Kristen’s Butternut Squash Soup with Sausage and Pears

 

Kristen's Butternut Squash Soup 2

Let me tell a little story about a rainy Saturday in Martinsburg, West Virginia. One chilly fall morning, when I still lived in Baltimore, I visited my good friend and incredible cook, Kristen, way the heck out in Martinsburg, Wild Wonderful West Virginia. It was an icky morning: cold and wet and not the best driving weather. But I knew, as I left I-81 at the Martinsburg exit, that it would all be worth it, because one of Kristen’s gourmet wonders would await me (which I already knew because when she invited me over I asked her to make me lunch too–subtle, I know). 

 

Weighing Butternut SquashWhen I got there, Kristen told me she had made butternut squash soup. What a perfect day for soup, I thought. I would love a nice, warm bowl of sweet, nutmeg-spiced goodness! Oh, but I was completely caught off guard! Now, I had made butternut squash soup maybe a half dozen times before, and I thought I knew what to expect. But OH NO, this was no ordinary bowl of soup…this soup had texture! it had fruitiness! it had sausage!!

 

Butternut Squash Soup 1

This butternut squash soup is by far the best I have ever had, and I make it every year as soon as I can get my hands on the first squash. Glenn brought the first one home from the farm the other day and it was absolutely beautiful: sweet smelling, orange as a pumpkin, and big, weighing in at 4 pounds, 11 ounces. Perfection. Because the squash takes so long to roast through, I usually roast it the night before, put it in the fridge, and remove it from the skin the next day. Not only are you not still waiting to eat at 10:30 at night, but by the time you cut up the squash, it’s nice and cool and comes out of the skin easily.

When Kristen served me this soup, she used a hot Italian sausage. I just happened to have some turkey and spinach sausage in the freezer, so I used that, and it was great. Also, she made her soup with apples. But we still had some pears left over from my brother-in-law’s tree, and they were fabulous. 

 

Sage Leaves

 

What else goes great with butternut squash? Sage. Sage and butternut are an absolutely perfect pair, and I finally got to use some of the sage leaves from my own garden–holes and all–that I started from seed last spring.

Anyway, back to West Virginia, which, by the way, might be my favorite state in this whole country. Why? First, it exists because it was not afraid to go its own way during the Civil War–what other state can you think of that formed out of another state because it didn’t like the way the first state was handling things? Nope, I can’t think of one either. Secondly, it is beautiful and kind of mysterious looking. The Blue Ridge Mountains are not only nice to look at, but let’s face it, they’re kind of creepy looking too. I mean, they really are blue and foggy and, can you say Blair Witch? Next, I love the song Almost Heaven, West Virginia, by John Denver. And finally, my uncle tells me there might be a small possibility that my ancestors sewed up John Brown’s pants. I don’t know exactly how he knows that, but I’m going with it.

That day at Kristen’s ended up to be so nice. It stopped raining after lunch, and she and I went to buy apples and pumpkins at a local farm. We ended the afternoon with dessert at a local soda-fountain–yes, a real one, still operating in downtown Martinsburg. What a great day! But the best part of the day was that I stole this recipe and now it is mine mine mine!!

Enjoy! And thanks Kristen!

 

 

Kristen's Butternut Squash Soup plus toast

Kristen’s Butternut Squash Soup with Sausage and Pears

Makes enough for 4-6 people (or 3 regular people plus one Glenn)

4-5 lb butternut squash

6 Tablespoons butter

2 yellow onions, diced finely

8 fresh sage leaves, chopped

6 cups fresh chicken stock

1 cup apple cider (optional)

salt and pepper

though Kristen’s original recipe didn’t call for it, I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. Let’s call that optional.

3 links sausage (I used turkey spinach sausage)

1 pear sliced (Kristen’s original recipe calls for apples, but I had a pear. Whatever floats your boat!)

 

Preheat the oven to 400. Wash and thoroughly pierce the squash with a fork. Place in a large baking pan and roast until tender (could take 1-2 hours). While the squash cools, saute all but 1/4 cup of onions in the butter; add the sage; slice open, remove the seeds from the squash, and add the flesh to the sauteed onions. Add the chicken stock and nutmeg and simmer for 45 minutes. Puree with a hand blender or cool slightly and process batches in a standing blender (serioulsly, folks, blend it in small batches…I made the mistake of putting too much in at once and, well, we don’t like to talk about what happened–it’s to painful to relive). Add apple cider and salt and pepper to taste.

