My parents are visiting from Connecticut this week, and for me it’s a good excuse to slow down and spend a bit more time in the kitchen. I won’t spend every free minute writing or editing; instead, I’ll go through the binders full of torn-out magazine and newspaper recipes, page through the dozens of cookbooks on the kitchen shelves and look for renewed inspiration. Instead of spending all of Eli’s preschool hours at my desk, I’ll probably go to the market.
My parents don’t ask that I do this; for them, simply gathering around the table, all six of us, is really more important than the food we eat. They like a nice meal but aren’t terribly picky. And this is why it’s such a pleasure to feed them. My children lately drop foods from their diet more quickly than they add them. Ben is down to only one kind of cheese, even a particular brand of that cheese, and will only eat it cold, in slices (not grated nor melted). I know this stage will pass, and so I’m not pushing the boys to be what they aren’t. Tony and I will keep trying to set a balanced, interesting meal on the table every night, and hope that the boys will taste what we offer before filling up on plain pasta or bread. But of course, the discussions of what they won’t eat get wearying, and more often than not, Tony and I don’t have the energy to make something creative that we know the boys won’t even touch to their lips. So we fall into a rut of the few simple pastas and vegetables the boys will eat without complaint.
My parents’ visit offers me renewed energy. Here are two eaters who will try almost anything, who don’t at all mind our vegetarian diet, who can be counted on to help prep and clean. They even eat leftovers.
But their first night, I didn’t expect any of that from them, nor did I try out any new dishes. You never know when you pick people up from a flight if they’ll be starving or full of airplane snacks, but either way, I figured they’d want a simple warm meal. I made soup. I’ll post the steps here — it’s hardly a recipe, since I eyeballed everything — and the result was delicious (and unlikely ever to be replicated). The boys didn’t eat it, as I expected, but they were happy with the salad and bread and cheese on the side, and the meal was a nice way to start our visit.
Squash Soup for Travelers at the End of a Journey
Preheat oven to 400.
No matter what direction I’m taking the squash soup (curried, spicy, etc) I always start by following the procedure Deborah Madison suggests in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone: halve the squash, scoop out the seeds, and then put 4-6 unpeeled cloves of garlic in the cavities. Drizzle some olive oil on the cut edges of the squash, and then set them, cut sides down, on a large roasting pan. Roast until the squash is tender, 30-60 minutes, depending on the size of the squash.
While the squash is roasting, you can saute some diced onion with herbs (thyme, sage, bay leaves are all nice) or without, until the onion is nice and soft. For the soup I made this week, I skipped the herbs, planning instead to grate fresh ginger into the soup. Perhaps deglaze the pan with a big slosh of wine. Remove the bay leaves (if you used them) and put the onions into your blender.
When it’s finished roasting and cool enough to handle, scoop the cooked squash into your blender. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of its skins into the blender, too. Blend, adding some water or stock if necessary to thin it; you can always add more water, stock, wine or (if you’re feeling decadent) cream when you’re heating up the soup.
Transfer the pureed squash to a sauce pan to finish warming. Thin with stock or water to taste, and season with salt and pepper. At this point, I grated a thumb-sized knob of fresh ginger into the pot, which melted nicely into the soup and gave it a gingery warmth without getting spicey.