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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Apple-Butternut Velvet Soup

Puréed vegetable soups are delightful. They're ridiculously simple to create, being little more than a cooked and reduced mixture of vegetable and stock or water, and they're often delicious with little effort invested. The thickness and texture of the soup are easily managed by the amount of puréeing that is done, and the amount of liquid used to cook the ingredients. The main vegetable can be cooked before the soup is created, even—roasting, grilling, or poaching various ingredients can lead to a multitude of flavors and a wide variety of soups created from a small palette of basic items. Simple food, done well, is a motto and watchword in modern culinary arts, and it can be traced back to some of the recipes present in Victorian cookbooks—soups with only three or four ingredients were not uncommon. Mrs. Beeton's Turnip Soup calls for:
3 oz. of butter, 9 good-sized turnips, 4 onions, 2 quarts of stock, seasoning to taste.
This simple concept for soup is replicated here, using slightly different ingredients.

Butternut squash is wonderful, as a basic item. They're usually rather inexpensive (I find them regularly for 99¢ per pound) and contain a great deal of flesh with little effort required to seed them. The effort saved in seeding is ceded to peeling them, as they have a rather tough skin that does not peel off easily. If you are willing to move past this—or, indeed, roast them before cooking them into the soup—the results are well worth the effort. A somewhat sweet item, the squash pairs well with apple and nutmeg flavors, leading to the creation of this simple yet elegant soup.

A garnish of nutmeg-spiced chantilly cream (sweetened whipped cream) and an apple crisp make this dish sweet, delightful, and texturally interesting.

Apple-Butternut Velvet Soup
1 ¾ lb (794 g) butternut squash, peeled, medium diced
6 oz (170 g) apple, peeled, cored, medium diced
5 oz (142 g) leek, sliced
1 qt (.95 L) white stock
1 cup (237 ml) heavy cream
1 Tbsp (15 ml) salt, additional to taste
1 tsp (5 ml) freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
1/4 tsp (1.25 ml) white pepper, ground, to taste

1. Sauté leek in a small amount of fat until soft.
2. Add broth, squash, and apples. Cover, bring to simmer, and cook over medium heat 25 minutes.
3. Puree.
4. Add cream and season to taste.
5. Garnish with apple chip, chantilly cream, and sprinkle of nutmeg.
Many different vegetable soups can be made on this same principle—look to the lentil soup, for example—without changing the method a great deal. Substitute pumpkin or any hard squash for the butternut, for starters; add or subtract additional flavoring items, add onions and garlic for a different flavor. You can roast the vegetables too—a roasted eggplant soup would be delightful. All of these follow the same principle: Develop flavors, cook the main item until it is soft, purée, season and serve.

Nutmeg Chantilly Cream
1 cup (237 ml) heavy cream
1 Tbsp (15 ml) caster (superfine) sugar
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) nutmeg, freshly grated

1. Chill a metal bowl big enough to hold more than double the volume of cream, as well as electric mixer beaters or a whisk.
2. Combine all ingredients in chilled bowl, and whip until cream is stiff.
3. Check the flavoring and add additional nutmeg or sugar as needed.

Apple Crisps
1 apple
simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, cooked until the sugar dissolves completely)

1. Slice apple very thinly on a mandolin slicer. There's no better way to do it, sadly.
2. Place on a sheet pan (there's an ongoing debate whether a silpat is necessary) and place in a 200°F/93°C oven (there's no gas mark for that, as far as I know—it's a very, very low oven.)
3. As the fruit begins to dry, brush with the simple syrup, and continue to cook until the fruit is completely dry but not browning.
4. Remove the apple chips from the oven, and pick them up from the baking sheet. They should be somewhat flexible. Place on a cold metal surface (another sheet pan is ideal, or a counter-top.) They should crisp up immediately.
5. Store in a cool, dry place. Do not refrigerate, and do not bag up in plastic. This will cause the chips to begin to re-hydrate and become soggy.

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