Hello/Bonjour! Long time no see. My self-imposed winter break lasted a little longer than I originally intended, but now I am back and raring to go.
Let’s get right to this soup. It is perfect in every way you hope a January soup will be. It is oh so easy to make (like, actually easy), and quite economical too. If you make it a day ahead, it will only taste better upon reheating. It freezes beautifully. (Make a double batch to tuck into the freezer for some other night.)
The squash, apple, and parsnip balance together famously. The soup itself is a little sweet, a little sharp, and incredibly rich in flavor, while low in calories. (You know I don’t normally care about such things, but what with January being a month of resolutions, I figured it was worth mentioning.)
The only bad part about this soup is peeling the butternut squash. I abhor peeling butternut squash. Alas, we can’t have everything in life.
One of the more entertaining aspects of my relationship with the Frenchman is our collective opportunity to play with language. At any given moment, one of us is speaking in a third language, and so mistakes are made. More often than not, we bend it to our liking in the name of wordy nerdiness.
While we met in Spain and started our friendship in Spanish, it’s probably our least fluent language now. Still, we both weave Spanish words and expressions into conversation, and use it to aid French and English when we don’t know a word. (I have recently taken to employing “tranquiler” as a French verb meaning “to calm down”. The problem is, the French word is actually “calmer”, far more similar to English than the Spanish ”tranquilizar”. I will not be stopped!)
Before I met the Monsieur, I never gave much thought to the ‘Frenchisms’ we’ve adopted in English. Some make sense, like “French Toast”: French people really do eat pain perdu (“lost bread”) when baguettes go stale, although in France they make it far less sweet than we do, and it’s more likely to be served as dessert than for breakfast.
To all my friends who say, “Cristina, I enjoy looking at your recipes, but I would never attempt one,” please let me tell you upfront: this is one you can (and should) make. It’s really, super-duper simple. It requires few dishes. The instructions boil down to: chop vegetables, mix vegetables.
It also happens to be really delicious. The ingredients are a riot of summer–a balance of sweetness and acidity, with just a gentle nudge in the direction of spicy. Those Spaniards are really on to something, because gazpacho is an ideal hot weather dish.
Here’s where some readers will groan, but please bear with me:
After months and months of the same old, same old at the market—the same ruddy sweet potatoes, the same crinkled white onions—these days it’s flush with new gems all the time, and I am unapologetically thrilled about it. Last week I collected peach blossom branches (note: peach blossom branches do not fit into bicycle baskets; you will look clumsy all the way home), and this week I scooped up bundles of perfumed lilacs, to fill every available ledge of my apartment.
Broccolini arrived this week, which I plan to boil in salty water until it just yields, and then toss lovingly with olive oil and Pecorino. There are a multitude of baby lettuces to consider, not to mention the asparagus I will barely roast and toss with lemon juice or egg yolk. And what about radishes? They should be sliced thinly and strewn across buttery toast, sprinkled with sea salt…. It’s a good time to be a cook.
If you ask the Frenchman, he’ll tell you I only ever order one dish when we go out to dinner: chicken. This isn’t true of course, but I will admit that chicken is my backup dish, my reliable mainstay amongst the flotsam and jetsam of an uninspiring menu. (It doesn’t hurt that chicken dishes typically arrive with some kind of saucy vegetable and potato arrangement, but that is neither here nor there.)
Last week we had friends visiting from France, and so I used the opportunity to knock a restaurant or two off my Must Try list. (It’s a long list, alas.) One evening, we dined in a restaurant where every hostess was certainly a model. I’d read an article about the owner; he raised chickens (well, not he, but people he employed) on a devastatingly bucolic farm somewhere upstate in order to supply the restaurant with high-quality poultry. This kind of information is like catnip to me; of course, I had to try it.
The fact of the matter is, I have never made chili before. Not really. I didn’t grow up in a “comfort food” household, and I do not spend my days herding cattle. I have no hockey team to feed. And since you can’t exactly whip up a single portion of chili, it never occurred to me to throw together a pot full. (A silly notion, considering how beautifully chili freezes.)
As a result of my chili ignorance, I was only vaguely aware of the rules surrounding the dish—beans vs. no beans, what cut of meat to use, what variety of chili pepper….and so on. I arrived at this recipe the same way any self-respecting nerd would have: I read everything I could get my hands on.