Brown sausage, add pear or apple and remaining onions and cook until soft. Use as a garnish.

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Gumbo

GumboI’ve lived in Alabama for almost four years (wow, typing that makes me pause). Before I moved here, I doubt that I’d ever had gumbo once. I don’t think I’d ever tried okra–one of the key gumbo ingredients–except for maybe some of that fried stuff down at the Cracker Barrel. When Glenn brought home okra from the farm last year (and kept bringing bags and bags of it home every single week), I figured I’d better learn to make it. I started searching for recipes, not knowing what made good gumbo…well…good! I tried recipe after recipe, and they were all fine, but none was THE ONE. By the time summer was over, I was tired of trying and tired of gumbo.

Bowl O' OkraThis year, when Glenn brought home the first batch of okra, I was ready to try again. This time, I consulted the recipe of Paula Deen (you know, Paula Deen of the Food Network, the one who uses a pound of butter in every recipe?) of my neighboring state of Georgia. Why in the world had I not even considered looking at a Paula Deen recipe last year?! Well, for one thing, the last time I tried a Paula Deen recipe, I had a bit of a disaster. It wasn’t her fault. It happened when I made her outrageously delicious coconut cake for my own office going away party. My coworkers at the Baltimore Museum of Art requested I make my OWN GOING AWAY PARTY CAKE. Ha! I don’t blame them for asking me to make it–I had made it once before, and it was INSANE. It is an amazingly rich, sweet, wonderful cake, and I was happy to make it again (I wanted it too, you know!). I spent all evening on it…probably four hours total. I slaved over this cake, knowing it would be my last hurrah at the museum and knowing my colleagues were waiting patiently for it.

Finally, around 10:30 that evening, I finished it. I was exhausted. I was so ready to sleep. I picked up the cake to put it in the refrigerator until morning, and as I opened the refrigerator door, some unknown hateful spirit–perhaps some jealous Food Network Paula Deen competitor? Rachael Ray? Alton Brown?–picked that cake right off my palm, flipped it upside down, and it landed on the kitchen floor completely inverted. Yeah, there was no saving that one.

Chicken and SausageGlenn was sitting in the other room watching a baseball game. I quietly, to myself, in disbelief, said “Oh. My. God.” Glenn didn’t hear me. A little louder I said it: “Oh. My. God!” He suddenly sensed displeasure in the kitchen and looked my way. “OH. MY GOD!!!” I said a third time. This got his attention. He looked down the short hallway at me, standing at the refrigerator with the door hanging open and an empty cake plate in my hand. I saw his eyes look at my eyes, then the plate, then the open refrigerator door. His head slowly lowered until he reached the dead cake, smeared beneath my feet on the linoleum floor.

Make a RouxHe looked back up at me, his mouth open. I looked at him, my mouth open. After several minutes of staring at each other in silence, I smiled. Then he smiled. I laughed…a deep gutteral, insupressable laugh. Then he laughed with me, involuntarily making me laugh even harder. What else could we do? There was no saving this cake. It was carnage, pure carnage, and it had met its demise before anyone could even taste it.

So, we did the next best thing (actually eating the cake being the first best thing)…Glenn got out the camera and began to take pictures. First, we took pictures of the cake, splattered all over the kitchen floor. Then we took pictures of the two of us eating the cake off the kitchen floor–carefully–with forks…then without forks. Finally, we took pictures of our two cats eating the cake off the kitchen floor.

Gumbo 2009 003Then we emailed the pictures. Emailed them to my entire department, knowing they would all open them first thing the next morning, laugh, and then take pity on me when I didn’t show up with my–er, Paula Deen’s–cake. Waiting for me when I got to work the next day for my going-away party was a very lovely coconut cake made at a local bakery that someone had sneaked out to buy after they had watched the cake disaster unfold in my email photo array. One of my coworkers, soberly, cut the store-bought cake and passed the plates and forks around. We all sat down to eat it, and each of us looked around the table at the others. “It’s great!” I said, with a grateful smile. “Yes, it’s very good,” each one of my colleagues said politely as we tasted our slices. But I know what we were all thinking. Each of us, right at that very moment, was thinking the same thing. We were all thinking how much we loved, and how much we missed, Paula Deen.

