After the collective feasting around the nation on Thursday, I don’t feel quite right showing up here today to talk about food. If your belt buckle is still straining against your belly, you might want to read a fitness blog or, better yet, step away from the computer and run. I don’t care where you run, just run!
If you’ve given up on wearing a belt altogether for the next month, you can stick around because you are obviously in the mood to indulge this holiday season. I can’t blame you. I hear up in the northern parts of the country, the weather is actually starting to feel like late fall—perfect for cozying up to Christmas cookies and wrapping paper. Here in Texas, it’s 70-something degrees today. Balmy! I feel like I should be trying on bikinis, not buying Christmas presents on-line. I have a feeling it’s going to be a very pleasant winter this year!
I actually didn’t cook much on Thanksgiving Day. I didn’t feel like it, and with no one to entertain but myself that day, it was fine. I had the lamest dinner ever: a casserole composed of leftovers, tossed with jarred spaghetti sauce and heated in the oven. It didn’t sound too bad in theory—pasta, steamed kale, roasted cauliflower, tofu, topped with some Parmesan—but it was terrible. The pasta had gone chewy in the fridge and it didn’t soften in the oven, and I didn’t heat up my casserole enough, so the whole dish was disappointingly lukewarm. Don’t feel bad for me, though, because the whole thing is my own fault. In fact, that I spent Thanksgiving alone is also my fault because there were offers galore on craigslist for people looking for others to split the gas bill for a trip to Austin. I didn’t see these offers until it was too late, and I’m not sure how I feel about getting into a stranger’s car and driving for several hours, but still. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and my will was for some serious time alone, nesting and listening to the hum of the refrigerator.
After Thanksgiving, I recovered from my cooking lethargy quite nicely and cooked a heap of food in the following days. I want to tell you about at least three things that I made, but I like to take things one step at a time, so we’ll start with the entree.
I’ve been on a Nigella Lawson kick lately. She exudes such a warm, homey vibe that I feel better just thinking about cooking something from one of her books. I love her style so much that I’m able to skip lightly past all those meat dishes and find the soups, the salads, the appetizers, and (heaven help me!) the desserts. Oh, I do love me a good dessert, but I’m very disciplined and I always eat my supper before dessert. Well, unless the dessert is left over from lunch, in which case I’ll call it an evening appetizer. In any case, I feel better when I eat good meals, and I felt great eating Nigella’s Butternut Squash and Pasta Soup, a quick, small-pot slurper of a soup which, when combined with a nice salad, makes a perfect dinner for two. It’s heavy on the squash and rich with flavor from olive oil, wine, onions, and good vegetable broth. I can see this soup becoming part of my regular weeknight rotation because it’s satisfying to make and easy to eat. Also, it’s the kind of soup that would comfort during times of distress, and we all need food like that sometimes. Maybe this soup should be required eating in December, when we’re all plunged into the collective madness of holiday shopping/cooking/cleaning/traveling/merry-making. Soup may not be as effective as pharmacology at soothing, but it’s a mighty fine place to start. Besides, I’ve taken Xanax before and all it did was make me sleep for several hours. I’m going to stick to cooking as my relaxant. You are welcome to join me.
Butternut Squash and Pasta Soup
Adapted from How to Eat by Nigella Lawson
Serves 2, perhaps with a little left over
The original recipe gives its ingredients in ounces, which I ballparked into cup-based volumes here. I figured I could get away with that sort of imprecision with a soup, and indeed, my pot of soup was delicious. But I have a feeling I may get scolded later by one of my readers for my inability to follow recipes…he can be very hard on me sometimes!
You’ll notice that I’ve suggested the juice from half a lemon as an optional ingredient. I haven’t made up my mind about the lemon. I like it, but I think a little can go a long way. You might try adding a little lemon and tasting before adding more. Much will depend on your choices for wine and vegetable stock, as you have a lot of options there and the flavors vary enormously. Keep all of this in mind while you are tasting and adjusting the flavors.
One more thing: I think Sarah’s suggestion to eat this soup with some chile oil drizzled over it sounds fantastic! I want to try that with my next batch. Yum!
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small onion, diced
2 heaping cups of diced butternut squash (diced into 1/2-inch pieces)
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup orzo or other small pasta
Juice from half a lemon, or to taste (optional)
Cheese, if desired, such as Parmesan or feta (optional)
1) Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium-sized soup pot. Add the onion and cook for 5-10 minutes or until the onion is softened, fragrant, and maybe even a little brown.
2) Add the squash to the onion and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour in the wine and let it bubble.
3) Add the stock and bay leaf. Bring everything to a boil, cover the pot, and let the soup simmer for 10 minutes.
4) Add the pasta, bring the soup to a boil again, and then turn the heat down to an active simmer. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes or until the pasta is cooked to your liking.
5) Taste the soup and add salt if needed. Add some lemon juice if you’d like. Keep adjusting the seasonings until it tastes good to you. Note that if you’re going to eat some salty cheese on top of your soup, you might want to use a light hand with the salt.
6) Serve in deep soup bowls, along with some crusty bread and a great salad.