Two years ago my husband and I moved from Paris to Normandy, and for the first time in my adult life I had counter tops. Previously, my kitchen work space in our 45m2 apartment in the 15th arrondissement consisted of the top of our little fridge, minus the space already taken up by the coffee machine and electric kettle that had a permanent place there too.
Counter tops changed my life, but they weren’t the only adjustment. You see, we didn’t just move to the country. We moved to the-middle-of-nowhere. Our village has less than 350 inhabitants. We are surrounded by cow pastures and corn fields. The only commerce is a general store (complete with gas pump) and a small museum that is unlikely frequented. Back in its heyday, our village was booming. It had a lucrative water bottling plant, shipping as far as the USA. It also had an active granite quarry, supplying most of the region with stone and gravel. In those days there was a boulangerie and a café resto, but they have since closed.
The nearest restaurants in our campagne are a 5 minute drive and are ok in pinch, but not the sort of fare we crave regularly. The nearest towns of a decent size are a 20-30 drive. Suddenly, “Yay! I get to cook!” Became, “Oh, I get to cook. Everyday.” No more sushi joint on every corner. No more walking over to the neighborhood Chinese take-out for an emergency pot sticker run. No more evening stroll to Montparnasse for a crêpe at Le Petit Josselin.
We used to walk to the local supermarket 3 times a week, bringing home only what we could carry. Now we drive to nearest E.Leclerc once every 7-10 days, and fill the trunk. It’s a completely different way of life, and of organizing life around mealtime. Cooking had been a fantasy for me about large counter tops, a proper size fridge and exotic ingredients stocking my cupboards. Reality is that it’s a part of every day life that requires planning and organization, and sometimes an added bit of courage on those days when I really can’t be bothered (and there’s no pizza delivery).
One of my biggest pet peeves in the kitchen is food going bad. One of my biggest strengths in the kitchen is improvising. It’s taken me the better part of two years to put these concepts together into something that works for me. My goals in the kitchen: make large portions that last several days, and waste as little as possible. This soup recipe was born from that effort.
Our lovely friends over at Palmer Permaculture, about 30 minutes from here in the Orne, keep us regularly stocked with fresh, organic vegetables from their garden. Our great discovery from this year’s harvest is the banana squash. That’s what they call it anyhow, and it’s one tasty veg! They first served it up for us at their place, roasted in olive oil and tarragon, and it was out of this world. Tarragon isn’t an herb that I generally care for much, but it marries perfectly with this slightly sweet and tender squash. So when they asked if I wanted to take one home with me, I exclaimed, “mais oui !”
The first thing I did was roast some up like they had served us. Finally a way to use up that tarragon on my shelf that wasn’t going anywhere fast. But a banana squash is a big vegetable, and I had plenty left over…
My basic soup recipe is always the same, a combo of onion, garlic, ginger and spices that I then add veg to and blend into fine, liquid bliss. It began with beets and carrots, and then went on to parsnips, so squash was no stretch. My first go was along these lines, the banana squash being the only added vegetable, and the whole lot being blended at the end.
There were a couple more banana squash after that first one, and as I went to make my soup the second time, I looked around the kitchen and noticed some potatoes looking lonely that I didn’t have plans for. There were also some carrots that were being neglected and starting to go a bit limp. Then there was that sole, leftover leek. I suddenly found myself throwing extra stuff in the pot. When it came time to blend, I started with a light purée (mostly because my submersion blender is busted), but looked down at the chunks of delicious potato and carrot and saw how hearty it looked – what great texture it had – so I stopped short.
This last time I made it, I took care to pay attention to how much of what went in, so that I might share it with you. It’s very much a work in progress, and wholly adaptable to whatever might be laying around your kitchen. Give it a try, and let me know what you think. Would love to hear how yours comes out and what variations you might make!
What I used
- 1 banana squash, quartered & gutted*
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 large clove garlic, chopped
- Finger of ginger (approx 17g), chopped
- 1 small leek, thinly sliced
- 3-4 potatoes (650-700g)
- 2-3 carrots (approx 220g)
- 3 Tbs olive oil (plus extra for roasting)
- 2 dashes ground clove
- 2 turns of a salt mill (or to taste)
- 10 turns of a pepper mill (or to taste)
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 2 pinches dried tarragon
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- 2 liters of water
*This could easily be replaced by pumpkin or butternut squash. The banana squash that went into this particular version of the soup weighed a whopping 4.2 Kg, and measured 48cm. I ended up putting the whole of it into the soup (I regrettably did not weigh it once cooked and skinned), but could easily have left out 1/4-1/3 of it.
How I go about it
Preheat oven to around 180°C (the numbers have faded from the dial on my oven, so temperatures are never accurate). Rub olive oil over the fleshy side of the quartered, gutted squash, and place face-down on cookie sheets lined with baking paper. Let bake for 40-50 minutes, until soft and golden. This is best done well in advance, even the night before, so the squash has time to cool. Alternatively, you could skin it first, but I prefer baking with the skin on.
Preheat a large soup pot over medium heat and add the olive oil. Sauté the onions until soft and slightly translucent, then add the sliced leek. Keep them moving so as not to burn, lowering heat if necessary. Continue to cook until the leek has soften too (approx 5 minutes altogether), then add garlic, ginger and spices. Toss well and cook another 3-4 minutes.
Add the potatoes and carrots, and toss well, coating the veg completely with the mixture. Let sweat a good 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, while you poor a glass of wine. I’m not big on exactitude. When the veg starts becoming nice and fragrant, I pour in 1 liter of water that I’ve pre-heated in the kettle, and let that come to a soft boil. Let that simmer for about 15 minutes or so – time enough to tweet about it, and then start skinning your squash if you haven’t done so already.
Usually the skin mostly falls off the roasted flesh of its own accord. It may need a little coaxing around the edges with the help of knife. If it’s dark and caramelized, I hold on to it, but throw out anything that is blackened. If any bits seem tough at all, discard them, you should have more than enough as it is, not to worry. Don’t be shy about getting your hands dirty, it’s way more fun that way anyhow.
Once the potato and carrot has softened, I add in the squash, cutting it into small bits as I go, or tearing it up with my fingers. Here, you’ll have to judge quantity on your own, depending on how big the squash was. Again, I love having too much, and this soup is just as good thick as it is thin, and is easy to add water to as you reheat it for each new meal. I even used it chunky and hardly liquid at all, to stuff into an omelet.
Add another liter of hot water, and use a submersion blender with a purée attachment to blend the vegetables, leaving good chunks of potato and carrot in tact. Freezes well, reheats well, great served over rice, in an omelet, thick like purée or thinned out to a fine soup.
Bon appétit mes amis !