RiceAnd that brings me back to gumbo. When you want a Southern recipe, always always always go to a Southerner! And be careful! Don’t drop your wonderful completed recipe all over the floor for godsakes! Yes, Paula Deen’s recipes tend to be over the top with fat and butter, but in this case, gumbo just doesn’t have a lot of fat in it anyway. The only neccesary fat in this recipe is five tablespoons of butter. It sounds like a lot, but remember this recipe feeds 8-10 people…so that’s not much at all. If you don’t want to use real andouille sausage, you can always substitute turkey or chicken sausage. The pork andouille, however, is what really makes this recipe authentic, so if you can do it, don’t skimp on the sausage.

Gumbo 2Gumbo recipe from Miss Paula Deen, Y’all!

8-10 servings

3 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves

salt and pepper

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices (I used a little less than that…about 3/4 of a pound. Also, I used smoked andouille sausage)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons butter (she calls for margarine, but come on, people…go for the good stuff)

1 large onion, chopped

8 cloves garlic, minced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems and leaves removed, coarsely chopped, plus chopped leaves for garnish

4 cups hot water

5 beef bouillon cubes

1 (14-oz) can stewed tomatoes with juice

2 cups sliced okra (she calls for frozen, but I had PLENTY of fresh)

4 green onions, sliced, white and green parts

1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked

1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides and remove. Add the sausage and cook until browned, then remove. Sprinkle the flour over the oil, add 2 tablespoons of butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until brown, about 10 minutes. Let the roux cool.

2. Return the Dutch oven to low heat and melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Add the onion, garlic, green pepper and celery and cook for 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste and the 1/4 bunch parsley. Cook, while stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add 4 cups hot water and bouillon cubes, whisking constantly. Add the chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add tomatoes and okra. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Just before serving add the green onions, shrimp, and chopped parsley. I like to serve gumbo over jasmine rice. It would also be great with some nice crusty bread.

Pear Galette

Pear Galette after baking2I’m gonna make this short and sweet, folks. Never make a pie again. Seriously. And this is coming from a pie-aholic. I LOVE pie. I love apple pie, pumpkin pie, peach pie, blueberry pie. I love ALL pies. And I have to admit, I’ve gotten pretty good at making pies. But I seriously never have to make one again, because I have discovered the galette. Easy. Not messy. You can accidentally put a hole in your crust (not that I ever do that) and it does. not. matter. Galettes are every bit as buttery, fruity, and flaky as pies, but with half the work. Glenn and I even might have said, just under our breaths, that we might perhaps possibly like this better (GASP!) than a pie!! AHH!

 

 

Kiefer Pears

These pears (which are, as best as we can tell, Kiefer Pears) came from my brother-in-law’s property. They’ve been growing there for years and they are absolutely wonderful for baking. He does not do a thing to them all year: no fertilizing, no pest control, nuthin’, and they come out perfect. I’m sure you could use any pears for this recipe, but if you can find some Kiefer Pears, you won’t be sorry. Do not pass GO, do not collect 2oo dollars. Go make this now. NOW!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pear Galette--Rolled out dough

 Keifer Pears, Sliced

  Pear Galette before baking

Pear Galette after baking

  

Pear Galette, adapted from Martha Stewart

Martha’s recipe serves 8, but I adapted it to serve 2. We ate every last bite of this galette, so if you have more than two, you should probably double it.

All-purpose flour, for work surface

1/2 recipe Pate Brisee (see below)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup granulated sugar

pinch of salt

2 large ripe pears, sliced quite thinly. It’s up to you how much crunch you want left in them

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 large egg

sugar for sprinkling (about a tablespoon)

3 tablespoons homemade caramel or pear syrup (the first time I made this, I had homemade caramel left over, so I used that. The second time I made it I had no caramel, but I did have some pear syrup from my father-in-law’s pear preserves. I just drizzled it on top. It was excellent. Martha Stewart’s recipe tells you to heat up some apricot jam, strain it, and brush it over the galette. That sounds great too, but I’d loose the straining part–why make it hard on yourself.) 🙂

 

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.

