Thursday, October 30

Soup of the Season

As the days get cooler and shorter, my big soup pot spends more time on the stove and less in the cupboard.

At this time of year, Jim and I spend as much time as we can outside. The days are brisk but not bitter, and when the sun is shining they are absolutely beautiful. We also have much work to do outdoors: gathering firewood to warm the house and the Coop through the winter, taking in the gazebo and garden furniture, cleaning up the lawn and all the sundry tasks of preparing for winter in the country.

After a busy day outside, our cheeks are rosy and our bellies are ready for filling. There is nothing like a piping hot bowl of soup to warm us from the inside out.

One of my favourite soups brings together two classic flavours of the season; and beautifully echoes the colour that is fading from the woods around us. In taste and looks, this soup is autumn in a bowl. Enjoy!

Roasted Butternut Squash & Pear Soup

Roasting the squash first accomplishes two things: it deepens and enhances the flavour of the squash; and it makes it much, much easier to peel and chop. Try tossing the peeled carrot and the peeled & cored pear in a little olive oil and roasting them along with the squash for another level of flavour.

1 medium butternut squash
olive oil
1 large yellow onion
1 medium-large carrot
1 medium-large Anjou or Bartlett pear
ground coriander seed
pinch of saffron threads, crumbled (optional)

kosher salt
white pepper
4-6 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water

Heat the oven to 350 - 400 F. If you already have something cooking, don't change the temperature for the squash, the squash will adapt just fine to whatever you have going on.

Leave the squash whole, but stab it in several places with a sharp knife. Place it on a baking sheet and roast it until the skin is buckled and bubbled in a few places, 30-45 minutes. Don't worry if it's not cooked all the way through; it will finish cooking in the pot. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, heat a large dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat. Peel the onion and cut into small dice. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the onion and a pinch of kosher salt and cook until beginning to soften and turn translucent.

Peel the carrot and slice it into 1/4" rounds. Peel, quarter and core the pear, and cut into large dice. Add the carrot and pear to the onions and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, while you peel the squash.

When the squash is cool enough to handle, peel away and discard the skin using a sharp paring knife. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and use a large spoon to remove and discard the seeds and strings. Cut the squash into large dice.

Add the diced squash, a hefty pinch each of ground coriander seed and kosher salt, and the crumbled saffron if using. Add a moderate dash of white pepper.

Continue to cook, stirring frequently until the onion is completely softened. Add enough chicken broth to cover the squash mixture. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables and pear are completely tender.

Allow the soup to cool, then transfer to a blender in small batches and blend until smooth. Add more broth if necessary to reach a smooth consistency. Transfer to a clean pot or bowl and continue until all the soup is processed. Return to heat. Add broth if desired for a thinner consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings to suit.

Serve hot. Garnish with a drizzle of heavy cream or flavoured olive oil; sprinkle with fresh herbs or sweet paprika; or top with crumbled bacon and goat cheese.

Serves 6-8 as a starter course; or 4 for lunch alongside hearty bread.

A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.
- Abraham Maslow

Friday, October 17

The Golden Encore

You probably know to give credit to the maple trees for the spectacular reds and flaming oranges that adorn the Almaguin and Muskoka hills from early-September to mid-October. But as October winds down, the maple leaves dance down from their treetops to carpet the forest floor instead. You might think this means the end of the colour show for the season, but think again.

After the maple display ends, the tamaracks, birches and poplars take the stage and grace us with a golden encore. Their colour range is smaller--ranging from bright yellow to rich gold--but a striking sight nonetheless against the deep green of the coniferous backdrop. Even the grasses, ferns and undergrowth take on tawny and coppery hues. On a sunny day, the world around us simply glows.
Tamaracks are interesting trees. They have the conical shape and needly look of a typical evergreen tree in the summer, but in the fall their needles turn golden yellow and then shed like leaves. Tamaracks spend the winter looking like barren spikes before coming back to life in the spring in a fresh burst of green.
Thank you to our guests, Pedro & Ursula (and Ruby, pictured above), for use of these pictures. Pedro worked his usual magic behind the camera during the Thanksgiving weekend, as the maples were wrapping up their act and the tamaracks were just getting started.