Monday, October 8, 2012

This is Fall: Roasted Acorn Squash and Quinoa-Root Veggie Soup!

The sun is peeking its head out less and less these days, which means the colder months are upon us and Halloween is on its way! I am noticing more cloud cover as well; adding a bit to both tranquility and my unwillingness to get out of bed so quickly. It's that frame of time between keeping the windows open and turning on the heater, and when you're swaddled in blankets as much as possible, who wants to get out of that and face the cold day? I just hope that my body's temperature adjusts before it gets really cold--82º and 39º should not be in the same week, just going to put that out there!

The good side of all this grumbling is that the oven is getting its workout these days: roasting, toasting, baking, broiling, all those glorious food-bearing actions that warm up the house as well! Combine with the harvest bounty including the pumpkin and squash family, peppers, root veggies, and hot preparation, and you get the flavors of the season. I am swimming in rich, buttery, herbed and spiced goodies right now, and I am loving every minute of it! Today we are going to prepare a roasted acorn squash, that actually serves as a bowl for the Quinoa and Root Vegetable Soup that we are going to prepare. Have I ever mentioned that I absolutely love to eat the bowl? I think it's a genius idea, so I'm all over roasted squash and pumpkin bowls. Also, roasting is so very basic, and can go for any squash-type vegetable, yielding tons of sweet, mushy pulp that can go from dessert to main course. In fact, if you want to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, the roasting technique described below is the way you get the pulp--and it is easier than you think.

In addition, the root vegetable soup with quinoa is so simple, you might make it a fall staple. As with most soups that I make, it is a good fridge-emptying tool, and you can add and subtract ingredients at your will. I do recommend keeping the turnips because they add a surprising flavor to the soup, which marries wonderfully with the acorn squash! The leftovers for this meal can feed you for a week, and they really get better everyday. To make this recipe even more healthy than it is, omit the butter. The butter and olive oil combination I use is to add extra flavor, and the oil protects the butter from burning in the pot. Let's get started:

Roasted Acorn Squash and Quinoa-Root Vegetable Soup
Acorn Squash 
(one per serving, unless they're inordinately large, then you can halve them)
Olive oil
Carrots, peeled and chopped
Turnips, peeled and chopped
Onion, chopped
Squash, sliced (I sliced really thin with a mandolin)
Kale, rinsed and torn from stem
3-4 Cloves garlic, crushed
Olive oil
1/2 C Quinoa, rinsed
Black Pepper

First, prepare the acorn squash. Wash the outside and dry, then cut off the top to expose the inside, and scoop out the innards, just like a pumpkin! Cut off enough of the bottom to give it a base to sit on, but not so much that you have a hole in the other side--then it won't be a bowl! If you do happen to do this, don't worry, you'll just serve it in an actual bowl later. Coat the outside, rim, and inside of the squash with olive oil and sprinkle a bit of salt over it. I placed it on top of foil on a baking sheet in a 350º oven for 25 minutes, then I flipped it over to get the other side going for another 25 minutes or so. You can prepare your soup during that nice chunk of time.

The soup requires very little effort beyond some knife-work. Just melt some butter and olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, turnips, and onions first and cook until they start to soften up and are really fragrant, about 10-12 minutes. Next the kale, garlic, and squash get tossed around in the butter and olive oil for a little bit. Then add the rinsed quinoa and toast a little with the veggies. After a few minutes, every thing should smell like heaven, and it is time to add your water to make the soup. Add at least a cup of water, but you can add more depending on how soupy you want it. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer for at least 20 minutes. I just took it off whenever the acorn squash was ready and that seemed the right time. Then season with your herbs, salt, and pepper, and we're ready to serve!

To serve, take acorn squash and place on a plate or in a bowl (I chose a bowl because I wasn't sure how sturdy the outside of the squash was going to be...better safe than sorry). Simply ladle the soup inside the squash bowl and you can either serve it as such or fluff up the sides of the squash with the tines of a fork. This helps your guests know that they are supposed to mix the acorn squash with the soup (which acts as a great thickener, so it is more stew-like, but still silky smooth). The squash should separate easily from the outer skin and combine beautifully with the hearty soup. 

This is a meal that will fill you for the entire day. It is super healthy, satisfying, and so warm and savory that you will be happy to enjoy the leftovers for the coming days. To me, the natural sweetness of the acorn squash was the star, not only was it a beautiful receptacle of the soup, but it was that perfect final ingredient. Because it was roasted, the flavor is different from the other soup veggies, which were prepared on the stove--an easy way to create complexity. I also chose to use the rosemary, thyme, and sage instead of my staple chilis and spices because the vegetables have so much flavor, I wanted to compliment them with savory herbs. Root veggies and herbs are divine and truly emulate that autumn flavor. Please enjoy and feel free to play around with this recipe! 

Happy October everyone!

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