Friday, November 9, 2007

Yuengling Squashage Soup

So the other night I had roasted four squashes: butternut, acorn, hubbard and a pie pumpkin (not to be confused with a pumpkin pie) with the intention of adding them to the cassoulet. By the time they were out of the oven, my stew pot was nearly overflowing and I only managed to scrape in half the butternut.

What to do in this situation but make squash soup? I mashed the squashes and added a bottle of Yuengling left over from a previous get-together. These I pureed in the blender with a small handful of fresh basil from my window box and a 28-oz can of whole San Marzano tomatoes, then returned to the stovetop. While that was bubbling away, I sauteed three diced onions with a tablespoon of butter, half a teaspoon of cumin and a quarter teaspoon of garam masala. I added these to the puree and grated in three cloves of garlic. The garlic really tied everything together, emboldening all the other flavors without overpowering. I'm usually too lazy to peel and shred the fresh cloves, but wow. It's worth it. Next I browned a pound of nitrate-free Amish sausage and threw it in. In the end, my soup looked more like spaghetti sauce. As a semi-final touch, I added - you guessed it - fish sauce!

Fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla) is the Southeast Asian (Vietnamese, Thai) answer to soy sauce in East Asia (China, Japan). It adds a mild, exotic saltiness that intensifies the other flavors in the dish, plus many essential trace minerals from the sea (like iodine) that we non-fish-eating Americans don't usually get enough of. Fish sauce marries beautifully with acidic fruits like lime, pineapple and tomatoes. When purchasing fish sauce, put down the extra dollar to get the best quality, which still ends up being about $4.00 for a liter. It'll take all year to use that. Three Crabs is an excellent brand. More on that later - I have some beautiful recipes that I just can't wait to share.

I couldn't leave a soup without some gelatin-and-mineral-rich bone broth (the reason for eating soup), so I ran out to Whole Foods and picked up some beef shanks. These went into the crock pot with an onion that was more "hacked to pieces because I don't want to get out a cutting board" than "neatly diced," a smashed inch of ginger, and filtered water to cover. Simmered overnight. Stephen helped me strain it into the squash mixture in the morning, and I added the shank meat as well.

The quart of broth thinned my "sauce" to the consistency of soup, which also meant the previously perfect seasonings had to be corrected. I added two big pinches of salt to my four quarts of soup and a dash of fish sauce.

When I reheated the soup for dinner, I threw in two big handfuls of baby spinach for a fresh vitamin boost. Just before serving, after letting it cool a bit, I crumbled in some raw Amish Colby. Besides flavor, raw Artisan cheeses provide enzymes and nutrients for strong bones and healthy digestion.

You've heard of Beer and Cheese Soup, right? That was the inspiration behind this concoction - a whole bunch of other ingredients just happened to get in the way. Beer and cheese are both ancient, fermented phenomena that have been enjoyed together for centuries. And that, I think, is a fine tradition to keep going.

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