Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Comfort Food: A Good Book and Butternut Squash Soup

When I discovered Molly Wizenberg's wildly popular blog Orangette, I liked it so much I printed out pages and read her stories in bed at night. When I heard she had a book, A Homemade Life, I got on the waiting list at the library. When I finished it, I had to buy my own copy.

“You can tell a lot about somebody by their potato salad,” Molly said in the first chapter. That's when I was hooked. Apparently so were a lot of devoted blog readers. Molly weaves food and recipes into everyday stories about family, friends, death, coping and even romance.

I couldn't stop mentioning this book to my friends. With most food memoirs I skip the recipes and get on with the story, but I was so impressed with Molly's salads and soups, I had to stop and read every one.

I'm a sucker for anything that involves a vanilla bean. So Butternut Soup with Pear, Cider and Vanilla Bean was the first recipe I tried.

"Make it exactly like she does," my friend Betty told me when I mentioned the intriguing squash recipe in Molly’s book. "Be a slave to the recipe. That way you'll know if it works."

I smiled. Tweaking recipes is irresistible for me. I dissect dishes and dream up recipes differently. Though substitutions are risky when baking, most other things can be altered to fit what's in my pantry without making a trip to the store. I scanned the recipe and deleted the cream. I didn't have any. What would make the soup creamy without the cream? I chose almond butter.

Butternut Squash Soup with a Vanilla Bean and Chocolate

Whoever thought chocolate would compliment soup? I got the idea from one of Molly's salads and the thought of sprinkling chocolate over squash soup just wouldn't leave. When buying the squash keep in mind, the size of butternut squash tends to be big, so get the smallest one and weigh it before making the soup. If you can't find butternut squash, use another variety, I'm sure other winter squash or pumpkin would work here. Pick any kind of organic sweet-tart apple you like such as golden delicious, jonagold or honey crisp. You can sprinkle old-fashioned bread croutons on for garnish but chocolate is exotic and delicious. Try it and see.

1 small butternut squash (about 2 cups cooked)

1 sweet-tart apple

3/4 cup apple cider

1 cup vegetable broth

1 bay leaf

1 vanilla bean, slit down the middle

2 tablespoons almond or hazelnut butter

2 cups water

Salt and pepper

Freshly grated chocolate or homemade croutons

1. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove seeds and bake at 350º for 45 minutes or until soft. While squash cooks, core and roughly chop the apple.

2. Place apple, apple cider, vegetable broth, bay leaf and vanilla in a medium size saucepan. Simmer for ten minutes or until apples are very tender. Remove vanilla bean and bay leaf.

3.When the squash is done, remove skin and place in a blender in small batches with the apple-vegetable broth mixture. Puree with the almond butter until smooth. Return mixture to saucepan with the vanilla bean and simmer on low for about ten minutes.

4. Serve with freshly grated chocolate or homemade croutons.

Molly Wizenberg and her husband Brandon Pettit opened Delancey, a pizzeria in Ballard that features hearth baked pizza made with a thin crust and fresh ingredients. The restaurant was listed in Pacific Northwest Magazine , in the Seattle Times last Sunday.

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