aka, the ass-kicker

< cue swelling strings > OK, it’s not really special at all — just a garden-variety post — but if you’ve been here before, you’ll know I only update once a week at most. This is me trying to be better about that sort of thing.

Another change for the better? Instead of my annual satisfying-yet-ineffective tactic of resisting the return to fall, I’m embracing it with open arms this year. No, seriously: I didn’t whine even a little bit about the annual closet switchout, dutifully donned a hat and jacket when morning temperatures and the Hudson Hawk made my walk too brisk for bareness and have sucked it up about not seeing my house in daylight during the week. Just trying to Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive here, and the easiest way I know to do that is through cooking, focusing on seasonal goodness.

Gil can attest to my current pumpkin/winter squash obsession. (We’ll be attending castings for Jersey Shore if I don’t cut it out. Coming soon to a boardwalk near you: Amy “The Back End” and Gil “The Incident” Roth.) I’ve been roasting pumpkin like crazy for custards, puddings and mashes, but my favorite use so far has been for soup. What you see in the picture above isn’t revolutionary and won’t set the world on fire, but it’s thoroughly delicious and feels rich and indulgent even though it’s (gasp) vegan. It’s a lush pumpkin soup flavored with roasted garlic, coconut milk and Singapore curry — a lovely, light spice blend that doesn’t overwhelm any other components of the dish.

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I jumped feet-first into serious cold-weather cooking last weekend to satisfy a craving for chickpea soup (pasta e ceci, minus the pasta this time around). To make it gluten-free, I substituted ribbons of rainbow chard for the pasta, adding them to the soup just before serving so they wilted just enough to turn silky but still provided some texture with each bite. It’s a different animal than the original, to be sure, but the chard really added a nice dimension to the soup and I figure extra servings of greens are always a good thing.

When I was doing my grad school stint in St. Louis, one of the guys in my program announced to the office, “I can always tell who the Southerners are when it gets cold. You people bitch all winter long.” So yeah, I’m sure I’ll change my tune once we get deeper into the season, but for now, I’m happy enough not to fight Mother Nature. Wow, can roasted root vegetables be far behind?

recipes after the jump

Curried Pumpkin Soup

This is really just a base with which to play. Try any winter squash, or even already-cooked carrots or sweet potatoes instead of pumpkin. Make it a more savory, Moroccan-inspired dish by swapping in tomatoes, warm spices, preserved lemon and harissa for the coconut and curry. Maybe try some whole chickpeas tossed in at the end. Play, and enjoy.

1 medium sweet/sugar pumpkin
1 head garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 – 1 tablespoon mild curry powder (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 sage leaf, chopped (optional)
1 can coconut milk (I prefer full-fat, but feel free to swap in a lite version)
1/2 teaspoon salt
water to cover

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut pumpkin in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and membranes with a spoon. Place pumpkin cut side up on a baking sheet and brush the cut halves with 1/2 tablespoon oil or melted butter. Slice off the top part of the garlic head, place on a square of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil and salt and wrap tightly. Place on baking sheet with the pumpkin. Roast both for an hour or until a knife can be inserted into the thickest part of the pumpkin with no resistance.

Carefully unwrap garlic and set aside until cool enough to handle, then squeeze cloves from the skins and reserve. Scoop out pumpkin flesh and discard skins.

Heat remaining olive oil or butter in heavy pot over medium heat. When hot, sauté onion until translucent, then add curry powder and turmeric and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add pumpkin, garlic and remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Blend with immersion blender until creamy or, working in batches, use blender. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Chickpea Soup with Chard from Rachel Eats’ Pasta e Ceci

Like I said, I left out the pasta and added swiss chard, but I’m including the original recipe here because it’s perfection in a bowl. If you want to go gluten-free as well, just stop before you get to the stage where you add pasta to the soup.

serves 4

250g dried chickpeas soaked overnight and then simmered for 2 hours until tender or 450g tinned chickpeas
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
medium carrot peeled and finely diced
stick of celery finely diced
mild onion peeled and finely diced
2 tbsp tomato concentrate
small sprig of rosemary
500ml vegetable or chicken stock or water the chickpeas were cooked in with more plain water added to make up the 500ml if necessary.
optional — 500ml extra water or stock for if you cook the pasta in the soup.
Parmesan rind
salt and freshly ground black pepper
225g small dried tubular pasta
your nicest oil for on top

Prepare your soffrito of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery, sauteing them gently and slowly in the oil in a large heavy based pan until soft and floppy and translucent.

Then you add the tomato concentrate and a sprig of rosemary, stir, and then add 2/3 of your cooked chickpeas.

Stir again and then cover everything with stock or water, throw in a Parmesan rind. Bring the pan to a happy boil, reduce to a simmer and then leave the pan to bubble away gently for about 20 minutes.

Now remove the rind and rosemary and pass everything through the mouli or give it a blast with the hand blender to create a smooth gloopy soup.

Now you add the rest of the cooked chickpeas and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Now the two choices:

1. you can either add some more water or stock to the soup, bring it to the boil and cook your pasta directly in the soup

or

2. you can cook your pasta separately in some fast boiling salted water and then add it to the soup, then let things rest for about 5 minutes so the flavors mingle. Serve dribbled with more extra virgin olive oil and some freshly grated Parmesan..

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