Spinach & Cherry Tomato Quiche

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco for Food.com

Summer’s here. I checked: a high of 94F in Long Island today. It’s totally official. Never was there ever a better afternoon for an iced coffee!

I checked out a beautiful farm in Eastern Long Island this past weekend. They were up to the brim in plump blueberries, greens, rhubarb and herbs. A lovely reminder that tomato season is soon upon us! Perfect raw, roasted or thrown into a quiche like this. I used cherry tomatoes, but you can use whatever you like. The best part? Throw in whatever you have (the sadder it looks in your fridge, the better) and give it new life in a quiche or frittata. This is my favorite way to use up veggies. All that protein in there makes this dish a triple threat– good for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All summer long.

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco for Food.com

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco for Food.com

  • 1 package store bought pastry dough or frozen pie shell
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups packed fresh spinach leaves, trimmed and washed
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2/3 cups creme fraiche
  • 1/3 cup grated sharp gruyere cheese
  • 6-10 cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
  • freshly ground pepper
  1. If using frozen pastry, take dough out of the freezer to defrost 2 hours before you’re ready to use it.
  2. Fit the dough into either a 10-inch quiche or springform pan, making sure you have enough dough to form a crust around the edge. Sprinkle the gruyere onto the crust.
  3. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil.  Cook spinach and until wilted, about 5 minutes. Spread the spinach over the cheese.
  4. Beat the eggs, creme fraiche and garlic together. Pour mixture over the spinach and cheese mixture. Slice cherry tomatoes and arrange on top. Sprinkle with chives and black pepper.
  5. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.

Recipe adapted from Food.com.

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Sunday Parmesan Marinara

My household eats a lot of pasta. Vodka sauce, meat sauce, alfredo sauce. Love it all. Marinara (aka classic tomato sauce) is my absolute favorite. Such fresh and vibrant flavor. San Marzano tomatoes (from outside of Naples, Italy) are ideal for this sauce. They’re sweet, low in acid and have a deep red, firm body. Make this recipe when you’ve got a little extra time on the weekend. Your pasta will thank you all week long. If you’re so inclined, double the recipe and freeze some! I’m all about the classics. This one’s a keeper for life.

Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic gloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1 28-oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and halved
  • 1 carrot, peeled and halved
  • 2 fresh basil sprigs
  • 2 2-inch pieces of Parmesan rind
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a medium-size deep skillet or wide saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sweat until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and their juices, red onion, carrot, basil, Parmesan rind, bay leaf, and salt. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often with a wooden spoon, for about 25 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

Allow the sauce to cool to room temperature. Discard the onion, carrot, basil, rind, and bay leaf. Pass the sauce through a food mil or puree it with an immersion blender and chill completely. The sauce will keep for 4 or 5 days in the refrigerator, or transfer to freezer containers and freeze for up to 3 months.

Recipe from Giada De Laurentiis, Happy Cooking, 2015.

Quinoa Sweet Potato Burgers

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

There’s a small, organic, all-natural food market near my house. Once you sift past the tall aisles filled with pricey protein powder and every vitamin known to mankind, you’ll find a humble food bar in the very back. They sell a range of prepared foods that are all remarkably healthy and tasty. Split pea soup, mushroom quesadillas, strawberry walnut & baby spinach salad, curried quinoa and chickpeas. I’ve tried it all. The next thing is better than the last. My go-to item on the menu is the black bean and sweet potato burger. I’m a carnivore by nature but there are days I just want to skip it. It’s one o’clock at the office and I’m craving something that satisfies, without the heavy regret that usually follows. This burger does the trick: meaty black beans and a sweet potato binder that fill you up in a really good way. You might even lose that three o’clock sugar craving.

In a similar way, this Bon Appetite recipe dubbed the “Stellar Quinoa Burger,” is a lunch game-changer! A chance to make killer meatless burgers at home? Done and done. Topped with a healthy dollop of guacamole atop a toasted english muffin, this burger is a serious rival to its beef counterpart. So much lighter and much less guilt than greasy beef. Rainbow quinoa, zucchini, mushroom and sweet potato come together in a truly colorful, wholesome way. I doubled the recipe and I’ll be enjoying happy desk lunches all week!

