Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup with Kale and White Beans

They say March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, but it's March 30 and still in the 30s and 40s in New York City...with an April Fool's rain/snow storm on its way. I am trying to look on the bright side because cooler weather is also soup weather. As I've said in the past, once the thermometer hits 70, I rarely turn on the oven or stove. So I've been stockpiling treats in my freezer, from slow oven-roasted campari tomatoes to individual servings of soups of all kinds. At last count, I've crammed 10 containers of soup into the freezer at work, and at least a third are butternut squash with white beans and kale.

I was a little late to the "cook beans from scratch" party, having assumed canned beans were just as good. But then I plunked down $9 for a bag of Rancho Gordo cannellini beans (after finding them at the Blue Hill Cafe). These are like the filet mignon of white beans, as meaty as a bean can be.

The heirloom beans add a nice texture to the smooth butternut squash puree and chewy kale, making the soup a filling lunch any time of year.

Butternut Squash Soup with White Beans and Kale


1 T. Olive oil 2 Garlic cloves, minced

1 Medium onion, roughly chopped

2 Carrots, roughly chopped

2 Celery stalks, roughly chopped

1 Quart Chicken broth (or, if you cook your beans from scratch, try using the bean broth)

1 Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped (about four cups)

1 Head of kale, de-stemmed and torn into bite sized pieces

14 oz. Cannellini beans, cooked or canned, drained

Freshly ground black pepper



In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium high heat.

Add onions and cook for one minute before adding garlic and cooking for an extra two minutes.

Add carrot and celery and saute for five minutes.

Add broth and bring to boil before adding squash.

Cook until squash is tender (about 10 minutes); remove from stove and puree with immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender.

Return puree to stove and bring back to low boil; add kale and cook until tender (about eight minutes).

Add white beans, salt and pepper and cover, turning off stove.

Let stand for 10 minutes before eating.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fennel Pepper Primavera

Winter farmers markets can be quite interesting. You never know what you're going to find. Case in point, my local winter's market, held the second Saturday of each month, has everything from fish to fowl, pickles to pastry, chutney to cheese. But the most popular vendor is the sole produce vendor. Seriously, the crowds are three people deep around the little stand. Why? Because of the variety and the prices. Last month, I fought the crowds and spent $20 at the stand, taking home: *Mint, cilantro and dill *A butternut squash *A bunch of kale *One huge fennel bulb *Three small sweet potatoes *A handful of red onions *A carton of radishes *A bunch of scallions *Four mild white bush zucchini The butternut squash and kale went into a soup, the herbs, scallion and radish into salads and the fennel and squash into a roasted primavera. Using a technique similar to roasted ratatouille, I chopped up the onion, fennel and zucchini with minced garlic and multicolored bell peppers (from Costco), drizzled with a glug of olive oil, and roasted in a 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes. I finished the "sauce" by dumping the contents of a large can of plum tomatoes (which I "chopped" while in-can, using kitchen scissors) into the roasting pan, turning off the oven and letting the residual heat finish the cooking. The end result was a rich primavera with a significant tomato flavor. Oven roasting concentrates the flavors of even the most pedestrian vegetables (bought at a farmers market or not). Use as a pasta topping or serve over polenta or even couscous. Now...what to do with three small sweet potatoes?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lemon Macarons - Good taste, Technical Failure

Long time, no write. It's been a busy winter, but I have been going to the Union Square Green Market every Saturday. However, pickings are kind of sparse. My usual haul consists of apples or red onion or a similar cold weather storage kind of veg. Despite the hint of spring in the air, there are still few greens to be found (My "ramp watch 2011" has begun). So to capture a spring-like taste, I have been using a lot of lemons recently, and naturally decided to experiment with lemon flavored macarons. And once again, I learned how important macaron-making technique is. The batch was pretty much a failure. Oh sure, they formed a foot, were crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, but too little liquid made the batter stiff, meaning: 1. The shell tops held small peaks, despite my attempts to pipe evenly 2. The shells did not spread at all, meaning my macarons looked more like cylinders than disks And the worse part is I know what part of the problem was! It was the darn meringue. I ignored my sugar water solution on the stove for a tad too long (it boiled down and began crystalizing again -- something I did not really notice until I pulled it off the burner). So I just threw in some more water without measuring. What I should have done was just started the sugar/water process over again. Despite my technical gaffes, the batter recipe is a keeper -- the super sweet base was tempered by the sour lemon. And the other good news is that I've learned from my mistake, and now hope you do too! Lemon Flavored Macarons with Lemon Filling Ingredients For the shells:6.5 oz. Almond flour, sifted 6.5 oz. Powdered sugar, sifted Zest of one lemon 5.3 oz. Granulated sugar 1.75 oz. Water 4 egg whites, separated into 2 containers of 2* For the filling:2 oz. Butter, softened 2 oz. White almond paste Juice of half a lemon Method A few hours to days ahead of time, separate four eggs, dividing the egg whites into two separate containers of two; store on the counter covered with a paper towel or in the fridge covered in plastic. Preheat oven to 320 degrees.** In a large bowl, sift together almond flour and powdered sugar until well incorporated; add lemon zest and two of the egg whites and combine well (at this point, the batter should look like a thick, sandy paste). In a small sauce pan, bring the granulated sugar and water to a simmer until it reaches the soft ball stage/240 degrees.*** Be careful not to let the solution boil down too much or the sugar will return to a crystallized state. In a medium bowl, start whipping the remaining two egg whites until frothy/at a soft peak stage; when the sugar water reaches a soft ball stage, remove from heat, pour into the egg whites and continue to whip until the mixture resembles shiny, marshmallow fluff (if beating by hand, you can actually feel the mixture continue to thicken). Fold the egg white fluff (aka Italian meringue) into the large bowl of almond sugar batter until well incorporated. Scrape the batter into a pastry bag and pipe out onto a cookie tray lined with parchment, counting “1, 2, 3, pause” to get small, uniform rounds. Let trays/parchment sit near an open window until a thin skin forms; place the cookie covered tray on top of an empty tray to create double insulation and bake one double-stacked tray at a time for 12-15 minutes. Remove parchment from trays and cool on a rack. To make the filling, cream together the almond paste with lemon juice until the paste loosens; add the butter and cream until well incorporated. Scrape the filling into a pastry bag and pipe onto half of the shells; sandwich together with a similar-sized unfilled shell. Pop the macarons in the fridge overnight to rest...and then enjoy! Notes: *I typically separate my eggs the night before baking and leave them in the fridge. **All ovens are different. 320 degrees is the sweet spot for mine. ***If you don’t have a candy thermometer and are brave or have asbestos fingers, you can test the solution by dipping your fingers into a small bowl of water, grabbing a pinch of the liquid sugar solution and plunging your fingers back into the bowl of water. If a soft ball forms as you rub your fingers together under water, the sugar water is ready!