We have overindulged.
On February 9, some 12-16 inches of snow fell in Chicago, and the next morning, in a moment when the stars were aligned in our favor, we boarded a plane and flew to California. Unmarred swaths of snow lay everywhere in the early morning hours. My car resembled a small igloo but would have to stay that way. We had fled the winter momentarily.
We arrived to a sunny afternoon, a sunny kitchen, flowers blooming in the front yard, Meyer lemons in the back yard, and a beautiful butternut squash and pumpkin soup. My sister served the soup with slices of crusty bread, which were accompanied by four kinds of cheese, lime-green olives, and an assertive handmade Spanish sausage that she had purchased at the farmer’s market. For the next few days, we were treated to an array to beautiful meals, home-cooked and out and about.
I would consider moving to California just for the produce. Each year, I am tempted by the Mountain View Farmer’s Market, which my sister and her husband attend on Sunday mornings. Overcome by rapturous foodie-delight, I want to purchase a little bit of everything. Asian pears, pristine cauliflower and broccoli rabe aside, we had a wonderful time in California: there was a weekend trip to the Russian River Valley, a few trips to San Francisco, visits with friends who live in the area, and of course the unparalleled hospitality of family. And so we didn’t leave it at the produce, there were restaurants that were visited, oysters from this bay or that cove, black cod and seasonal Dungeness crab, desserts that were sampled, cheeses that could not be left alone, cured meats of varying Italian and German temperaments, and wines that were discovered, tasted, and carefully brought home in checked luggage.
Carrot and Pumpkin Soup
Our winter blues alleviated and our waistlines expanded, we returned to more snow and an empty fridge, aside from a crisper drawer full of carrots. In a simultaneous attempt to stay warm and reminisce about our lovely trip, I made a variation of the pumpkin and butternut squash soup my sister served on the day of our arrival. Made instead with carrots, pumpkin and chicken broth, this comforting soup would be delightful fall, winter, or spring. It is bright and a touch sweet, surprisingly simple, mellow and rich. It hearkens of a spring that is not too far away.
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion or 2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white part only (I used leeks)
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1 ½ lbs carrots, peeled and cut into chunks (approximately 5 large carrots)
3 ½ cups chicken broth
1 cup half & half
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon sugar, optional
Salt to taste (approximately 2 tbsp)
½ teaspoon black pepper
In a large stockpot, heat the butter and oil, add the onions (or leeks) and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add carrots, coriander powder and cook another 10 minutes, until the carrots begin to soften and caramelize. This step helps to bring out the sweetness in the carrot. Partially season at this stage if desired. Next, add the pumpkin puree, chicken broth, and any additional salt and pepper. Cover and simmer over medium heat until the carrots can be easily mashed with a fork, about 30 minutes.
Allow mixture to cool and then puree in batches, or use an immersion blender. Slowly add the half & half and then check for seasoning, adding sugar or salt to balance if needed. I used an immersion blender, added 1 tsp. of sugar, and added some extra chicken broth to acheive the consistency I wanted.
Done! Serve with crusty bread, top with spiced pumpkin seeds or a little grated parmesan or fontina cheese.
Variations: A touch of cumin or fresh ginger would be a nice addition. Alternately, a little tarragon and parsley highlight the flavors of spring. The original recipe for Winter Squash Soup, made with butternut squash and pumpkin, hails from Ina Garten’s book, Barefoot in Paris.