Posts Tagged ‘farmers’ market’

Butternut Squash Soup

October 22nd, 2009

Jersey City’s Journal Square is a pretty beat up neighborhood. There’s barely a hint of the metropolitan city it used to be, except for the two majestic, well-preserved movie houses, one of which serves as a meeting hall for Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a major transportation hub, with both a PATH station that runs to Newark and New York, as well as a large bus terminal, and there is a community college. It is a busy neighborhood, but not a particularly nice one. The massive improvements made downtown since 9/11 have yet to stretch to this part of the city.

I work between a salad bar, otherwise known as the “salmonella bar” due to its questionable temperatures for food safety, and a typical coffee shop with OK food. Other dining choices in the immediate area include Popeye’s, McDonald’s, White Castle, Blimpie, Subway, a few pizza places, a hot dog stand (with good hot dogs!), and, for the real fine dining experience, a Quiznos.

So on Wednesdays in the summer and fall, when Farmers’ Market is just across the street, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Not that it’s a great Farmers’ Market, it’s pretty bare-bones, only six vendors or so. But just to see all the colors of fresh produce under the tents is a sight for sore eyes.

Unlike most market days when I wander around buying what looks good and winging it, yesterday I went with one clear purchase in mind: butternut squash. I become very pumpkin-minded during the autumn, and I’ve been craving some squash soup. I think people are a little intimidated by winter squash, which is a shame. They are one of the easiest fruits to work with, very versatile, and can go to either the sweet or savory side of the culinary spectrum depending how they’re prepared.

There is pretty much nothing easier than this soup. There are five main ingredients: Butter, onion, butternut squash, stock, and nutmeg. The rest are optional, and you could mix it up by using a different winter squash, such as acorn or pumpkin, or adding an apple when simmering the squash. One could also spice things up with cayenne (red pepper) or chipotle, paprika, or curry powder. This soup is ready in less than 30 minutes!

Ingredients (makes approximately four servings):
– 2 tbsp butter
– 1 onion, large dice
– 2 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1.5″ pieces.
– 1 2″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut in a large dice (optional)
– 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
– 1/4 tsp nutmeg
– Lemon juice to taste (optional)
– Salt and pepper to taste
– 2 tbsp heavy cream (optional)
– Sour cream (optional)
– Chives (optional)

1. Melt the butter in a large pot, add the onion and sauté until the onions are soft.

2. Add the squash to the pot, sauté for a few moments, add the stock, ginger (if using), salt and pepper. Simmer the squash on a high simmer until soft, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Purée the soup with either a hand blender, or transfer the soup to a blender in batches, purée until smooth, and return the blended soup to the pot.

4. Bring the soup back to the heat and add your nutmeg, and a good squeeze or two of lemon juice (if using). Taste for salt and pepper, and season if needed. Once the soup is hot, remove from the heat, stir in heavy cream (if using).

5. Spoon the soup into bowls, and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and chopped chives if desired.

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Onion

October 21st, 2009

I’ve been on a mission lately to eat more home-cooked food, trying to overcome a takeout-and-TV dinners habit that is clearly not doing me any good. (I think I’m showing my age here. I’m sure they call TV dinners something else now…frozen entrees?) Anyway, Monday night is “watching House on the couch” night, and I wanted something quick, warm, and relatively healthy. The following fit the bill.

– 1.5 pints Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half (or quarters if they’re large sprouts)
– 5 slices bacon, cut into lardons
– Extra virgin olive oil
– 1 large onion, diced
– Lemon juice to taste
– Salt and pepper to taste

I had a big batch of Brussels sprouts lingering in the vegetable drawer of my refrigerator from a farmers’ market visit about a week and a half earlier. They weren’t looking so good:

I cut the bottoms off and peeled away the brown bits. Voila, beautiful Brussels sprouts!

I cooked the Brussels sprouts in a big pot of boiling water for four minutes and drained them, rinsing them in cold water to stop the cooking and keep their bright green color.

I cut five strips of bacon into lardons (crosswise strips), and rendered them in a large sauté pan so that they were cooked, but not yet crisp, and removed them from the pan with a slotted spoon. OK, full disclosure, I would have used three strips of bacon, except there were five left in the package. If I left two behind I’d have to use them for something else, for which there might not have been enough. There certainly would not be enough for all the members of my household if I cooked only two strips of bacon for breakfast. I mean, really, what do you do with just two pieces of bacon? So I used all five.

I drained most of the bacon fat, leaving just enough in the pan to sauté the diced onions. Once the onions were soft and translucent, I added the Brussels sprouts and cooked them with the onions until the Brussels sprouts were getting toasty on the outside. I added the bacon back to the pan, gave everything a good squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt, and quite a bit of black pepper.

Voila! Brussels sprouts with bacon and onions (terrible photo, but you get the idea):

The onions were super-sweet and the Brussels sprouts tender. Smoky bacon, acid from the lemon, and some heat from the pepper rounded things out. Now that’s a TV dinner.