Culinate editor’s note: We welcome Marisa McClellan to the Dinner Guest blog. Marisa, who’s an expert in the area of canning, also is a soup aficionado, and will post here monthly about soup.
I come from a long line of soup people. I grew up dining from sturdy (if mismatched) bowls of homemade chicken noodle, beef and barley (with extra celery), and a lamb and kidney bean soup that entered my mother’s culinary toolbox when a neighbor brought it over as a post-baby offering in 1979 (that baby was me).
There was a time when my people were soup professionals, feeding gallons of borscht to Philadelphians from our Russian restaurant. Members of the city orchestra would come to our dining room after their evening performances, to replenish themselves on the stews my great-grandmother simmered each day.
When she was first married, the only thing my grandmother knew how to make was the stewed turkey-leg soup that her Auntie Tunkel would serve over boiled rice on frigid days. If times were tight, only a single leg would float in the pot, each diner getting only a few shards of meat in their dish. I grew up eating a version of that same soup, only ours contained plenty of melted onion and at least one meaty drumstick per diner. Auntie would have been dumbstruck by our abundance.
Now that the cooler days of fall have arrived, my home soup operation is in full swing. I fill my blue soup pot every week with whatever vegetables are in most need of attention and eat a bowl a day for either lunch or dinner.
Currently, my refrigerator contains the end of a batch of juicy turkey chili (I always wilt in a bundle of chopped Swiss chard in order to ensure that my husband gets a serving of green veg with his meat and beans) and a quart of a roasted acorn squash and white sweet potato number. Thankfully, we finished the chicken soup last night. It was appealing to the tongue, but off-putting to the eye, thanks to the shreds of red cabbage that gave the chicken a grayish tinge.
It’s that acorn squash and sweet potato soup that I’m particularly excited about at the moment. A beauty of a soup, it has none of the superficial flaws of my recently departed chicken-and-cabbage concoction. It’s got a lovely buttery yellow color and is most attractively flecked with black pepper, grated nutmeg, and the caramelized bits from oven-roasted onion.
Though it sounds fancy, this soup is really basic, use-what-you-have cooking. The acorn squash had been sitting on the kitchen counter for more than a month, the sole survivor from a CSA share that had been picked up sometime in September. The sweet potatoes had been around just a week or two, but had already started to lose their flexibility. An intervention was required.
Just an hour before we planned to eat, I halved all the vegetables, laid them out on a greased baking sheet, and let the heat of a 400-degree oven work its magic for 30 minutes. When the veg were tender, I peeled away the skins and mashed the flesh into a quart of chicken stock (vegetable stock or water would do as well). Puréed with an immersion blender (the most reliable friend of a home soup maker); seasoned with pepper, nutmeg, and sea salt; and smoothed out with a scant half cup of light cream (barely more than a few drops per bowl), dinner was served in less than 60 minutes.
I topped my bowl with a handful of toasted nuts, while my husband, Scott, opted for a slice of cheesy toast with his. What remains should be enough for two more servings — and then it will be time to make soup again.
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