Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Cure For What Ails Me

Alright, I admit it. I'm jealous. Practically green with envy, and nearly foaming at the mouth. I've never been the jealous type, but I just can't take it anymore, and I have to to share before I pop a vein. Why are we on the east coast visiting farmers markets week after week this winter, only to find mounds of turnips, rutabagas, and carrots, while our culinary cohorts on the west coast are elbow deep in the delicious delights of winter citrus? Day after day, I'm stuck at home trying to conjure up yet another use for greens and parsnips, while over in California (and also Florida), they're already bored with their Meyer lemon tarts and juicy, blood orange sorbet. I've spent the better half of the last two months sulking, praying that someone at my farmers market would come through with a weather-proof, hydroponic Meyer lemon, or an indoor Buddha's hand. But sadly, none have come through because it's just not possible in this area, and I'm left hoping that someone, somewhere, will role even a shrivelled Key lime in my direction. Even if it's from New Jersey.

But this week I did all I could to pull my morale up by the bootstraps and convince myself that those lucky bastards in California must be missing something that's plentiful here on the east coast. Perhaps they crave a basket of sunchokes, a bagful of beets, or a massive stalk of celery. After a quick chat with a few west coast friends I realized that, nope, they live where the food comes from and they're plenty happy about it. So, after cursing foodies from LA to San Francisco, I decided to stop being a baby and show them how awesome we are here for making wonderful dishes amid a winter culinary wasteland. The result was a delicious, spicy soup that took advantage of some of the seasons bounty.

I started with a little winter squash puree leftover from my butternut squash risotto. I like to roast and puree several squash once so I can freeze them in baggies for future use, since I personally find roasting them such a pain. That way, when the time comes to cook, all I have to do is quick defrost them in the microwave instead of spending 45 minutes with the oven on. After that I figured a spiced up puree (I used two small Mexican chorizos, finely diced, some spices, and cayenne for a little heat) would be a great place to chuck all those less than lovely winter roots. I had 2 different sacks of potatoes to use up, so I went with those, but parsnips would certainly add a lovely sweetness as well (and contrast the heat nicely). I also used my new favorite method of cooking potatoes: steaming. It's much faster than boiling since you don't have to wait for a potful of water to come to a boil, and the resulting potatoes are soft without getting mushy (try it the next time you make mashed potatoes). I used the usual soup base to give it body along with the puree (onions and garlic, sauteed in the chorizo oil), but added one of my favorite less expected touches--apple cider vinegar. It's just the right amount of acid, and keeps with the seasonal factor. My feelings of jealousy and longing subsided at least for a night, but there's no telling when they might return. If you're as bad as I am, give this recipe a try, I can promise that it'll help at least temporarily.

Winter Squash Soup with Potatoes and Chorizo

2 cups squash puree
2/3 cup finely diced chorizo
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth (warm, if possible)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp apple cider or malt vinegar
1 cup water
extra virgin olive oil
ground white pepper

1. Heat olive oil in a nonstick skillet and add chorizo, cooking until crispy. Remove to a plate and set aside (do NOT discard oil). Meanwhile, bring the water to a boil in a non-stick skillet. Add potatoes and cover with a lid, allowing potatoes to steam until cooked through. Set cooked potatoes aside with chorizo.

2. Return chorizo pan to heat and add onion, garlic, cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Season onions with a pinch of salt, add pepper, and cook until onion begins to soften. Add squash puree and malt vinegar, cooking until everything is warmed through.

3. Pour mixture into a blender with 1/2 cup of broth and carefully blend until smooth. Continue blending with more broth until your desired consistency is reached. Return mixture to skillet, adding potatoes, and all but 1 tsp of chorizo (reserved for garnish). Serve topped with remaining chorizo and sliced scallion. Enjoy!


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