves energy and keeps the soup from cooking down into a caramelized paste… which might taste good… but is a bugger to clean up!
Put the potatoes in just to warm them after the soup is cooked. Sometimes I keep whatever gets added to this base in a separate bowl in the fridge and add a serving each time I heat up the soup. This time, I’m a bit short on fridge space, so I added the potatoes immediately. I also decided at the last minute that it needed a bit of tart, so I tossed in a handful each of craisins and raisins. I topped the serving bowl with a dollop of yogurt and a few toasted walnuts.
Things that go well in this base include potatoes, white or black beans, rice, cauliflower, eggplant, sun-dried tomato, really whatever you like in a butter curry works very well. Sometimes it’s good to just roast some cubed squash and make a squash-in-squash version, especially with brown rice. For meat-eaters, I’m pretty sure this would be a perfect goat stew. And I’ve often used it as a sauce. It goes well with cheese ravioli, gnocchi and spinach fettuccini.
I’ll be eating this with this week’s bread — a wheat-germ peasant loaf that has some really nice thump on the bottom. Probably a good crumb in there. Smells nutty. It should pair nicely with the soup.
A book for the cold…
“Lucrezia is taking her seat at the long dining table, which is polished to a watery gleam and spread with dishes, inverted cups, a woven circlet of fir. Her husband is sitting down, not in his customary place at the opposite end but next to her, close enough that she could rest her head on his shoulder, should she wish; he is unfolding his napkin and straightening a knife and moving the candle towards them both when it comes to her with perfect clarity, as if some coloured glass has been put in front of her eyes, or perhaps removed from them, that he intends to kill her.”
Yes, I will be short on sleep this week… because how could I not keep turning pages until that first paragraph is explained! I’ve always had an unhealthy fascination with Renaissance Florence and anything to do with the Medici. Maggie O’Farrell’s The Marriage Portrait (Alfred A. Knopf, 2022) is a potent drug, especially as the foul weather rages outside and my belly is full of squash soup.
©Elizabeth Anker 2022