2. Sprinkle work surface with flour. Roll out dough to a 14-inch round, about 1/4-inch thick. Transfer dough to prepared baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 1 hour.

3. In a bowl, mix together cornstarch, sugar and salt. Add pear slices and toss until evenly coated. Mound pear mixture on top of dough, leaving a 4-inch border all the way around. Fold dough over pear mixture, overlapping where necessary and gently pressing to adhere the folds. Transfer galette to refrigerator and let chill, 20-30 minutes (yeah, right…I was too hungry to do this last step).

4. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, beat egg with some water. Brush edges of dough with egg, and springle edges (or the entire thing!) with sugar. Dot top of galette with butter. Transfer to oven and bake until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling, about 45 minutes (you might check on this and dab up any pear liquid that seeps out onto the parchment so it won’t burn. Pears are VERY juicy).

5. Remove galette from oven and drizzle with caramel, syrup, or apricot jam.

 

Pate Brisee (Pie Dough), from Martha Stewart

Makes 1 double-crust or 2 single-crust 9- 10-inch pies.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8-10 seconds (or, just use a pastry cutter, which I did because my food processor is broken and never to return)

2. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process for more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: if it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time (or, use a fork, like the girl with the broken food processor did.)

3. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least an hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month (or for the next day, which is when I made this galette again).

Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes, Shrimp and Green Beans

Aug-Sept 2009 041Last weekend was my husband’s birthday. To celebrate properly, I made him work on our if-you-touch-it-it-might-collapse garage…all week. Actually, we both took the whole week off from work and called it a “work-cation” to make it sound like so much more fun! But really, there was very little “cation” in it at all. This garage has been on our to-do list since we moved into our house three and a half years ago. We’ve been slowly gutting it of the makeshift cabinets and falling-down plywood walls to remake it into a workshop/storage area. Living in a tiny bungalow built in 1940 means we have precious little closet space, so the thought of having this much extra storage is worth a week of hard work (I think?).

 

 

Green Derby Snap BeansSo, on Friday night, after working so hard all week on our rotting, termite-infested garage, I planned to take Glenn to Bottega for his birthday–kind of a reward to both of us. Turns out it was even more of a reward than I ever thought it would be. Early Friday morning I woke up around 2 am to the sound of something falling. It sounded like a “Wooooosh! Thump!” Being startled in the middle of the night, and having my whole life taken over by garage renovation, my first thought was “Good lord, the garage fell over!”  I got out of bed immediately, tried to wake Glenn who was completely unresponsive, and ran out to the garage. It was still standing (of course!). Thinking that I must have just heard some thunder or had ingested too much wine the night before, I went back to bed. The next morning, Glenn and I woke to the very strong smell of fresh wood and two very large gum tree branches laying off to the side of our front porch–having fallen barely 6 inches from the house. Apparently one branch broke off, hit another branch on the way down, bent the hanging edge of our gutter 180 degrees, and landed in the rhododendron. 

 

Beans, Potatoes and ShrimpYes, we were very, very lucky that we did not wake up to a hole in the house–or worse. We know. But still, there were two giant tree limbs laying in our rhododendron, and picking them up was not going to be easy. On Friday morning, after running a few errands and locating our handsaw, we got to work on cutting up the tree limb and carrying it to the curb for the city to pick up. It took us about two hours. We may have said a few curse words. At the tree. At our neighbors for not helping us. At the garage for being so old and making us already exhausted before having to deal with this. &*$^% garage!  I will never allow you to store my extra stuff!!

 

Toasting Pine NutsThat dinner at Bottega was looking better and better. After long naps, we awoke, cleaned ourselves up to look presentable, and had one of the best dinners ever. Glenn had Rabbit Torino (rabbit, stuffed with plums and rosemary, and wrapped in pancetta). I had the most wonderful duck breast I’ve ever had with farro (a type of grain, sort of like quinoa), apples, braised carrots, and arugula. People, it is HARD to get duck breast and rabbit breast right. It is sooo common for it to turn out tough. Both the rabbit and the duck were very moist, tender, and flavorful, not gamey. For dessert we split a white chocolate bread pudding (what garage? what tree? what stinky neighbors?). But the very best thing I had at Bottega–the thing I kept thinking about all weekend–was my appetizer: handmade pasta with shrimp, new potatoes, pine nuts, and pole beans,  all in a very rich and buttery pesto sauce. Add the full bottle of wine we consumed to this and you’ve got yourself a birthday party!

