Fall is probably my most favorite time of year. The air is crisp in the morning, the leaves are changing and turning the most stellar colors of the rainbow, and yet, we still have things living and green in-between. Vegetables start transitioning as well. Winter squashes, and apples arrive alongside peppers, eggplant and leafy greens that are bridging over from late summer.
This year seems to have been an odd year for the farms in my area. In particular tomatoes really struggled, making me very sad. Too much of everything: Spring was late, weird weather changes in June and way too much rain in July. Never-the-less it was a good harvest season.
Now we move on to Fall. I am happy, but tinged with a wee bit of sadness. As summer moves to our rear view mirror the world of farms will become dormant. Fear not, we have a solid month of farmers markets in the Northeast, as long a Mother Nature behaves herself.
Last week and weekend I was able to take advantage of my demo skills, which I don’t really get to very much anymore with my busy catering schedule. I thoroughly enjoy it, and even more so when my husband helps me out. First was a mid-week event with the YWCA honoring our friend Joan Thomas. Larry joined me behind the table grilling sandwiches as I spooned out soup samples. Then over the weekend I took my soup and sandwiches on the road to the Chappaqua Farmers Market on Saturday and Irvington Market on Sunday. I forgot how much fun I have at the markets! Everyone was just so nice and chatted me up about all things vegetable. There was a lot of swooning over my grilled cheese sandwich – which quite honestly surprised me a little. I generally know when recipe works or not, but when there is a big reaction it’s very exciting.
Let’s talk about the soup first. Stretching my winter squash muscle I have a new soup recipe for Kabocha squash. Pronounced kah-BOH-cha, it has a deep, bright orange center with the flavor being a cross between pumpkin and sweet potato. You can find them very easily not only at the farmers market, but also at the grocery store. It’s a Japanese squash that is used in tempura dishes believe it or not.
With almost every new recipe I develop I try to put a “twist” on the typical. Case in point with this soup. The main spice I am using is one I got from Fresh Direct. You could use a Moroccan blend like Ras-al-Hanout, but the flavor will be a bit different. The Fresh Direct version does not include cumin. The ingredients are paprika, salt, onion, chili flake, sugar and garlic. I wanted to use something different than the typical sage and thyme and reached for this rub in my cabinet. Little did I know how well it would work. I always tell my cooking class participants, sometimes the best creation is one simply done on a whim.
While I was playing with this soup recipe I was also working on a new apple butter recipe as well. I am going to be honest and say that making apple butter takes some effort, BUT entirely worth it in the long run. Plus, much of that “effort” is done by your oven, so all you need to do it pay a little bit of attention.
My last “twist” on grilled cheese to go with the soup is to brush a little of the apple butter on the inside of the bread. (Cue the swooning.) It’s an unexpected explosion in your mouth, and balances the slight spiciness in the soup.
If you don’t have the time to make the apple butter recipe find a good one at either at the farmers market or apple orchard. The soup recipe is easy. While it roasts in the oven you can get all the other ingredients together. Puree the soup with either an immersion or high speed blender. Smooth and silky is what you are trying to achieve.
Moroccan-spiced Kabocha Squash Soup with Grilled Cheese-Apple Sandwich
2 lb. kabocha squash, rinsed well, see note
Avocado oil or another flavorless oil
Ground back pepper
3 oz. shallot, about ½ cup diced
1 cup vegetable stock,
or 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon of Better than Bouillon
1 cup water, plus more for thinning as desired
1 teaspoon of Moroccan spice blend, see note
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Break the squash into 4 pieces, scooping out the seeds. Place on the baking sheet and drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until very soft. Remove and cool enough to handle and scoop out, discarding the rind. See note.
2. While the squash is cooling soften the shallots with 1½ tablespoons of oil, seasoning with ½ teaspoon of salt and pepper. Add the squash, stock, water and spice blend. Bring to a low boil stirring. Take off the heat and allow to cool.
3. Using a high-speed blender carefully blend the soup until silky smooth. Taste for seasoning adding additional salt, pepper, and water if needed for thinning as desired.
4. Serve with a grilled cheese-apple sandwich. Recipe follows.
Cook’s notes: Generally every 1 pound of winter squash will yield 1 cup of cooked squash. Moroccan spice rub can be purchased from any specialty store. I used the Fresh Direct brand.
Recipe created by Maria Reina, of Bella Cucina Maria
Makes about 4-5 cups
4 lbs. Gingergold apples, peeled, and cut with an apple corer
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 ¾ cup apple cider juice
1” knob of fresh ginger, peeled and left whole
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 large cinnamon stick
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar
1. Place the apples, vinegar, cider, ginger, spices, sugars and 2 cups of water in a heavy bottom, 7-quart pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
2. The apples should be very soft. Use a potato masher to break them up. Remove the cinnamon stick, ginger and star anise and set aside. Carefully use an immersion blender to make it all smooth. Place the whole spices back in the pot.
3. Place the pot in a pre-heated 300-degree oven. The goal now is to reduce it to a very thick sauce. About every 30 minutes give it a stir to make sure it’s not sticking or burning on the bottom. This is a good recipe to do on an afternoon while you are home doing house tasks. Its easy to keep an eye on the pot. Set your timer for 30 minutes, stir and reset. It will take about 3.5-4 hours, but I promise, well worth the effort!
4. Let the apple butter cool completely and place in glass jars.
Recipe created by Maria Reina, of Bella Cucina Maria
Grilled Apple-Cheese Sandwich
8 slices of your favorite bread
8 slices of a good sliced cheddar (Don’t use American!)
Unsalted butter, softened
Apple butter, recipe above
1. Butter the outside of your bread on both sides.
2. Spread about a teaspoon or so of apple butter on the inside of the bread. Use a knife to spread it. Be judicious, you don’t want it to be soggy!
3. Place 2 slices of cheddar inside and grill the sandwich using a non-stick pan or panini press, until golden brown on each side.
4. Serve warm with a cup of soup.