Roasted Pumpkin and Squash Soup

Monday, October 29, 2012


On our visit to the pumpkin patch, in addition to the ones we picked for carving, we also got a small sugar pumpkin for cooking. With pumpkins so plentiful this time of year, the farmer was selling them for three dollars apiece without regard to size. So I picked a healthy four pounder.


My first thought was to make some sort of baked dessert using a pumpkin purée. But as the weather turned sour towards the evening, we wanted to have the comfort of a hot, thick soup.


We had other squash lying around as well: butternut squash and some small yellow squash. And so I settled on a savory dish with the pumpkin and made a pumpkin and squash-based soup. As I was also trying to ward off a cold, I added some ginger and garlic. The end result was a golden-hued, delicious soup mildly spicy from the ginger, sweet from all of the squash varieties, and tantalizing with the flavorful aroma of leeks.


Roasted Pumpkin and Squash Soup
Serves about 6

1 sugar pumpkin (4.4 lb or 2 kg whole)
1 butternut squash (2.2 lb or 1 kg whole)
8 tbsp canola oil, divided
3 leeks, greens removed, washed and chopped
2 small yellow squash, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 knob ginger, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups (9.5 dl) stock (chicken or vegetable)
3 tbsp fresh parsley leaves
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Wash the pumpkin and the butternut squash. Slice each in half and scoop out the seeds. Scrape away the fiberous membrane. Chop into 2-3 inch pieces and place in a bowl; mix with 5 tbsp canola oil. Place cut side down on a large baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Roast the squash and pumpkin pieces for 40-50 minutes, until soft when pierced with a knife.
2. In the meantime, heat 3 remaining 3 tbsp canola oil in a large stock pot on medium-high heat. Add the leeks and sauté until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the yellow squash, carrots, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened slightly, about 5 minutes more. Add the stock, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the squash and the carrots are cooked through, 15-20 minutes.
3. Once the pumpkin and the butternut squash are done, remove from oven and let cool slightly. Scrape the flesh from the rinds, discarding the rinds. Add the flesh to the soup, bring back to a boil and turn off from heat.
4. Strain the solids into a colander placed over a bowl, reserving the liquids. Process the solids in a food processor together with parsley. Add the pureed vegetables and the reserved liquid back to the stock pot. Bring back to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.


A Pumpkin Patch

Sunday, October 28, 2012

As we prepare for the storm that's about to wreak its havoc all over North East, I was glad that we chose last weekend to go pumpkin picking rather than putting it off until this one. When we went last Sunday, it was a beautiful sunny fall day. Today the sky is ominously gray.

I couldn't help but remember that last year's storm happened close to Halloween too. We were right about to carve pumpkins before the power went out. So we carved ours by the last remaining rays of sun, and then by candle light. Afterwards, to maximize the ghoulish effect, we red Poe aloud by holding up a candle next to the book. With another storm coming our way this year, this might be becoming a tradition. There are two perfect pumpkins sitting in our kitchen ready to be carved.

Last weekend we were on our way to a large farm, but put off by traffic and attracted by a small sign with a hand-painted pumpkin and an arrow on the side of the road, we found a tiny farm, hidden away from everything and accessible only by a dark dirt road through the woods. Spooky though the road seemed at first, when we finally got to the farm, it didn't disappoint.

The remaining photographs, including the cottage, are from the Wick House area at the Jockey Hollow national park.



Savory Pie with Meat, Rice, and Mushrooms

Friday, October 19, 2012

The idea for this pie arose largely from the fact that one night it was getting to be very cold. It was earlier in October, during the Columbus Day weekend, and the temperature dropped substantially below normal for the time. Our building was yet to turn on the heat (which normally occurs right after the holiday).

That Sunday, by the end of the afternoon, as the sun started to recede behind the horizon leaving a golden-silver cool glow at a sharp, low angle, my husband made a proposition: "let's make a pie."


There is one thing that you should know about my husband: while he appreciates a good homemade pie every once in a while, he almost never requests them because he doesn't have much of a sweet tooth. Therefore, for him to request a pie, and moreover, volunteer to make it with me (while he is an amazing cook in his own right, he doesn't bake) was doubly strange. He must have sensed the wonder in my face because he blurted out the explanation:

"I'm cold." He said. "Let's get the oven going and stay in the kitchen and hopefully the heat will warm this place up."

"Ah." I said. So we jumped into the car and went to a household goods store to get a space heater, and then to the grocery store to get ingredients for the pie.

"What kind of pie do you want?" I asked in the grocery store. "What type of filling?"

