Friday, January 2, 2015

Empty Shoes, Flat Santas, Easy Broccoli-Squash Soup Recipe

There is no middle ground with Michel when it comes to the ever-expanding and insanely commercialized Christmas holiday season in the U.S.  He wants no part of it.  (FYI, don’t even ask him about the Super Bowl, Thunder over Louisville, and Kentucky Derby—you understand.)  As a very young child in post-war Holland, Michel participated in the Sinterklaas traditions but he acknowledges that he always felt disappointed that he never got what he really wanted.  He did, despite his precocious skepticism, enjoy the nightly holiday ritual of putting an empty shoe in front of the hearth so that Sinterklaas could leave a trinket for the next morning—maybe a little bag filled with fondant drops or a new ballpoint pen.  Michel especially liked to find a chocolate covered marzipan letter ‘M’ left in his shoe.  That was a favorite.  There’s a Dutch children’s song about this empty shoe ritual which he can still recite verbatim.  And of course it's no surprise that I found it on YouTube. 

People do tend to become crazier than usual starting with frantic turkey acquisitions at Thanksgiving all the way through to those last wistful volleys of fireworks and random gunfire on New Year’s Eve.  Good times.   The hours that pass between the New Year’s holiday and the next week’s return to a relatively normal routine can be a real let down.

It is undeniably depressing to drive by those (literally and figuratively) deflated holiday decorations splayed on people’s lawns, not to mention all the “live” tree carcasses strewn along curbside waiting to be hurtled irreverently into a recycling truck.  And those leftover lopsided red bows hanging on for dear life and the lingering, insistent symmetry of holiday lights still burning are kind of a bummer as well. Leave it to Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld to sum up our fickle holiday ways in under a minute. 

Let’s agree at the outset that, even when everything goes Martha-Stewart-Eat-Your-Heart-Out perfectly, the holidays are stressful.  By now you are probably ready to emerge from the food coma you may have induced with all the irresistibly indulgent goodies you (and the rest of us) consumed during the last week or so.  At this point, it’s likely that cooking is not at the top of your list of things you’d like to do right now.  Not to worry.  Michel has created an easy and satisfying soup that will please even the broccoli haters in your household.  You’ll see.  

Caramelized Broccoli-Butternut Squash Soup

You will need:

·        2 broccoli crowns
·        2 cups butternut squash cut into cubes
·        8 cloves of garlic
·        ½ an onion, chopped
·        2 cardamom pods
·        1 cinnamon stick
·        1 teaspoon salt
·        2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
·        1 tablespoon preserved lemon (You can substitute grated lemon rind or lemon juice but it’s “not as nice.”)
·        3 cups vegetable broth
·        5 tablespoons olive oil

preserved lemon

cardamom pods

In a 3-quart saucepan:

Add vegetable broth, cubed squash, garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom.  Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 30 minutes over low heat—but “45 minutes to an hour would be better.”

While the squash mixture simmers, cut broccoli crowns into flowerets, slice stems into ½ inch pieces, wash and set aside in a colander.

In a skillet:

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil.
Sweat the chopped onion, then add preserved lemon. 
When the onion is really soft, remove from skillet and transfer to a blender. 
In the same skillet, heat another 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place broccoli pieces in skillet with a flat side down. Caramelize on one side only. 

caramelized broccoli

Note: Work in small batches to caramelize the broccoli “so there is room around each piece to keep the oil hot and to caramelize each piece.” Transfer caramelized broccoli to a plate.

Back to the blender:

Fish out the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods from the simmering squash mixture. 

Add a small amount of the squash mixture to the blender where your onions are waiting patiently.  Liquefy, then add more squash broth in small amounts to prevent an unfortunate blender explosion. 

Once you have liquefied the squash mixture, add caramelized broccoli pieces a few at a time.  Don’t liquefy the broccoli! Use your blender’s pulse feature just enough to “keep the mixture chunky.”

Your soup is ready.  Return it to saucepan or to your favorite serving vessel.  We are not fancy about this stuff.  Michel just puts the saucepan on the table and we help ourselves. 

Top with croutons if you like.  Enjoy!