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Yield: 4 burgers

  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 1 portobello mushroom
  • ½ small zucchini
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa (from about ½ uncooked)
  • ¾ cup dried breadcrumbs
  • 1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 English muffins, split, toasted
  • Guacamole for topping
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Prick sweet potato all over with a fork; rub with 1 Tbsp. oil, then season with salt and pepper. Roast directly on oven rack until tender, 30–45 minutes. Let cool. Remove and discard skin; mash flesh with a fork. Set aside.

  2. Remove stem from mushroom; discard. Pulse cap in a food processor until finely chopped. Coarsely grate zucchini on the large holes of a box grater; gather up in a kitchen towel and squeeze out excess liquid.

  3. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium skillet over low. Cook shallot and red pepper flakes, stirring often, until shallot is soft, about 2 minutes. Add mushroom and zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to release their liquid but have not taken on any color, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; mix in quinoa and season with salt and pepper. Let cool.

  4. Add breadcrumbs, lemon juice, and about ¼ cup reserved mashed sweet potato to quinoa mixture and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. If mixture is too loose, add more sweet potato to bind.

  5. Divide mixture into 4 portions and form into patties, pressing firmly together with your hands. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a medium skillet over medium and cook 2 patties until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side; season with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining 2 Tbsp. oil and 2 patties.

  6. Build burgers with patties, toasted English muffins, guacamole, tomato chutney, and sprouts. Do Ahead: Patties can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill.

Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit Magazine (Cafe Pasqual’s, Santa Fe, NM)

 

Whipped Basil Feta & Cherry Tomato Toast

TOAST 2

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Oh, how I love summer vegetables! Lately, I don’t even want to think about eating meat. All I can think about are bountiful, beautiful summer vegetables and fruits. All the heirloom, cherry and grape tomatoes. All the basil (a real obsession… good thing it grows like a weed). I’m especially in the mood for light meals for lunch. Open-faced toasts are super popular today. You are familiar with the avocado toast revolution. You’ve seen the avocado rose break the internet. A nice change from all the avo are cherry tomatoes: plump, juicy and full of flavor. I picked up feta at the grocery store today for a salad I’m making later in the week. Looking through my fridge, I decided to, quite literally, whip together the feta with a little Greek yogurt. Seasoned with salt, pepper and a little onion powder. I folded in fresh basil because I simply cannot get enough of it! A rough chop releases all the herb oils, getting all that flavor into the cheese mixture. I like to be heavy on the salt and pepper. Under seasoning is a sin.

Check out your local farmers market and bring along a big basket! I’ll be stocking up on all the summer fruits and vegetables this weekend. Also pick up a big loaf of Ciabatta or Sourdough. Or, try this spread on smaller crostini for a party starter. Don’t worry– the avocado rose won’t mind taking the back seat this time. Go on and get toasty!

TOAST

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Yields: 4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices of Ciabatta or Sourdough bread
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 8 oz crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup greek yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 10-12 cherry tomatos, sliced
  1. Drizzle olive oil on toast slices. Toast in toaster oven until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a stand mixer or hand mixer, whip feta and yogurt on medium speed for 2 minutes until fluffy. Season with onion powder, salt and pepper. Whip for an additional 1 minute until incorporated. Fold in chopped basil.
  3. Spread feta mixture evenly on 4 slices of toast. Slice cherry tomatoes and distribute evenly on top of toast. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Summer Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette

4Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

One of the best things about summer is seasonal produce. Bountiful fruits and vegetables at farmers markets. Dinners made simple and easy. I love the idea of a big, filling salad that fills you up in the best possible way. Satisfying and nourishing. I crave a vinegar-y, bright plate of greens. Sometimes it’s nice to cut the meat and hoard all the beautiful vegetables! Try this salad with other things like sliced avocado or walnuts. Or swap the kale for your favorite green. Gather outside and enjoy this plate while the sun’s going down. Summer nights are calling!

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Total Time: 40 mins — Serves: 6 — Yields: 1-3/4 cups vinaigrette

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp Organic Mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 3-1/2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 garlic scape
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Salad Ingredients:

