Monday, September 23, 2013

Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Pepitas

There is no stillness here. The wind is in the trees and the leaves are on the ground and all day I walk with a stirring inside. I imagine under my skin, in the dark hollow beneath my rib cage, no organs but an echoing chamber and a pile of dried leaves lifted by a wind and spun and swirled around and around and around. My heart beats like a hummingbird and even my thoughts seem somehow vaporous. Nothing lasts. That which goes unwritten is rootless.
The kitchen is my anchor. My hands stay busy. My mind moves freely from place to place and the wonders of muscle memory set in: peeling, chopping, stirring, salting. The cucumbers and tomatoes in my garden suddenly hold little appeal--fleeting sun fruits of a passing season. I am drawn to the golden orbs of pumpkin hunkered under canopies of vine. Even raw the flesh is substantial, absorbent. The pumpkin is earthly, lasting. It is designed to store in a cellar or on a shelf for months after it has been harvested. It lies in wait, steady, sustaining.
The deep smells of roasting--garlic, pumpkin, sizzling oil--level me. Then again the routine motions: scrape, stir, blend, stir. As night falls I ladle myself a bowl. Each velvety bite is a dropping in, a slowing down. I can feel my feet against the rag rug and the ground against my feet. If only for a moment, the quiet comes. I am still.

Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Pepitas
serves 4
About 3 lbs pumpkin or winter squash of choice
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4-6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 a sweet onion, chopped
1 jalapeno or other hot pepper, chopped with seeds
3 cardamom pods (or 1/2 t ground cardamom) 
dash of nutmeg
1 T coconut oil
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
olive oil
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Quarter or halve your pumpkin(s) depending on the size and place skin side down on a baking sheet. Place each garlic clove in the hollow of each piece of pumpkin. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast until a fork goes easily through the flesh of the pumpkin, about an hour. Once the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh away from the skin with a spoon. Discard the skins.

Leave the oven and on and keep the baking sheet handy.

In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, hot pepper and the nutmeg and stir. Gently crush the cardamom pods with the flat side of a large knife and add to the pot. Once the onion is wilted, add the squash and stock. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 more minutes. 

While the soup is cooking, drizzle about 1T of olive oil on the baking sheet and pour the pumpkin seeds on top. Sprinkle generously with salt and pop the tray in the oven until the seeds get brown and plump, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Turn the soup off, remove the cardamom pods with a slotted spoon, and let the remainder cool enough to put into a blender. Working in batches, blend the soup until smooth and return to the pot. Heat when ready to serve, topping each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a spoonfull of pepitas.

This is extra delicious with buttery rye toast.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sister Fish

My sister, Susannah, was skilled in the kitchen long before I realized that I loved to cook. While I was traipsing around the backyard choreographing dance routines for an audience of stuffed animals, Susannah, age 10, was perfecting tomato quiche, a dish I pretended to be bored of as a matter of jealous principle. We each took our roundabout ways to get back to the kitchen and now, Susannah owns her own cafe, Bread & Circuses, in Barcelona, turning the Catalonian crowd onto the virtues of the American sandwich.

On the rare occasion that Susannah and I find ourselves in the same country and in the same kitchen, true to Taylor-family form, we spend breakfast talking about what to eat for lunch and spend lunch discussing what we'll have for dinner. Cooking together has become part stage, and part classroom for each of us, an opportunity to show off but also to see what dishes the other has come to love. Our palettes were trained on the same food for much of our lives, but our takes are different--let's just say I tend more towards "buckwheat" and she towards "butter". From time to time, each of us produces a dish that could just have easily sprung from the other's brain.

A few weeks ago Sus did just that with this incredibly simple fish dish. It combines many of my favorite flavors in a single roasting pan--lemon, olives, fennel, peppers-- and it only takes about 15 minutes to cook. For those of you who are intimidated by cooking fish, which can seem complicated, this is a great way to test the waters. This time I can't feign boredom and must give credit where credit is due. Sister fish is delicious.

Sister Fish
feeds 4
One 1.5 pound very fresh cod filet (or four small filets)
1/2 bulb of fennel
1/2 a red onion
4 cloves garlic
1 small red or orange bell pepper
1/2 a cup good green olives
1 lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, carefully juilenne the fennel, peppers and onion. Place them in the bottom of a roasting pan.

Add the peeled garlic cloves and olives to the pan along with a glug of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables well until they are somewhat evenly mixed and coated, and make a thick layer in the bottom of the pan.

Again, using the mandoline or a knife, slice enough paper-thin rounds of lemon to form a single layer over the vegetables.

Place the fish filet(s) in a single layer on top of the lemons. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Salt and pepper the fish, place in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes, until the fish is just cooked through. It should flake easily away when prodded with a fork but should still be moist. The vegetables should be soft and starting to let their juices into the bottom of the pan. 

Using a metal spatula, divide the filet into four even pieces. Distribute the vegetables evenly among the four plates and top each with a piece of fish. Add a bit more salt and pepper to taste and serve with a wedge of fresh lemon.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Summer Fruits: The Bounty Continues

The little peach tree in my parents' backyard is easy to overlook. It sits at the edge of a field, not quite part of the lawn and not at all part of the ancient apple orchard.  It's a little scrawny, slightly lopsided, a wallflower amidst the blousy peonies and brazen dahlias. For a couple of years it bore no fruit at all. Last summer it was partially run over by a reversing tractor. I wondered if it would make it through another winter. My mother, on the other hand, never lost faith in the little tree and did what she could to nurture it and coax it into good health. Whatever she did, worked. During my last week in Maine as autumn made its first chilly pronouncements, the peach tree put forth more fruit than we could eat.
And what fruit it was! Beneath the slightly-too-furry skin of each small peach was golden flesh, soft and sweet and perfectly tart. We ate them in granola, made them into crisp, piled them on top of cardamom cake and pancakes. One late morning I decided to marry the fruits of our seemingly endless bounty. I can't recall ever eating tomatoes and peaches together before but suddenly it made sense. Both fruits, in season and at their best, are juicy, textured, and tantalize the tongue with flavors that shift as you chew, from sweet to acid and back again.
I toasted a few pieces of Tinder Hearth bread (no other bread worth eating if you live in the state of Maine), spread them with a thick layer of ash-rind chevre, and topped them with spicy arugula from the garden, yellow tomatoes and thin slices of peach. Though I am home now in California and without said peach tree, I am not without peaches, tomatoes and very delicious bread. I've got this one on repeat. For another week or two, as the east and west coast growing seasons mystically align and the same produce is found most anywhere you go, I recommend eating tomatoes and peaches--together or separately--while you still can. Savor those last bites of summer.

Tomato & Peach Sandwiches
Delicious crusty bread
One ripe but slightly firm peach
One ripe medium sized tomato
Handful of spicy baby greens
Good, slightly stinky chevre
olive oil
salt & pepper

Cut four slices of bread, each about an inch thick. Toast.

While the bread is toasting, slice the tomatoes and peaches into thin slices. Once the bread is ready and while it is still hot, spread a generous amount of chevre onto each piece of toast. Layer greens, peaches and tomatoes in whatever order you prefer. Salt and pepper generously and drizzle with really good olive oil.

Eat. Repeat.