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Archive for the ‘Appetizers’ Category

This year, we hosted a mellow Thanksgiving dinner with a few friends. I cooked for days, and all the usual suspects were at the table: turkey, stuffing, green beans, the works. But my surprise favorites of the day were the butternut squash soup and sun-dried tomato shortbread that I served as appetizers.

Maybe it was my favorite because the soup looked so pretty in those espresso cups passed down from my mother-in-law. The ones her mother brought back from Vienna, which had been sitting in my cabinet for ages just begging for a chance. Maybe it tasted so good because we had just come in from a long hike, rosy-faced and ravenous, and hot soup was waiting. Maybe it was the smell of turkey in the oven, and the anticipation of the feast still to come. The sound of laughter and wine glasses clinking. The sun setting on the cusp of a four-day weekend…

Okay, let’s be honest, it was probably the bacon. Culinary cheating. Maybe it’s wrong, but it tasted so right, and I’ll definitely be making this combo again.

Butternut Squash & White Bean Soup

Adapted, ever so slightly, from this recipe, posted on Food52 by Brussels Sprouts for Breakfast. I first tasted the soup when someone made it for a Food52 potluck party that I was lucky enough to attend. (more on that in another post). I reversed the balance of the flavors a bit here by increasing the squash and decreasing the beans–mainly because I have to be sneaky about the use of beans in my cooking if I want to fool “Mr. T” into eating it. (Which worked beautifully in this case. Again, it’s probably the bacon.)

1 medium-sized butternut squash
6 slices thick bacon, each strip cut into about 4 pieces
2 shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed slightly
1/4 cup sherry (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
15 oz can of cannellini beans
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery coarsely chopped
2 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 cups chicken or turkey stock
1/2 cup half & half
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the butternut squash in half the long way, brush with olive oil and put on a baking sheet, cut-side up. Roast for 30-40 minutes, until squash is soft all the way through when poked with a fork, and a little brown around the edges. Allow to cool slightly, then scoop seeds out with a spoon and discard.

Heat a little olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add bacon and saute until sizzling and cooked through. (Don’t worry about getting it crisp, as it will all be pureed in the end.) Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and place onto a plate lined with a paper towel. Pour off all but one tablespoon of bacon fat.

Add  shallots, celery, carrots, and garlic to pan and saute over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add a little olive oil if necessary to prevent burning. Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and cook for about 10 minutes until vegetables are softened and just beginning to brown. Add sherry to deglaze pan, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook for a minute or two to allow alcohol to burn off. Transfer mixture to a large pot.

Add beans, bacon and rosemary to pot and cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Add all the stock to the pot, raise the heat and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, and then turn heat off, allowing mixture to cool slightly.

Using a spoon, scrape the flesh of one half of the roasted squash from its skin and place it into the bowl of a food processor. Ladle a few spoonfuls of the soup mixture on top of the squash and blend until smooth and then return pureed mixture to the soup pot. Repeat until all the soup and squash have been pureed. If you have a hand-held immersion blender, lucky you, you can skip the food processor and just blend it all together in the soup pot. If you want to make the soup ahead of time and freeze it, stop here, and follow the final steps just before serving.

Heat pureed mixture over low heat. Mix in the half and half and stir to combine. Add more broth and/or half and half to achieve desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Savory Shortbread with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Thyme

These little riches were inspired by Rhode Island chef and caterer, Chris Whirlow. I had his savory olive shortbread at a party and asked him for the recipe. (He calls them “Scourtins aux Olives de Nyons”, which I must admit sounds way fancier, but I like the simplicity of shortbread.) I decided to swap the olives for sun-dried tomatoes and thyme to complement the flavors of my soup.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped (I used the kind that come in a jar with olive oil, and left them pretty wet with oil. If you’re using the dried out variety, you’ll want to reconstitute it first, and may need to add some extra fat.)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt

Cream  butter and sugar. Drizzle olive oil and mix in with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Stir in the flour by hand just until the dough is smooth. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, thyme and salt and stir just until they are evenly
distributed throughout the dough.

Dough will be a little crumbly. (Ok, at this point in the recipe, I must fess up. Chris’s recipe said the dough would be a little sticky and my plan was to roll it into a log, freeze it, and slice and bake. Sounds easy, right? But my dough wasn’t a little sticky. It was a lot crumbly. Probably because I converted his recipe from weight measurements since I don’t own a kitchen scale. It’s on my Christmas list! If you are a better baker than I, you can probably tweak this recipe back into shape. But the crumbly version was really good too, so I’ll call it a happy accident.) Press the dough into a baking pan, using your fingers to make it hold together and to get an even thickness. I used 9″x12″ pan. A little larger would be okay for thinner shortbread. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least 45 minutes, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until ever so slightly brown around the edges and evenly dry on top. Allow to cool for a few minutes and cut into squares. As you can see in my photo, I didn’t end up with perfect squares, but the rustic-looking crumbly shapes were okay with me. Now you know the truth about why I couldn’t give them a fancy name like “scourtins”. Whatever you call them, they taste pretty delicious dipped in soup, with a fire in the fireplace and some good friends to be thankful with.

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