"Um." He thought for a second, realizing that perhaps after all he didn't want a sweet thing, before replying: "Meat?"


Immediately images of a savory meat and rice filled pie that my mom always makes around the holidays floated in my mind. And so we made one.

The idea of a meat pie is not as strange as it may sound. In England a mince meat pie is not unusual around the colder months. It is also no stranger to a Russian kitchen. Indeed, savory pie-type things can be quite delicious. A simple pie crust works well here. If no sugar is used, the pie crust itself is rather neutral, and it can lend itself equally well to both sweet and savory things.


That night, as our kitchen filled with warmth and delicious smells, and as the space heater was warming the rest of the apartment, the building heat also came on.

Savory Pie with Meat, Rice, and Mushrooms
(Serves 6-8)


For the dough:
2 cups (270 g) flour
1 tsp salt
7 tbsp cold butter, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
3 tbsp sour cream
3-4 tbsp cold water

For the filling:
2/3 cup (145 g) uncooked rice
1 tbsp canola oil
1 lb (454 g) ground turkey (you can also use ground beef or pork)
8 oz (227 g) button mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
3 celery sticks, finely chopped
1/4 cup (60 ml) red wine (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 tbsp parsley
1/4 cup (60 ml) chicken broth, more if needed

White of one egg
Rectangular pie pan (11 by 7 inches or 27.5 by 17.5 cm)

1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC). Mix the flour and salt in a medium bowl, add the butter and quickly rub in the butter into the flour with the tips of your finger, until the flour becomes crumbly. Add the sour cream and mix well. Add the water, one tablespoon at a time, and mix until dough starts to form (if the dough is too dry, add a few more drops of water, if it is too sticky, add a bit more flour).  Knead it a few times then roll into a ball. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. While the dough rests prepare the filling.

2. Bring 1 cup water to a boil, add rice, cover, turn the heat to low and cook until the water is evaporated and the rice is fully cooked. Remove from heat.

3. Heat oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add the turkey and brown until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove to a large bowl, reserving the juices in the pan. To the pan with the juices, add onion, mushrooms and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and the water from the mushrooms has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add the wine, increase the heat slightly, and cook until the vegetables are fully cooked, 5-10 minutes more. Add the vegetables along with the cooked rice to the bowl with the meat and mix. Add parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the chicken broth and mix well.

4. Divide the dough in half. Roll each half on a dusted surface with a rolling pin into an oval shape about 1/8 inch thick. Roll the sheet over the rolling pin, lift the pin and unroll it over a buttered pie pan, molding the sheet to the pan. Spoon in the filling and cover with the remaining sheet. Fold in the edges. Pierce the top several times to make steam vents. Brush the top with an egg white. Bake at 425ºF (220ºC) for 10 minutes, then reduce to 375ºF (190ºF) and bake 30 minutes more, until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving.


Chickpea and Potato Salad with Cilantro Dressing

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Fall is in full swing here. Colder than last year's which sputtered along from warmish weather to a snowless, tepid winter. This year it is fall in the true sense, with cool, crisp air, temperatures dropping to freezing at night, leaving leaves burnt with hues of red and yellow and ochre. And with the onset of the cold, the need to pack on more calories seems more urgent.


At a nearby Middle Eastern restaurant, always eager to try new dishes, we ordered an appetizer that seemed fitting for the weather. It was a salad consisting of chickpeas and potato slices; its transliteration is Shor Nakhod, also sometimes spelled Souur Nakhod. The salad is marinated in a tangy dressing heavy with cilantro, which fills these otherwise mild ingredients with a hefty burst of flavor.


While I do not attempt to claim to have recreated the actual dish here, I made something in a similar style - a result of trying to discern the various ingredients in the dressing, and then making several different versions at home. I've used rice vinegar, together with a bit of lemon juice, along with a heavy dose of cilantro and chives.

Marinating the chickpeas and potatoes ahead of time in the dressing helps tenderize them and make them more flavorful.

Chickpea and Potato Salad with Cilantro Dressing
(Serves 4)

1 15 oz (425 g) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp salt, plus more to taste
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1 small red potato, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
Freshly cracked white pepper

1. Place chickpeas into a mixing bowl, add salt and rice vinegar, and toss well to combine.
2. While the chickpeas are marinating, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the potato slices and boil until soft when pierced with a knife, 5-10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool completely.
3. Add the potatoes to the chickpeas, along with lemon juice, cilantro, chives, and pepper. Mix well. Taste and reseason if necessary. Cover and refrigerate for half an hour to an hour before serving.

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