October 13, 2016 Chicken and Butternut Squash Soup

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Joe begins planning the vegetable garden right after the Christmas holidays. As always, he asked me if there was anything I wanted to add this year. I knew right away I wanted him to grow butternut squash. They were never planted before because the vines need considerable room to grow. Since the ever-expanding garden now includes an area near the orchard and the berry bushes, there would be some more room available. Last year he grew some loofah and bird house gourds in that area but since they were not going to be repeated, butternut squash got the okay.

Butternut is a variety of winter squash. The name is a bit of a misnomer however,  since all winter squashes are frost tender (the plants will die with the first frost) warm season (seeds must be planted when the soil temperature is above 65°) annuals (plants that complete their life cycle in one growing season). With a growing season of 110-120 days for full maturation, they are harvested in the fall and can be kept well through the cold winter months, hence the name. Summer squash like zucchini and yellow crookneck are harvested all summer long while the fruit is still immature and the skin is still tender. Not counting the ones that “get away” and could fill in for baseball bats. And yes, botanically speaking, both winter and summer squash are fruit since they develop from a flower and are the part of the plant that contains the seeds. Winter squash should only be harvested when fully mature. When winter squash is mature, the stem end will turn from green to brown and will appear that the stem is beginning to dry out. The skin should look dull, not shiny and it should be difficult to dent the squash skin with your fingernail. Winter squash do not require refrigeration but should be stored in a cool dark area.

Last weekend the harvest was finally ready and Joe brought them in by the wheelbarrows full, 60 in all. Some of the squash were slightly damaged and they will be the ones I use first. Some I will give away to friends and the rest we are storing on shelves in our basement.

Low in fat and rich in vitamins A, C, fiber and antioxidants, butternut squash is a great addition to many recipes. I like to roast cubes of butternut squash to add to my fall salads.The butternut squash seeds can be tossed with olive oil and salt and roasted for a crunchy snack or a salad topper.

The creamy texture of butternut squash makes a wonderful soup and I have recipes for two on the blog from years past, butternut squash soup with cider cream and butternut squash soup with Asian pear and ginger, both unique and delicious.

Because of fall’s chilly temperatures, I wanted to make a more substantial main course soup. I liked the idea of roasting the vegetables on the baking sheet to bring out their natural sweetness. For easy clean up, I lined the baking sheet with parchment paper. The leek, pepper and squash should be cut into pieces all relatively the same size so they cook evenly. A medium dice works best here, about 1 to 1 ½ inches. Toss the vegetables with olive oil and spread out evenly on a baking sheet, don’t overcrowd. Arrange the chicken thighs on top of the vegetables and season everything with salt and pepper. I think chicken thighs are the best choice for this recipe, the skin keeps the meat moist during the roasting process. Rotate the pan halfway during the cooking process to ensure even cooking.

Transfer the chicken thighs to a plate to cool and add the roasted vegetables to a pot along with the chicken broth and spices. Simmer over medium heat and use a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon to mash-up some of the vegetables to give the soup a thick, chunky texture. Shred the chicken into bite sized pieces, discarding the skin and bones. Add to the soup and stir in fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. When the soup is almost done stir in the kale ribbons and cook until they are wilted, an additional five minutes. Additional add ins for this soup could include cannellini beans and fire roasted diced tomatoes. The soup can be frozen or stored in the fridge for several days.

Roasted Chicken and Butternut Squash Soup

Serves four to six

Ingredients

  • 6 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 medium butternut squash, (2½ to 3 lbs) peeled, seeded and diced medium
  • 1 medium leek, sliced medium
  • 1 small red pepper, diced medium  (I added a red poblano too for a little kick)
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 c low sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ t ground cumin
  • ¼ t ground coriander
  • ¼ t smoked paprika
  • 2-3 cups of thinly chopped kale (avoid thick stems)
  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • Fresh parsley or coriander (optional)

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Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. In a large bowl toss the squash, red pepper and onion with the olive oil. Spread evenly on a large baking sheet. Arrange the chicken thighs on top, spacing out evenly. Season everything with salt and pepper.
  2. Roast until the squash and chicken are cooked through, rotating pan halfway through the cooking process.
  3.  Transfer the chicken to a plate, loosely cover and let cool. Transfer squash and onions to a medium pot and broth, cumin, coriander and smoked paprika. Simmer over medium high heat.
  4. With a potato masher or the back of a  wooden spoon, mash some of the vegetables until soup is thick and chunky.
  5. Discard the skin and bones from the chicken, cut meat into small pieces and add to the soup. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Stir in the thinly chopped kale and cook for five minutes more, until the kale is wilted. Taste and adjust seasonings, To serve, top with fresh parsley or cilantro.
Preparing the butternut squash.
Preparing the butternut squash.

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I used a leek from the garden but an onion will work as well.
I used a leek from the garden but an onion will work as well.
Lining the baking sheet with parchment makes for easy clean up.
Lining the baking sheet with parchment makes for easy clean up.
The "after" picture.
The “after” picture.
Kale ribbons only need about five minutes to wilt into the soup.
Kale ribbons only need about five minutes to wilt into the soup.

