Friday, 8 November 2013

A Soup with a Twist

Zuppa di Zucca , Bietola & Finocchio al Curry, con "Grissini" di Sfoglia al Pomodoro
Curried Squash, Chard & Fennel Soup with Tomato Pastry Twists

There are a gazillion and one curried pumpkin or squash soups out there and that with good reason- because it simply tastes wonderful! It is favorite Winter soup here in Germany, especially when made of Hokkaido pumpkin, which I also adore. But this evening, I had the remaining half of the butternut squash from yesterday, and getting home, cold and hungry in the pouring rain, it seemed like a very, very good idea indeed! And it was!

One thing I do kind-of dislike (I am trying not to hurt anybody's feeling now or to upset lovers of fine cuisine), is the kind of soup that is puréed to the point that it becomes a gloopy, baby-food-like slime. To me, no matter how exquisite they might taste, they are boring to eat, lacking in texture and substance if "enjoyed" too often. So don't. Enjoy something like this in future instead ;-)

My method was probably a little different to the way you are used to making soups, but then, what did you expect? This is a quick and simple affair, perfect for those Winter evenings when you need something warming and exotic to sooth and pamper yourselves. This is how I went about it.

I started off by cutting off by chopping up the chard- maybe 4 decent sized leaves worth. I sliced the stalks down their length into 4 strips and then proceeded to finely dice both them and the leaves. I also chopped the fennel- just a small handful, along with a shallot, into an equally fine dice. And then into a deep frying pan they all went, with a little clarified butter and a finely chopped clove of garlic. 

I continued by cutting off about 2" of ginger and finely grating it and then moving swiftly on, I grated the squash and then added these to the frying pan to join the chard. I seasoned it with 1 tablespoon of Garam Masala, 1 teaspoon of turmeric and of course, salt and pepper as always, stirring everything together and making sure it all got nicely coated. And stirred... and stirred and stirred...

And soon enough, after 3-4 minutes, the squash began to change color and soften-up, becoming slightly transparent and earning its descriptive name, haha! Yes, it did become a rather "squashy" affair, but that was the idea- to get everything to soften up nicely and to become smooth and delicious without completely losing it's texture.

Just like a risotto, I continued to stir and began to add vegetable broth to the mix as I went, little by little, until the contents of the frying pan turned from a dice, to a paste, to a soft cream and eventually a nice soup... this sounds like a lot of work, but it only took about 10 minutes in all.

After 10 minutes of stirring, the soup was basically as smooth as it was going to get, so I added a little extra water to it and let it simmer along by itself and to reduce-down, whilst I quickly prepared the pastry sticks. I had a small left-over of puff pastry, just maybe 4" wide, but that was all that it took to make this yummy little extra. I spread a thin coat of just a teaspoon or so of tomato paste onto one side of the pastry strip and added a light sprinkle of parmesan and a little pepper, folded it shut and then cut it in half lengthways, giving me 2, 2" strips. I also trimmed away the folded-over edge, so that each strip was "open" on both sides, then simply twisted them together tightly. That was all it took. Oh- and maybe 5-6 minutes from each side in a 300° oven :-)

Whilst the pastry twists were baking, I turned my attention back to the soup, which was looking fine, but a little "watery"... it needed something to "bind" it a little and to add some stability- and what could be better for doing that in an Indian-spiced dish than some gram flour? All it took was 1 tablespoon, which I quickly dissolved in a little water and added, and soon the soup was lovely and dense again- with the added benefit of it having a lovely, light chickpea flavor. 

The other great thing that chickpea flour does, is that it magically allows you to add yogurt to soups and sauces without it curdling- which makes a low-fat yogurt a fantastic alternative to cream or coconut milk... and that was what I added next. A couple of tablespoons of yogurt, a little extra chili and a hint of cayenne, a tiny squeeze of lime juice just to "lift" the flavors nicely and to balance the sweetness of the squash and chard... and the soup was almost ready to go!

The pastry twists were now ready, golden brown and wonderful looking, but still a little soft- they only become properly crispy when they cool off. So whilst they cooled off and the soup simmered, I lightly caramelized a few thin slices of fennel to add as a garnish- a nice little finishing touch- simply placed into a small frying pan with a splash of water, flipped over and steamed until the water has completely boiled away, then with with a splash of Sambuca and a sprinkle of sugar, finished until that too disappeared and it became slightly brown- yum! What a treat- just be careful and move fast before it gets too dark or the sugar will become bitter!

And there you have it- a slightly different curried soup, very simple and totally delicious! What more can I say? Just try it and find out for yourselves... and of course- enjoy!

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