  • 1 large bunch kale
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 8 garlic scapes, blanched and shocked in ice water
  • 1/4 cup sliced radishes
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
  • small bunch thin asparagus spears, cut into 3-inch tips
  • 1/4 cup snap peas, trimmed
  • salt and pepper
  • basil for garnish
  1. To make the vinaigrette, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, garlic scape and shallot in a food processor and 2 Tbsp of water. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until incorporated. Add 1-2 Tbsp of water if a thinner vinaigrette is preferred. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. To blanch the garlic scapes, bring a pot of water to a boil and drop in garlic scapes. Boil for 1 minute and remove with a slotted spoon. Immediately place into a bowl of ice water. This will “shock” the scapes, preserving their bright green color and mellow out the strong flavor. To assemble the salad, toss the kale, arugula, garlic scapes, radishes, tomatoes, cucumber, asparagus tips, and snap peas in a large bowl. Toss with dressing or serve on the side. Garnish with basil leaves and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Warm Grains Arugula Salad with Avocado Vinaigrette

1Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Nothing makes me happier than feeling satisfied and full after a good meal. I don’t mean that bloated, overly full feeling…I mean the good kind! After a meal that is full of wholesome things that keep hunger at bay. This salad is totally one of those meals. I am a huge arugula fan– even just coated in a little olive oil, it’s peppery and so tasty on it’s own. Coated in this avocado vinaigrette it’s on another level! The warm grains wilt the arugula a little, making each bite full of flavor and packed with protein. And, as I always say, throw on a couple of soft boiled eggs and you’ve got yourself a real meal.

Serves 2

Ingredients for Salad:

1 5 oz package of organic baby arugula

1/2 cup rainbow quinoa (yields about 1-1/2 cups cooked quinoa)

1/4 cup red lentils (yields about 2 cups cooked lentils)

2 eggs

1/8 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for Avocado Vinaigrette:

1/2 ripe avocado

1/8 cup white wine vinegar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

  1. Cook your quinoa to package instructions. Or, as a general guideline, rinse quinoa in a strainer for 2 minutes to get off the natural coating. If you skip rinsing, you risk getting a “soapy” flavor so make sure you rinse! Dry quinoa or toast lightly in a pan to dry. Add quinoa to small pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a rolling boil. Turn down the heat to low and cover for 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and leave covered for an extra 5-7 minutes. If you still see some water remaining after this time, put the pot back on low and allow it to soak up the remaining water. Season with a little salt and set aside.
  2. Cook your lentils to package instructions. Or, Add lentils to a pot with 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook covered for about 10-15 minutes, depending on how soft you want them. For salads, I like a little firmness. 10 minutes will do it. Season with a little salt and set aside.
  3. Rinse your arugula and let dry or run through a salad spinner. Set aside.
  4. For the avocado vinaigrette, combine the avocado, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a food processor until smooth and incorporated. With the processor running, stream in the olive oil until creamy.
  5. To bring 2 eggs to a soft boil, fill a small pot with a few inches of water and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to rapid simmer and gently drop in eggs. Let simmer for 5-7 minutes. 5 minutes for barely set and 7 minutes for a more set yolk. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and run under cool water for 2 minutes. Set aside.
  6. In a large bowl, add vinaigrette. Add arugula to bowl and stir to coat evenly. While still warm, mix in cooked quinoa and red lentils. Top with graded parmesan cheese. Peel soft boiled eggs and break open over salad. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Sweet Pea and Avocado Toast

1Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

I know this isn’t exactly breaking news, but: Avocado Toast began to have it’s moment in the spotlight in the last 2 years and is still shining strong. There’s just something about it that makes everyone all happy, including me. I’ve had it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I almost always top with a fried egg (or poached like this, if I’m feeling fancy). It always begs for a generous sprinkle of sea salt and red pepper flakes. Sometimes some black sesame seeds. Any way you slice it, this toast trend is here to stay. In my last post, I showed you my take on Giada De Laurentiis’ mushroom pizzettes. I’m working my way through another 3 of her recipes this week. Today, I present to you her recipe for this toasty number: Sweet Pea Avocado puree topped with a pretty poached egg. #PUTANEGGONIT is a thing, and that thing makes all toast better. What I love about this recipe is the addition of the pea to the avocado. The lime juice and mint in there add such freshness! It’s a complexity that you don’t get from avocado alone. I always love a kick of red pepper flakes. This is the kind of breakfast or brunch you make for yourself on your off-day from work, when you can sit back with the paper (or your Instagram feed, let’s face it) and a nice cup of coffee. Take your time and savor this one.

2Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 tsp graded lime zest
  • 1 tsp fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 avocado, halved, pitted, and diced in the skin
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 (3/4″) slices of Batard loaf or other small rustic bread loaf, toasted (I used Sourdough)
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Flaked salt (I used sea salt)
  1. In a food processor, combine the peas, mint, lime zest and juice, salt, and olive oil. Pulse until the peas are coarsely chopped. Spoon out and add the avocado and pulse to combine and form a coarse spread. Set aside.
  2. In a shallow medium saucepan, combine 4 cups of water with the vinegar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Adjust the head to maintain the gentle simmer (don’t allow it to boil). One at a time, break each egg into a small bowl; swirl the water with a spoon, creating a vortex, and gently slide the egg into the simmering water. Use a slotted spoon to gently coax the egg white up and around the yolk.
  3. Repeat with the remaining eggs (depending on the size of your pan, it may be easier to do just 2 eggs at a time so you can keep and eye on them and not crowd the pan). Cook the eggs 3-4 minutes or until the whites are set but the yolk is still soft when touched. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and drain well on a paper towel-lined plate.
  4. Spread a good amount of the pea puree on each piece of toast. Top with a poached egg. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and salt.

Recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis, Cook Happy, 2014.

Roasted Mushroom and Kale Pizzettes

5Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

I was feeling under the weather today and took full advantage of my day at home. While I should have taken the opportunity to clean my apartment, I proceeded to make more messes in the kitchen. But remember: behind every messy kitchen and filled sink is an incredible dish or two (or three). I realize now more than ever that the kitchen is my favorite place to be.

Today I graduated from my old camera, a Fujifilm I had in college, to a shiny, new, sparkly (did I say already say shiny?) amazing, professional, Canon 6D and a 50mm lens! I did the happy dance all over the house today. I’d been hoping and praying to be able to upgrade this summer. When an exciting food photography job came my way, I decided it was time to step up the game. If I was holding a glass of champagne, I would say, “Here’s to the future of Cuoco Contento and may it be utterly delicious!” I wish happy cooking for everyone.

I’ve been a huge Giada De Laurentiis fan for a while now. I’ve never seen a girl more enthusiastic about cooking, never mind  a girl with such a killer smile. She is one energetic, passionate, and needless to say, happy, chef. She released her book Happy Cooking late last year and I pre-ordered it. It’s filled with all the kinds of things that make me swoon: pastas, soups, healthy snacks, party drinks and little hors d’oeuvres that make you want to drop what you’re doing and host a dinner party. I love the Italian in her and it always shines through her dishes. I’ve had my eye on a few of her recipes that I finally decided to tackle this week. We begin with these darling little things: roasted mushroom pizzettes (just a cute word for tiny pizza!) topped with mozzarella, roasted button mushrooms, ribbons of kale, and blue cheese. Giada’s recipe calls for gorgonzola but I had blue on hand. And if you’re a fan of blue like me, it’s t-a-s-t-y. I could hardly wait for these to cool before I ate three in a row. They’re small so who’s counting, right? These are so great for summer parties or game day eats. Add a little sophistication to the wings and guac table. Follow along with me this week as we delve into three flavor-packed recipes from Giada!

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

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Ingredients:

  • 8 oz button mushrooms, de-stemmed, washed and sliced
  • 1 tsp olive oil plus more for drizzling
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 ball store-bought pizza dough (12-16 oz)
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 small bunch kale, ribs removed, leaves sliced into ribbons
  • 2 oz blue cheese (or gorgonzola) crumbled
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss mushrooms with olive oil and salt on a parchment-lined sheet pan and roast for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside.
  2. Roll out your pizza dough to 1/4″ thickness. Using a 3″ round cookie cutter (or drinking glass) and transfer pizza circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the circles lightly with olive oil. Top each with a teaspoon of mozzarella, a little mushroom, kale and sprinkle of blue cheese. Drizzle a little more olive oil over each. Bake until bubbly and golden, about 10-15 minutes depending on your oven. Serve immediately.

Recipe/adaptation courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis.

Shrimp Scampi over Linguini

1Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

I’ve been eating shrimp since age 5, when I had my first shrimp cocktail. I popped them like candy, dipping generously one after another into cocktail sauce. It was at that moment that my parents realized they had a daughter with an “expensive palette” who appreciates the finer things in life. Fast forward almost 20 years and I am still a connoisseur of shrimps. Cocktailed, sautéed, grilled, or otherwise– nothing beats fresh seafood. Whenever I’m at an Italian restaurant I always tend toward a pasta dish with shrimp, scallops or mussels. I love a nice, light butter white wine sauce or simple marinara. There’s something so delicate and satisfying about a smooth, flavorful sauce and succulent shrimp over al dente pasta. I go back to it time and time again. Find your local seafood shop and become a regular. Pour yourself a glass of your favorite white wine and watch this easy weeknight meal become a restaurant quality treat at home. If your husband doesn’t like shrimp… well, then: more for you!

