Shake up soups with spirits, spices

The lapse in entries to this blog isn’t for lack of desire to start the new year with some new menus, preferably ones that leave off the butter and cream cheese of the previous month’s.

It’s lack of food that’s left me short on inspiration. I’m closing in on three weeks without a visit to the grocery store since a Christmas Eve sojourn on the coast, followed by a reprieve from cooking for family in the Rogue Valley, a week of my mother-in-law’s Christmas dinner leftovers and then a trip to the Rose Bowl.

While my freezer is stocked with meat and the pantry with a few root vegetables and squashes, a month’s worth of deadlines crammed into a week have left me short on time for meal-planning. So in instances like these, I’m always grateful for a few quarts of homemade soup in the freezer.

Hardly an original concept — and one of the first topics of this blog — freezing several servings of soup here and there is so simple for the home cook yet feels so clever and virtuous when other food is in short supply. Beyond its warmth and nourishment, soup can also be a connection to seasons past.

Tonight, we’re down to our final quart of minestrone, made from the last zucchini, green beans and eggplants of early fall paired with some of the year’s harvest of fingerling potatoes. All that I need to do to bulk it up is boil a bit of pasta or add a can of cannelini beans.

Most of us have a repertoire of soups suited to the seasons and our families’ tastes. But it never hurts to shake it up in ways that might not be visually apparent but can boost favorite flavors to the next level. Here are a couple of ideas from Ellise Pierce aka the Cowgirl Chef, author of a Tex-Mex blog and new cookbook.

Pierce pumps up the classic butternut squash soup with chipotles in adobo and, more innovative, roasted red bell pepper soup with tequila. Talk about a salve for the sniffles! In both cases, freeze unneeded portions after blending but before adding the cream and garnishes.

MCT photo

Butternut Squash-Chipotle Soup

Olive oil, as needed

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 chipotle chile (in adobo), finely chopped

1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup chicken stock

Sea salt, to taste

About 8 pieces thinly sliced chorizo (or any other spicy cured sausage)

1/4 cup cream

Drizzle a little olive oil into a stockpot and toss in the minced garlic and chopped chipotle. Turn heat to medium-low and cook for a minute or two, or just until you can smell garlic. Watch this carefully — you don’t want garlic to burn.

Add the butternut squash, chicken stock and a pinch of salt. Cover and turn heat down to low. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or just until squash is soft.

While squash is cooking, fry the chorizo. Cut each piece into skinny strips (about 6 1/4 inch), toss them into a skillet and turn heat to medium-low. They’ll crisp up in less than 5 minutes. Let them drain on a paper towel.

Carefully pour squash mixture into a blender, add the cream and blend until smooth and creamy. Taste for seasonings and serve immediately with crispy chorizo strips.

Makes 4 first-course servings.


Roasted Red Bell Pepper-Tequila Soup

2 pounds red bell peppers

Olive oil, as needed

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

Sea salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons of tequila (blanco)

1/3 cup cream

Chopped, fresh cilantro, for garnish

Preheat oven to broil. Roast the red peppers by putting them on a foil-lined cookie sheet, cutting a few slits in them (so they don’t explode) and sliding them into oven. Watch them carefully and turn them over as they char, so all sides get evenly blackened. Put cooked peppers in a bowl of ice water and let them cool for 10 minutes or so; skins should come right off. Be sure and remove membranes and seeds, too.

Put a little olive oil in a saucepan, along with the minced garlic, and turn heat to medium-low. Let this cook just until you can smell garlic; add peppers and the vegetable or chicken stock, a pinch of salt and pepper and give it a stir.

Using a hand blender, puree pepper-stock mixture and let this come to a boil. Turn heat to low and let it cook for 15 minutes or so. Add the tequila and cream and taste for seasonings. Serve immediately with the chopped cilantro.

Makes 4 first-course servings.

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