Today marks a sad day. I usually never let good produce go to waste, but after coming home and inspecting the three miniature squashes I had left out on a decorative platter on the coffee table, as a decorative touch to the room, I discovered that I had overestimated their coffee table life. They were no longer firm and heavy, but sickly hollow-feeling, and the acorn squash’s lizard-green skin was a bit wrinkled, with one spot of mold on the pleated base. These were remnants from my last CSA pickup, which was, oh, about a month ago (another tear of remorse). There’s surely no use crying over spilled milk, or expired ingredients. But the thought of the good meals that could have been had with these squashes suddenly brought on a floodgate of memory, and a conviction to do right by some lost opportunity.
Which brings me to this squash and chorizo soup. One of the reasons I began writing this blog was so that I could simply remember, and share, all the great food I was making. In the process, many recipes got left to the wayside, many memorable nights of feasting, too irresistible to just savor in their moments rather than record. A good handful of these occasions took place about one year ago, when a friend and I set forth on a spree of inventive dinner parties with friends. The concept was simple: we’d each invite two of our respective friends, whom the other didn’t know. We chose ones we hoped would gel, and who loved to eat. We cooked, four courses each night, and for me, it was an especially fun challenge because my friend who was co-chair in this flight was vegetarian, so all the dishes were. We’d had a half-serious notion of using the recipes to create an interactive website which we could never pin down the perfect name of; we attached a theme to each meal (one of which, the easiest target, really, was pizza, and we commenced the evening by watching Heathers for some reason with all of our guests).
Recipes, like friends, fall out of favor with time, and for some dang reason this friend of mine and I hung out less and less since last winter. Yet too often, it isn’t for any intention. And this recipe, and friend, is still pure gold. I got the chance to catch up with this friend of mine last week, almost a year since we’d given up on the website idea and had held our last dinner. The memories caught up, too — biking to his home with so many ingredients stuffed in tote bags on my back, the time we forgot about the pumpkin seeds slowly roasting in brown sugar in the oven before they had stuck impenetrably to the pan. And I remembered the savory squash soup that we’d made one night, a real standout.
I mentioned that all the recipes we made were vegetarian, but the lone exception was this one; on this evening, to please some of my meat-happy guests, I’d made one version of the soup with real chorizo, and one with spicy sausage-like tempeh. You can choose either/or. It’s a good time for squashes, too, so don’t let your decorative impulses deceive you, like they did to me.
Oh, to good times and food. I hope you have one really soon.
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds and pulp removed, and cut to 1-inch cubes
2-3 chorizo links, finely diced (substitute with tempeh or tofu sausage for a vegetarian version)
1 large Spanish onion, diced
1 bell pepper (any color) diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 anchos (dried poblano peppers), stemmed, seeded and torn to smaller pieces
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bunch cilantro, about half of it finely chopped and the rest for garnish
1-2 teaspoons ground cumin (toasted and freshly ground from whole seeds is best)
1 teaspoon ground coriander (toatsed and freshly ground from whole seeds is best)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoons cornmeal (optional)
fresh lime juice to taste
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
crema (or sour cream) for garnish
optional: thinly sliced red onion and tomato wedge for garnish
Place the anchos in a small saucepan and fill with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover, and let sit for 20 minutes. Transfer to a food processor or blender and pulverize until smooth.
In a medium-large heavy-bottomed pot, brown the diced chorizo while stirring over medium-high flame for 5-7 minutes. Set aside; in the same pan, sweat the onions, peppers and squash cubes in the remaining chorizo grease and the additional olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, coriander and cayenne. Stir frequently while cooking for 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and stir another minute. Return the chorizo to the pot and add the ancho puree, stock and chopped cilantro and bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let cook for 20-30 minutes.
Taste stew for seasoning, adding more of anything, and cook off enough liquid to desired consistency (or add more stock if necessary). Add fresh lime juice. Once flavor is correct, add cornmeal to thicken, if desired. Serve in individual bowls and top with a squirt of the crema, red onions and/or tomato wedge, and remaining cilantro leaves for garnish.
(for about 6 servings)
1 butternut squash (at $1/lb): $1.75
3 links chorizo (at $4/lb): $2.50
1 onion: $0.20
1 bell pepper: $0.75
2 anchos: $0.60
1 bunch cilantro: $2.00
1 Tb tomato paste: $0.15
5 cloves garlic: $0.15
4 cups homemade stock: $1.00
1 lime: $0.20
spices, cornmeal, salt, pepper, olive oil: $0.50
optional red onion and tomato for garnish: $1.25
Six brownie points: While it’s not a light soup, it has plentiful fresh ingredients that keep it both vibrant and nutritious. Chorizo, a dry-cured pork sausage with plenty of fat and sodium, is not something you’ll want to eat in mass quantity (try thinking of sausage and other fatty cuts as flavor-builders rather than a potential main course). But a little goes a long way here in adding some spice and savoriness.
Five maple leaves: Try not to get bored of winter squash this early in the season — they’ll be around for some time yet, much longer than many other attractions of local farmers’ markets, like all those nice cauliflowers and Brussels sprouts. (Speaking, of course, for the tri-state area.) It’s also a great time to stock up on stock, homemade that is. Make gallons of the stuff with all the carrots, parsnips, turnips and other root vegetables as they’re fresh and flavorful now, and freeze it to use all year.