Thursday, December 10, 2009

Roasted Grapes and Dinosaur Eggs

I don't know about you, but when it's cold, rainy and blustery outside, all I want to do is hunker down inside.  Preferably in the warmest room in the house (unfortunately that would be Henry's bathroom, but you get my point).  That is exactly what I did the other day when the weather looked like this:
Of course I didn't hide in Henry's bathroom all day.  Not even with a book.  Heck no.  I headed to the kitchen.  What else was I supposed to do?  I wasn't about to clean the house (bleh!), I don't watch soaps (or reality shows either unless you count the Food Network and Top Chef - go Kevin, you should have won) and I don't sit around eating bonbons (I wish, but I'm not going to bitch about the diet again).  No, it was the perfect opportunity to create havoc in the kitchen which for me meant figuring out what to do with that g-d dinosaur egg that showed up in our recent CSA delivery.

This is a Jarrahdale squash which is an heirloom variety from Australia.
I photographed it next to a lemon so you could better gauge its size!

I wasn't sure that even my trusty cleaver could beat it into submission,
but it did not fail me.
You should have heard the banging as I kept slamming it down on the counter to try and split it open.  My dogs ran for the hills!  But I did manage to keep all of my fingers intact...

Yup, these are the dogs. 
Saber (the black and white one) is the rescue dog who thinks he is one of the little white "foof" dogs. 
Sweet, but definitely not the alpha!
Can you guess which one is?

I'll tell you the truth.  Before I managed to hack the thing up (not one of the dogs), I thought seriously about saving myself a lot of trouble and just throwing it away. (I know, that's blasphemy, but it's how my mind works sometimes).  I didn't, though.  Even though I had no idea what it tasted like or what to do with it.

I decided to cut it into chunks and roast it along with some olive oil, shallots, salt and pepper.  I figured it would bring out any flavor it might have and leave me with lots of options later.  I still had no idea where I was headed with this.

I roasted it for 30 minutes, stirred it, added parsley, thyme and rosemary
then roasted for another 30 minutes.

As you can see from the photos, there was a LOT of this stuff.  Which meant there was way too much for something like a risotto (one of my favorite things).  Nope, it meant soup was the likely option so I could use it all up at once.  I did NOT want to have to eat it for the next two weeks.

This is my "on the fly" recipe.  I use the word "recipe" lightly, because this really isn't.  It's just a basic guideline that you can use as a base to make any kind of squash soup you like.  It is based on the quantity of squash that I had to work with, but you might want to use a lot less.  I kinda look at squash as a blank canvas.  It doesn't have a lot of definitive taste, but it has a great texture and it soaks up lots of flavors.  Have at it!

"Dinosaur" Squash Soup

10 cups peeled and cubed squash
8 shallots, peeled and quartered
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh herbs of choice:  parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary
10 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
2 T. orange zest
Ground ginger, sage and poultry seasoning
1 cup half-and-half
4 oz. proscuitto or bacon, diced

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Divide squash and shallots between two trays lined with parchment paper.  Drizzle with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.  Roast for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and add fresh herbs of choice.  Stir, then return to oven and roast for another 20-30 minutes until squash is caramelized and tender.  Remove from oven, let cool slightly then transfer into a dutch oven or stockpot.  Add stock to cover, then add orange zest and dried herbs to taste.

Transfer soup in batches to a blender and puree well (alternatively you can use an immersion blender and puree it directly in the pot).  Stir in half-and-half and correct seasonings.  Reheat as needed.

In the meantime, place proscuitto in a dry non-stick pan over medium-low heat.  Cook, stirring often, until fat is rendered and proscuitto is crisp.  Remove to paper towels to drain.

Place soup in serving bowls and garnish with the crispy proscuitto pieces (the more, the better, if you ask me).

Yield:  about 1/2 gallon

Remember, you can add just about anything to this - apples, parsnips, sweet potatoes, garlic, leeks - whatever you like.

But what is soup without bread?  And what's better than the smell of bread baking in the oven on a miserable day?  I perused the fridge and came up with a bowl of aging red grapes.  Oops, better use them fast or they will end up in the trash and I will have to feel guilty.  If I didn't throw the squash away, then I better not do it with the grapes!  So I made flatbread with roasted grapes and pecans.  Its sweetness played well off the sweetness of the soup.  It was yummy.  Here's a preview. 

And now you know the subject of the next post.  But for now I am headed out to deliver most of that flatbread to some of my Facebook friends down the street because I can't keep it here or I will eat it.  So you'll just have to wait for the recipe.  Consider it your contribution to keeping me on the diet!

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