Prep Time: 15 mins — Cook Time: 25 mins — Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound linguini
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 shallots, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley leaves
  1. Cook pasta as directed on package. I prefer Barilla linguini cooked al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes until the shallots are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper; add them to the pan and cook until they have turned pink, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the pan; set aside and keep warm.
  4. Add wine and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil. When the butter has melted, return the shrimp to the pan along with the parsley and cooked pasta. Stir well and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over a bit more olive oil and serve immediately.

Recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence via Food Network.

 

Brown Butter Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

5Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Have you ever made brown butter before? Well…you might want to try it tonight. Blizzard 2016 is in full swing on Long Island. Everyone is hunkered down in their homes, relaxing and enjoying time with family. Make them happy tonight and break out the butter!! To make brown butter, aka “beurre noisette,” you start by melting butter over medium heat. Swirl the butter around in the pan often to be sure it is cooking evenly. As it melts, the butter will begin to foam. The color will change from yellow to golden to a warm brown. Once it smells nutty, take it off the heat and transfer to a heat-safe bowl to cool. (Technique courtesy of The Kitchn, www.thekitchn.com). That’s it! Now imagine pouring this hot, golden butter on top of butternut squash before you roast it. You can’t even imagine how incredible the kitchen will smell during that 45 minutes. When it comes out of the oven all tender, you’re more than half way to this creamy, divine soup. I ate it for lunch three days straight…some of my coworkers may have been jealous.


Prep time: 20 minutes — Cook time: 45 minutes to 1 hr — Total time: 1 hr 20 minutes

Soup Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/4 cup diced celery
  • 1/4 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • About 4 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups Roasted Winter Squash recipe (See ingredients below)
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half, optional

Roasted Squash Ingredients:

  • About 3 pounds butternut squash (preferably 1 large squash)
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves (Substitute dried sage if you need to)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons Toasted Spice Rub (See ingredients below)

Toasted Spice Rub Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup (1-ounce) chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Okay: here we go! Don’t be alarmed by the lengthy ingredient list above. There are just a few extra steps in making this soup turn into liquid gold! First, we start by mixing the spices for the toasted spice rub. Toasting them releases their oils and makes them more fragrant. It also adds another layer of flavor.

Toast the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns a small pan over medium heat. When the fennel turns light brown, work quickly. Turn on the exhaust fan, add the red pepper flakes and toss, continually. Immediately turn the spice mixture out onto a plate to cool. Put mixture into a blender with the chili powder, salt, and cinnamon and blend until the spices are evenly ground. Pour into a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients. Keep the spice mix in a glass jar in a cool, dry place, or freeze.3Next, we roast the squash. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler. Halve lengthwise, discard the seeds, then cut into 1-inch dice. Place in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter stops foaming and has turned a light brown, pull the pan off the heat and immediately add the sage, sugar, vinegar (stand back so as not to get splattered), maple syrup and 2 teaspoons of the toasted spice rub. Mix well and let simmer over medium-low heat for 2 minutes to let the flavors meld.

Pour the vinegar mixture over the squash and toss well, then transfer to a heavy rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold the squash in a single layer. Place in the oven and roast, tossing at least once, until very tender and caramelized, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside until cool enough to handle but still warm, so the liquids are runny. Working in batches, if necessary, transfer the warm squash and all the cooking liquids to a food processor (I love my Nutri Bullet for this) and process until smooth. Use immediately, refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 2 months. Yields 2 cups puree.

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Next we go forth with soup! Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion, celery, carrot, cinnamon stick and sauté until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes. Stir in the squash until smooth, then simmer gently to let the flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick. (Make sure you discard… I almost forgot).

Puree the soup in a blender until smooth. (The soup can be made ahead to this point, cooled, covered, and refrigerated for several days or frozen for about 1 month. It will thicken as it cools and may need thinning with stock or water when reheating.)

Return the soup to the pan and reheat gently. Add the half-and-half. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Keep warm until served. Garnish with roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Enjoy!

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All photo credit: Ashley Cuoco

Recipe adapted from Michael Chiarello, www.foodnetwork.com