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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Playing With My Food

 A couple of nights ago I made an outrageous spinach, prosciutto, and parmesan stuffed pork tenderloin; butterflied, stuffed, tied, seared, roasted, sliced, and sauced. It was fabulous.......and exhausting.  After we ate, I decided my next adventure in the kitchen wouldn't require a follow-up of sedatives and a trip to the chiropractor for recovery.

Soup was the calming answer to my previous kitchen antics. Yesterday morning I pulled a bag of Meseca from the cabinet to see if I had enough flour to make corn torillas for tortilla soup.  In doing so, I spilled a bag filled with butternut squash, baby potatoes, and baby onions from our trip to the Farmers' Market.  I'd forgotton they were there.  Were they still good?  My Granny's potatoes and onions languished in her root cellar for months during winter and hers were always fine.  Although a bit gnarly, mine were too. I was inspired by a spilled bag. That was it.  Butternut squash soup.  The squash was tiny, too small to roast for pureed soup..  I thought about butternut squash ravioli, but wasn't up to pasta making.  I had round wonton wrappers in the vegetable drawer.  I could've gone the ravioli route with the wonton wrappers, but when I make ravioli I want to make ravioli with fresh made pasta. Well then, I decided to make butternut squash dumplings with vegetable soup.
Game on.  I had everything I needed except good bread and cheese.  I stopped by W + M Market on the way home from work yesterday for my weekly splurge.  I love that place. I browsed the cheese counter, gazed at the lovely cheeses, and ordered a block of pecorino romano. I couldn't resist picking up a couple of bags of cornichons and caperberries before nabbing a crusty baguette from Sunrise Bakery, paying my tab, and driving home.

I started with the simple soup.  While small orange cauliflower florets and diced parsnips roasted in the oven at 350, I sauteed seasoned split cherry tomatoes, halved tiny baby potatoes, whole baby onions, diced celery, and minced garlic.  When the vegetables softened, I deglazed the pan with white wine and let it reduce by 1/2 before adding a quart of chicken stock.  When the cauliflower and parsnips were beautifully caramelized, I dropped them into the soup, turned the heat to low, and let the soup bubble away.

With the soup rippling at a gentle simmer, I poured myself a glass of wine, sat down at the kitchen table, and played with my food.
After boiling diced butternut squash in salted water until tender, I dropped the squishy squash into a bowl with 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese, grated pecorino cheese, minced parsley, salt, pepper, and fennel seeds.  I gave it a good mash and set it aside.  I covered my cutting board with round wonton wrappers, brushed the edges with egg wash, dolloped a heaping teaspoon of filling onto each one, and sealed them shut. After crimping and pleating the edges for extra strength, I nestled them onto sifted cornstarch and slid them into the refrigerator.

Every soup needs a crouton. I sliced the gorgeous baguette into 1/2 inch oblongs, brushed them with olive oil, and toasted them in the oven at 350 for 15 minutes, turning them over until browned on both sides.  While they cooled, I whipped 2 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter with 1/2 cup Crottin Montchevre' goat cheese. I slathered the croutons with the buttery goat cheese,  topped them with paper thin slices of prosciutto di Parma, and set them aside.

When it was time to eat, I plunged the butternut squash dumplings into heavily salted simmering water.  While they poached in their water bath, I dropped a handfull of fresh baby spinach into the soup to wilt before ladling the soup into large pasta bowls.  When the dumplings floated to the top, I used a spider (meshed ladle) to carefully scoop them out and add them to the soup.  A splash of fresh lemon juice with shavings of pecorino were finishing garnishes.

It was just what the doctor ordered. Light, hearty, and soothing.  The nutty roasted cauliflower combined beautifully with the sweet parsnips and tomatoes.  The rich golden broth, brightened with fresh lemon juice, was mellow, soft, and deep. Medicinal, even.  The dumplings were fantastic, with springy pasta shells giving way to creamy  rust-colored and cheese-laced mashed butternut squash.  Soft and earthy. 

The gentleness of the vegetable dumpling soup was shattered with crackling bites of the goat cheese prosciutto croutons. Salty. Tangy.  Crunchy.  Ridiculous.

It was calming and fabulous. 
Trouble?  Nope. It was fun.

Compared to wrestling a stuffed pork tenderloin into submission,
it was nothing.

Nothing and delicious.

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