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December 12, 2014 Creamy Kale Gratin

DSC_0072aWhen it comes to Thanksgiving I’m “all about the sides”. Now don’t get me wrong, we had three turkeys for Thanksgiving, roasted, grilled and smoked, all cooked to perfection by my hubby. No fried turkey this year, we tried it one Thanksgiving and the combination of a deep fryer and a windy day on a wooden deck made for an interesting and potentially dangerous afternoon.

I love fall vegetables, a variety of interesting winter squashes, beautiful brassicas and hearty root vegetables all appear at our table. In previous years I would make myself crazy with last minute preparations for a half dozen complicated side dishes before we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner. Now I like to roast a combination of root vegetables tossed with olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper and supplement them with some other interesting sides.

If I am at home in the early afternoon I will occasionally turn on “The Chew”, a television program that has been described as “The View” for foodies. The panel includes among others, star chef, restauranteur and cookbook author, Mario Batali, and it was Mario’s recipe this day that caught my attention, Creamy Kale Gratin.
We are not newcomers on the ever expanding kale bandwagon. Joe has been growing it in the fall for quite a few years, before it achieved it’s current celebrity status. This year’s crop was abundant. He grew both the Red Russian variety with it’s reddish purple stems and curly leaves and the Lacinato or dinosaur kale with crinkly long dark green leaves. What most people don’t know is that after the first frost, kale becomes sweeter and could easily convert the most die hard kale hater.

Today’s episode was titled potluck party, focusing on dishes you could bring to a Thanksgiving dinner and I’m sure this dish would be a hit at any potluck meal, Thanksgiving or otherwise. Mario compared this dish to steakhouse creamed spinach, only made with kale. Mario had the assistance of actress Katherine Heigl, best known for her Emmy winning role on Grey’s Anatomy.  Her job, along with promoting her new television series, was to chop some of the kale while Mario made the Bechamel  sauce. I saw that chef Michael Symon was at the ready, most likely in case the task was too much for her to handle. I noticed she did a fine job, Michael said with a bit of surprise that she did a good job and Mario commented on her “mad skills”. She explained that she played a cook in one of her movies (Life As We Know It; I checked)  and they taught her to properly chop. She refered to it as a hidden talent, one of those things you learn as an actor.

The kale leaves are roughly chopped to the stem. Twenty cups may seem like a large quantity but like all greens, they cook down quickly. Rather than putting the stems in the trash, Mario puts the stems in half full pickle jars and snacks on them the next day. The kale is cooked in a large sautepan until wilted, it will cook fully when it is combined with the cheese sauce and croutons. A layer of croutons is placed on the bottom of a large buttered gratin dish. The next layer is the kale combined with the very cheesy sauce seasoned with freshly ground nutmeg. The remaining croutons are layered on top.

Either variety of  kale is suitable for this recipe. From my observation of the video it looks like they used a curly variety, I used the darker Lacinato with long crinkly leaves. I prepped my dish the day before, stopping before sprinkling the croutons with olive oil, salt and pepper. I brought the dish to room temperature the next day, finished the final steps and baked the gratin. The last dilemma the Chew tackled was how do you eat the bread bit? Fork and knife is fine but if you want to pick it up like a crostini, that’s just fine too.   We all enjoyed the gratin, a delicious way to enjoy one of the final offerings of the fall garden.

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Lacinato kale in the fall garden.

Creamy Kale Gratin

Serves 10

Ingredients

  • 20 cups Russian or Lacinato kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 1 loaf sourdough bread, cut into 1/2 inch slices
  • 6 T butter, and additional butter for the baking dish
  • 1/2c shallots, sliced
  • 1t red pepper flakes
  • 1/4c all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2c milk
  • 1 1/2c heavy cream
  • 8oz grated gruyere cheese
  • 8oz grated sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 1/2c crème fraiche
  • 1/2c Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated
  • 1/2t freshly grated nutmeg

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. Preheat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter and a drizzle of olive oil. When the butter has melted, add the shallots, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the kale and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until wilted about 4 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, in a separate heavy bottomed pot (think Le Creuset) , melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add flour and stir to combine. Cook the flour mixture for 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Slowly pour in the milk and cream and whisk to combine. Continue to cook,, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until the béchamel sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon (about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat. Add in the cheeses and whisk until smooth. Season with freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir in the reserved kale mixture.
  4. Butter a large gratin baking dish. Lay an even layer of the read slices in the bottom of the gratin dish. Pour the creamy kale over the bread. Top the casserole with the remaining bread slices, placing them tightly together. Season the bread with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, until the topping is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
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A rough chop is all you need for this dish.
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A layer of bread slices are placed at the bottom of the dish.
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Next, a layer of creamy, cheesy kale.
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Then another layer of sourdough bread rounds.
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Brush sourdough lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper and bake. Delicious!