Another month has gone by, and it’s time to share the recipes I chose to make for the Cottage Cooking Club. If you don’t already know, the Cottage Cooking Club was started by Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness, with the goal of cooking all the recipes in River Cottage Veg, a cookbook by British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in one year. It’s a little more relaxing than other cooking groups because, in this group, all of the recipes are be cooked across the entire group, not by each individual participant.
I always find it hard to choose from Andrea’s selections for the month, but I try to pick recipes that I know I can work into the month’s cooking. This month, I made three of the ten possibilities, more than I’ve taken on in previous months.
First up, I made the Spelt Salad with Squash and Fennel. This is a warm salad combining chewy grains with roasted vegetables and toasted walnuts. Trader Joe’s sells a parboiled farro that can be cooked in 10 minutes, so I used that instead of spelt which takes much longer. There’s a lot of confusion about the differences (or similarities) of the available heirloom grains on the market. According to Wikipedia, the Italians call spelt farro grande but technically (and genetically) they are different heirloom grains. I’m not going to sweat the difference because what matters to me is the flavor and texture. The quick-cooking TJ farro works for me.
While the farro cooked, I roasted chunks of butternut squash and slices of fennel until tender. A handful of walnuts are added to the pan for the last few minutes of cooking. Cooked farro and the roasted ingredients are tossed together with a lemony vinaigrette to create a hearty salad that could either be the centerpiece of a meal (large portion) or a satisfying side dish (smaller portion). We liked this, but felt it would have been even better with more walnuts.
We had some friends over for a schnitzel and spaetzle dinner. I made the Artichoke and White Bean Dip for our guests to enjoy while I was frying the schnitzel. The dip came together quickly. Chopped marinated artichokes and canned white beans are heated up with sautéed onion and garlic. Then, the mixture is coarsely pureed in the food processor with a touch of yogurt, lemon juice and oil. It’s reminiscent of a hummus in texture, but without the strong tahini taste of hummus plus it’s served warm. I served the dip with pita chips and crudities. It got high marks from Howard and the guests.
Finally, I made the Big Baked Mushrooms. I do not like raw mushrooms, and I always forget how much I do like cooked ones. Portobello (aka “big”) mushrooms are dotted with butter and garlic and baked until tender. As a finishing touch, grated cheese is melted on top. I used an aged Gouda which added a nice nutty flavor. These mushrooms are so easy to put together that, in many ways, they make a nice side dish to round out a meal.
I would make all of these recipes again, but the mushrooms is the one most likely to reappear on my table first.
For anyone who enjoys “snow pictures”, a little storm named Juno visited us on Tuesday. According to my snow gauge, she dropped about 2 feet of snow. As I always say, “If it’s going to be cold, it might as well be pretty!”
We’ve been having perfect soup weather, and there’s nothing that makes my house happier than a big pot of soup. Having such a treasure in the fridge makes our week go more smoothly, having something delicious and nutritious to bring for lunch everyday.
For French Fridays with Dorie, the recipe this week was just that. Spiced Squash, Fennel, and Pear Soup had autumn all over its name. I’m always trying different winter squash soup recipes. I haven’t quite found that perfect go-to recipe. Really, I think the success of each batch depends on the squash itself, and the flavor of the squash can be wildly inconsistent. I was excited to try this one to see how it stood up to other recipes.
My husband Howard doesn’t eat fruit in his food. He just eats fruit as fruit. And, while he likes apples, Howard does not care for pears. So, I was a little furtive about the reason for pears in the grocery bag.
I roasted the halved butternut and buttercup squash. I peeled and chopped the cooked squash and lined it up on the counter next to bowls of chopped onions and scallions, fennel and garlic, and the spice mix of cumin, ginger, and nutmeg. The pears just patiently sat on the counter. Then I started to cook the soup. I didn’t want to chop the pears because I didn’t want them to brown while they waited for their turn to go into the pot. This whole time, I was alone in the kitchen.
As the soup simmered, I started to peel and chop those pears. Wouldn’t you know this was the moment that Howard decided to come see what I was up to. The conversation went sort of like this:
Howard: What are those pears for?
H: Those aren’t going in to the soup, are they?
B: (guilty look) You weren’t supposed to see them.
H: I can’t believe you you’re going to poison me.
B: You aren’t even going to taste them.
H: I’ll know they’re there.
B: No, you won’t.
H: (sigh) Poisoner, poisoner.
At this point, he left the room, and I added the pears to the pot. So much for being sneaky.
Once all the ingredients are tender, the mixture is pureed in the blender where it transforms into a smooth, golden soup. Mine was thick, and I opted not to thin it down with additional water or broth, but you could.
I ended up with a HUGE container of a wonderful soup that has lasted all week. The squash itself might have been bland, but the fennel added depth beyond the usual onions, and the spices added a nice warmth. Those pears were the secret weapon. I couldn’t taste a distinct pear flavor, just an extra sweetness. I think adding some fruit might be the solution to earlier failed squash soup recipes with potential.
Did Howard eat the soup? He grumbled a little bit, and insists he can taste the pears, but he took it for lunch every day (he’s in charge of making the lunches we bring to work). He did admit that it was a good soup. I’ll call that a success.
As a side note, last week, I tried Béatrix’s Red Kuri Soup (page 78) because I had happened on red kuri squash at one of the last Farmer’s Markets of the season. If you haven’t tried that one (which I think is somewhat ingredient-dependent), it was also a winner.
I’m looking forward to reading about what my fellow FFwD bloggers thought about this week’s recipe. Check out their links at French Fridays with Dorie. We don’t post the recipes, but consider getting your own copy of the book, Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. Maybe you’ll even want to cook along with us on Fridays. It’s a great group, and you’d be quite welcome.