An Ode to Bread and Soup [Roasted Butternut Squash and Asian Pear Soup + No-Knead Bread]
I love bread.
I love the way a fresh loaf’s crust shatters like glass when you pull a warm, doughy piece from it. I love it’s comforting, alluring smell as it emerges from the oven, golden brown and imperfect. I love how unpretentious a rustic peasant loaf can truly be. I love that it rises from merely three modest ingredients. Simple or complex, dense or light, flattened or round, I love everything about it. Everything.
The dilemma lays in this; I am a dreadful baker. Heavy handed, overly fussy, impatient and imprecise. None of those equate to scrumptious bread. Or at least they didn’t use to.
Enter No-Knead Bread. The savior to all incompetent bakers. I’m certain there are some real bakers out there who might see the no-knead method as cheating, but for all of you out there like me, who dream of being able to slice into a fresh, warm, yeasty loaf - this is, without a single doubt, the greatest thing to happen since…well…sliced bread. You CAN make this bread. And you will. [this is me sending you subliminal message to pull out your flour, yeast and water…. you’re getting sleeee.. no wait… baaaaakey]
You know as well as I that fresh bread is not complete without something to slather on it or dip it in. I decided to go with the latter and whip up a batch of soup with a few things I had kicking around. Surprisingly, it was one of the better soups I’ve made.
The perfect marriage of sweet and savoury exists between the roasted squash and Asian pears. I really appreciated the depth that roasting them created and the subtle sweetness that bathing them in a mixture of vanilla, cider and just a hint of cayenne for background heat, provided. Simple and unpretentious but entirely delicious.
Of course, you don’t have to make both soup AND bread… but I found they really went wonderfully together. Mr. GL claimed that the bread made it a meal and even he, the handsomest of picky eaters, devoured his bowl with a big grin on his face. So do try them both at some point, if not together.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Asian Pear Soup with Vanilla
I love the way the soup turned out initially, but it was a little on the sweet side. I found the addition of ricotta to really help balance it out.
I garnished the soup with some lightly roasted squash seeds that were dusted with chili powder. You are welcome to do that or you can top with a little yogurt, some olive oil, fresh herbs, toasted croutons or nothing at all.
1 large (2+ lbs) butternut squash, sliced in half and seeded
2 large Asian pears, peeled, sliced in half and cored
coarse sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 cup pure, high quality apple cider
3 cups water
1/4-1/2 vanilla bean
pinch or two cayenne pepper
1/2 cup ricotta or Mascarpone (optional)
Preheat oven to 400.
Place the squash and pears cut side up, in a roasting pan or cookie sheet. Cut a few slices in the squash and rub it and the pears with some olive oil. Give the slices a good sprinkling of salt and pepper. Roast for 40-60 minutes until a fork is able to go through both squash and pears without any resistance. The pears might be done sooner than the squash so check them after about 40 minutes.
Remove squash and pears from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes. While cooling, throw the diced onion in a large soup pot with a few glugs of olive oil. Turn the heat to medium and let the onions sweat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
Throw in the pears and carefully scoop out the squash flesh and toss it into the pot. Add the cider, vanilla bean and water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer for another 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the ricotta and cayenne pepper and puree with an immersion blender or in a stand blender until creamy and smooth.
Ladle into bowls and top with whatever you please.
No Knead Crusty Bread
adapted from Honey & Jam
Makes 3 small or two good sized loaves
This bread is simple in preparation but impressive in flavour and texture. It’s yeasty and dense, crunchy and satisfying. The perfect pairing with soup.
Please read instructions before you start so you can ask any questions you might have before go-time.
3 cups of lukewarm water
1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 tbsp coarse salt
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
In a very large mixing bowl, add the water, yeast and salt. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, it’ll just be starting to get frothy.
Dump in all the flour, don’t be shy, and use a sturdy wood (or otherwise) spoon to mix it until no flour streaks remain. I didn’t mix mine enough and had a rough clump in one of the loaves, so don’t be shy.
Cover the bowl with saran wrap and let it rest in a warm spot for 2 1/2 - 3 hours or until it has risen and started to deflate.
If you’re ready to bake the bread right away - flour your hands and tear off a chunk about the size of a grapefruit. Round the loaf out by pulling some pieces from the sides of the dough, rotating as you go, and tucking them underneath the loaf. It doesn’t have to be perfect, this is a rustic loaf. It shouldn’t take you more than 1 minute to tuck the sides under.
Place the small loaves on a counter top or board dusted with cornmeal and let them rise for another 40 minutes, no need to cover.
20 minutes before cooking time, preheat oven to 450. While preheating, place a skillet or pizza stone in the middle rack and a cookie sheet in the lower rack.
When the dough is done it’s final rise, give it a quick drizzle of olive oil (optional) and place it on the preheated pizza stone. Immediately pour 1 cup of water in the cookie sheet that’s in the lower rack of the oven. Close the door quickly to trap that steam in. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
If you have more will power than I, you’ll let it cool for 15 minutes. But not much longer than that as you have to have a slice of it warm with butter. I insist! (…and when I insist, you must listen)
A Book and Some Salad
I’ve just finished reading [er..plowing through with reckless abandon] A Homemade Lifeby Molly Wizenberg, who is also the creator of the ever brilliant Orangette. What a great book. If you blog about food [or even if you don’t] - I highly recommend you read it.
It was romantic. And not in the sense you’re thinking…romantic in the way that only moving to Paris to find yourself could be. Romantic as in weaving your way through cobblestone roads and street vendors, seeking out the best ingredients and making yourself a simple, fresh dinner as you sip cheap Beaujolais and watch the lights of the Eiffel Tower..ahhhh…what? Sorry… I must have drifted off there.
It was lovely. Every chapter brought a story that felt at least somewhat relevant to my own life. Reading it was like reading through what it would be like if I wasn’t mildly [massively?] terrified to do something like that. Along with stories came some deliciously inspiring recipes.
Which brings me to my point after much rambling. Salad! Delicious, simple, fresh salad.
Asian Pear & Fennel Salad
2 medium-large fennel bulb
2 medium-large Asian pears
Coarse salt (good flake salt is best!)
Cut the stalks off the fennel and use a sharp knife/vegetable peeler to trim away any soft spots or bruises. Cut the bulb in half from root to stalk and trim off the root end. Slice the fennel quite thin (around 1/4” thick) as you can using a knife or mandoline (I sliced mine much too thick! It makes for awkward bites.) Set aside.
Core the pear and cut it in half. Again, slice as thin as possible.
In a bowl or plate, arrange a layer of fennel and drizzle with olive oil. Next, arrange a layer of Asian pear. Sprinkle with salt and give it a good squeeze of lemon juice. Repeat this until you have no pear/fennel left. Using a vegetable peeler, shave as many pieces of Parmesan as you’d like over the salad. Give a final drizzle of olive oil and a good dusting of fresh pepper.
Let me say from experience - it tastes just as special for one as it does for two!