It all starts innocently enough, with a dark, shiny acorn squash. It's there, on your kitchen counter. Mystified, you try to remember what you were considering making when you bought it. Well, no matter. You know what you're going to do with it now--soup. Cream soup, to be specific.
Last week, in my Monday cookery class, we prepared two nice soups, a creamy clam chowder and a beautiful Belgian chicken and vegetable number, along with one awe inspiring, and somewhat intimidating, crystal-clear beef consomme. The best tasting of the three in my opinion was the Boston clam chowder, which I'd never before made from scratch. It was heavenly good. We got to eat the soups for our lunch, at the end of our class. We get to do that each week, with whatever we've cooked, and it's great. Not great just because we're eager to sample what we've concocted, but also great because we're all somewhat exhausted, relieved that we've survived another day in cookery class, and we're simply all starving by that point in the day.
Anyway, the clam chowder was so good I couldn't resist making it at home a day or two later for our dinner, and again it was profoundly tasty. I followed, to the letter, the recipe we'd used at school and it didn't let me down. Now, I'm not traditionally much of a soup maker, but I think that's going to change (I suspect I feel the change happening already . . . maybe I'm actually morphing . . . ?).
You know, there's something about having a real chef--an expert, really-- right there close at hand as you cook a new dish for the first time. It's not like watching an expert on TV, it's really not. Can a TV chef actually grab your hand, and in doing so sternly direct the utensil you're holding as you strain the all-important consomme, while the whole class looks on in rapt attention? No. Can a TV chef detect just by the look on your face that you're wondering when the heck you're supposed to pour in that roux, or add the leeks into your mirepoix? I don't think so. Can a TV chef peer appraisingly into the pot holding your completed clam chowder, as he dips a tiny plastic spoon in to taste it, and then proclaims with gustatory satisfaction, "Ahh, it's a beautiful day" . . . can he?? No, he cannot.
There are practical advantages to having a cooking teacher, I can see it plainly. I am hopeful that this class will benefit me, not only as a culinary student, but also--and more immediately--as a home cook. I'd just like to have the know-how to make food for my family's dinners that's more flavorful, more various, and more adventurous than what I usually prepare (and I'm primarily referring here to foods other than baked goods . . . I'm pretty good at bombarding them with new baked goods . . . they're not the problem). I'm gonna try, anyway. I feel like I'm not a very good cook in general. Have I ever revealed that in this blog before? Probably not. But now that we're getting to know each other so well . . . I figure it's time I shared that sensitive info. (Can we still be friends?)
And so with that confession, we come to today's recipes. The acorn-squash soup's formula is adapted from one I saw on AllRecipes.com. I changed a few aspects (I left out the wine--didn't have any to put in!--decreased the amount of lime juice, omitted the lime zest, used shallots instead of onion, used a little more cream, and used different spices) but I sort of kept the basic proportions of the key ingredients. Sort of. And, of course I rewrote the instructions.
The Gruyere biscuits are another Nick Malgieri recipe. I've talked about my appreciation for Nick Malgieri's cookbooks before, so I won't get carried away with flowery verbiage this time (uh, yeah . . . you're welcome). The recipe is listed in his latest book, The Modern Baker. It's a simple little biscuit recipe that's more tasty than the norm, but it doesn't push the comfort-zone envelope. Rest assured, your youngest kid's not gonna start crying at the dinner table when he/she bites into one of these.
Cream of Acorn-Squash Soup
(For a printable version of this recipe, and the biscuit recipe below, click here!)
Makes at least 1 quart.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
1 large Acorn squash, cut in half vertically, seeds removed
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. finely minced shallots
4 cups chicken broth
3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. lime juice
white pepper, to taste
freshly ground nutmeg, to taste
1 scant pinch of cinnamon, or to taste
pinch kosher salt, to taste
Place the two squash halves cut-side down in a glass baking dish. Fill it with about 1/2" of water. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the pulp is softened. Remove from the oven, drain the water, and set aside to cool slightly. Scoop out the pulp and mash or chop it. Discard the shells.
In a medium-large pot, heat the butter; add in the shallots and saute them until just softened. Add in the chicken broth and the mashed/chopped squash pulp. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until all visible lumps have disappeared and the mixture looks quite smooth. (Or use a regular upright blender, pureeing the soup in a couple of batches, then pour the pureed soup back in to the pot.)
Before adding in the cream, temper it with a little bit of the hot soup. The cream needs to be warmed before it can be added to the hot soup or it may curdle. Pour the tempered cream into the pot of soup and stir well to completely combine. Cook for a few minutes over low heat, being careful not to let the soup boil, until thoroughly heated through.
Add in the lime juice and the seasonings to suit your taste until the flavor is to your liking. Taste the soup after every little addition of seasoning. Remember, you can always add more in, but once it's in there, you can't take it out.
Serve the soup immediately. If it's not going to be served right away, let it cool in the pan and then refrigerate it promptly.
* * * * *
This recipe makes at least 12 - 2" biscuits.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2 and 3/4 cups All Purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 and 1/3 cups grated Gruyere cheese
8 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 chunks
3/4 to 1 cup milk or buttermilk
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and mix well. Set aside.
Combine the grated cheese and the butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse several times for just a few seconds to mix the butter and cheese together. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl once or twice and pulse again. Do this very quickly; you don't want the butter to get too soft or warm.
Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture and pulse 6 or 8 times to combine. Add in most, but not all, of the milk/buttermilk, just until the dough is thoroughly combined but does not form a ball.
Dump the dough out onto a floured surface. If there are dry spots in the dough, sprinkle them with drops of milk. Fold the dough over onto itself once or twice just to bring it together. Press the dough out into a rectangle or a circular shape until it's 1/2" thick all over. Use a round or square biscuit/cookie cutter to cut out the biscuits. Place the pieces an inch or 2 apart on your lined cookie sheet.
Bake the biscuits until they're well risen and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Peek in at them early in case they're over-browning. They're best served warm, with or without butter, and please feel free to dip them in your soup! Extra biscuits can be frozen once they're cool.
Recipe full disclosure! As noted above, the soup recipe came from one I found in AllRecipes.com. They credit it to Southern Living Magazine. The biscuits are from Nick Malgieri's book, The Modern Baker, on page 51; they're listed as a variation of his Pecorino & Pepper Biscuits.
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