  

New Potatoes, SlicedI will tell you that I thought about this pesto sauce like a new boyfriend (er, before Glenn, of course). I had to recreate it. So, Monday night, I tried my best to at least get all the elements right. Rather than pole beans, Glenn had just harvested some Derby String Beans. I thought that would be a fine substitution. I also had a lot of basil in my own garden that needed to be harvested soon–so I made a very easy pesto sauce.  New potatoes? No problem. Toasted pine nuts? Got ’em. Shrimp? Got some nice Gulf shrimp right around the corner at the market. Handmade pasta? With not enough time to handmake some pasta, I just used some lasagna sheets and halved and quartered them. (I just tried to renovate a garage for godsakes! Gimme a break, will ya?)

   

 

Frank Stitt Wanna Be Pesto with Pasta, Beans, Potatoes and ShrimpAnd what element did I taste in Frank Stitt’s (Chef at Bottega) homemade pasta that made it truly decadent? What one food item made this dish over-the-top?

Butter! Oh yes, Mr. Stitt does not skimp on the butter–and I was determined to not skimp on it either! We don’t want to make Mr. Stitt angry when we copy his recipes, now do we?

I have to say, though I did not make the wonderfully delicate handmade pasta that I had at Bottega, and I think my version of this dish needed about a quarter cup more pesto (and, yes, even more butter!), for my first attempt at this, it turned out very well. I will definitely make it again–perhaps when I have more time to make the pasta myself. 

 

 

 

Glenn with DrillYou may be wondering just how much work got done on that garage by week’s end. Well? It still looks very much under construction, but we did get some of the worst of the jobs completed–we framed in the front, replaced a wall in the back–but there’s so much more work that needs to be done before we can inhabit it in any way. I think I’m sensing another “work-cation” coming soon–followed by a dinner out!

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is my very loose interpretation of  Frank Stitt’s Handmade Pasta with Pesto, Shrimp, Beans, and Potatoes (I can’t remember the actual name of it!)

This served two people–one of those people was extremely hungry. Also, I really made this up as I went along…so you could add or subtract whatever you wish.

1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts

2 medium new potatoes, cooked and sliced

6 lasagna noodles, cooked, halved and quartered

a handful (about a cup) of string beans (or pole beans), string removed and cut to about an inch

1/2 pound of shrimp, peeled and deviened. I salted and peppered these quite liberally. You know, cause I’m a liberal.

2 tablespoons of butter (if I made this again, I probably would have used even more! WOW!)

about a cup of pesto (see my recipe below)

salt and pepper to taste

 

Here’s basically what I did. First, I toasted the pine nuts in a cast-iron skillet.

Then, I cooked the potatoes for about 15 minutes (or until they were tender). I put the lasagna noodles in the same water for about 10 minutes. Because there were only 6 noodles, it was easy to just lift them out of the water to drain them. Then I removed the potatoes and sliced them and sprinkled them lightly with kosher salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, I put the beans in the same water to blanche them for about 3 minutes.

Then I put everything into a large skillet in this order: butter first (till it melted), then shrimp (for about 3 minutes…until they started to turn pink), beans (I gave them another 2 minutes or so), cut up noodles, potatoes, pine nuts, and finally pesto. Mix everything up until the pesto covers all.

 

My basic pesto recipe (this was not quite enough pesto, in my opinion. Next time I’d probably add about a 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup chicken stock

handful of basil (stems removed)

1 clove garlic (I hate pesto that is too garlicky. Some people like more garlic…so add more if you do!)

1/8 cup parmesean

approximately 1/4 cup olive oil–possibly a little more to bring it to a looser consistency

salt and pepper to taste

Note: I usually add walnuts or pine nuts to my pesto, but because there were pine nuts in Frank Stitt’s recipe, I decided to leave them out. Also, I wanted my pesto to be thin, not thick.

 

Put everything but the olive oil into a blender or food processor. Blend while streaming in the olive oil until it gets to be a nice consistency. Some people like a thick pesto, but I prefer mine fairly thin–like a vinagrette.

Check for seasoning–add salt and pepper if necessary. The parmesean will make it fairly salty, though.