Adventures in Cooking: Squash and parsnip … soup?

Yesterday, I was determined to make a recipe from my new cookbook, Ottolenghi: A Cookbook. I’d settled on the squash/pumpkin and parsnip soup I’d seen while browsing through the book earlier. (I’d meant to bookmark about half a dozen recipes to try first, but I ended up with at least a dozen bookmarks sticking out of the pages.) I’d flipped through to the recipe, scribbled down the ingredients I needed, and gone to the grocery store to pick up what I didn’t already have at home.

I felt incredibly well prepared.

Until I opened the cookbook to start cooking.

That’s when I realized I’d bookmarked the “Parsnip and pumpkin mash” and not, as expected, a parsnip and pumpkin soup. That’s the sort of cook I am. I’ll blindly follow a recipe without questioning why a recipe for soup doesn’t have some kind of liquid in it.

Thankfully, I noticed this before starting in on the recipe, which gave me time to frantically search for solutions. I happened upon the Food & Wine recipe for Butternut squash and leek soup. Relying on that to add in some leeks and turn it into a soup, and on Ottolenghi for guidance with flavors and method, I managed to concoct a soup full of butternut squash, parsnip, and leeks.

I could pick apart the end result — too sweet, not smooth enough, missing a bit of kick — but first I need to take a moment to marvel at what I did. I’m the sort of cook who always, always follows a recipe. I’m missing the skill that lets people just throw ingredients together with a bit of intuition and turn out a nice meal. So successfully mashing together two recipes into something I enjoyed eating? I’d call it a success. :)

Butternut Squash, Parsnip, and Leek Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 1.5 hours
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Ingredients:

  • 600g (peeled weight) butternut squash, cut into 2-3cm dice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 leek, roughly chopped
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 7 fresh thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed or minced
  • 3-4 cups chicken broth (or half broth / half water — keep in mind the salt levels if using broth cubes instead of fresh broth)
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Crème fraîche for garnish (about 1 tbsp per bowl)
  • Chives for garnish, chopped into approx. 1cm pieces
  • Salt and black pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F). Toss the squash and parsnips with the olive oil and a little salt and pepper and spread out in a roasting tray. (You can line the tray with foil to make cleanup easier.) Roast for 30-45 minutes, until soft and mashable.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the leeks, thyme, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and browned, 30-40 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs.

In a food processor or blender, blend the squash, parsnips, and leeks in batches until smooth (a couple minutes). Add as much broth as needed to blend the vegetables well.

Add the blended vegetables, remaining broth, and nutmeg to a large pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste. (A dash of cayenne can also liven things up.)

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each serving with a dollop of crème fraîche and a smattering of chives.

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Credit: Ottolenghi’s Parsnip and pumpkin mash / Food & Wine’s Butternut squash and leek soup

A couple notes about the recipe:

  • Next time, I’d be inclined to use only 1-2 parsnips and add in 1-2 small potatoes. It’d make the soup a bit less sweet and, supposedly, would help make the end result a bit smoother. A dash of cream while simmering (or perhaps a more generous helping of crème fraîche) could also help with the smoothness.
  • My husband added a dash of cayenne to his bowl, and he said it really helped the flavor. Also, don’t forget to check the salt at the end — I live in constant fear of over-salting food and ended up under-salting the soup, instead. Thankfully, that can be fixed by a little sprinkle of salt in the bowl if needed.
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Apfelstrudel

Last year, before leaving Germany, we received a book of recipes as a gift. Not just any recipes — each of my husband’s colleagues contributed a handwritten recipe of their own to share with us. In the move, I somehow tucked that book away with non-cookbooks, and it wasn’t until the day after Christmas this year that I pulled it out and decided to tackle one of the recipes.

Of course, I probably chose the most challenging (and the most German) recipe in the book: Apfelstrudel (apple strudel). Yum.

It was my first time making strudel, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I had seen pictures and video of people expertly stretching the dough until it was paper thin, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I had a clear set of instructions — and when it comes to cooking, I feel great as long as I have a guide.

So I threw together the dough and let it sit while I pondered what was coming next. I peeled apples like a pro. (That actually surprised me! I generally don’t have the best skills with blades, but I managed complete, unbroken peels from some of those apples.) I toasted breadcrumbs. I prepped all the ingredients and had everything gathered around me, ready for that dough.

My husband recommended using an old bed sheet under the dough, a brilliant idea. And so we got to stretching. We made a few holes, but nothing disastrous. Then, I piled on the butter. After spreading the apple and breadcrumbs over the buttery dough, I had a mini panic attack — I’m pretty sure I spread it in the wrong direction (along the short side of the dough), so we ended up with a shorter, thicker strudel than if I had spread everything the long way. But it rolled up just fine, and the end result was incredibly tasty even if it didn’t look quite as elegant as I’d hoped.

All in all, I’m amazed at how well this complex recipe turned out, and I’m excited to try the next one in the book. :)

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Aber Falls

While talking with other expat friends about exploring North Wales, the discussion turned to the myriad waterfalls around here. Someone mentioned Aber Falls (Rhaeadr Fawr), a waterfall not far inland between Bangor and Conwy. Naturally, we had to explore it.

We set out the next day. It was a quick drive with a convenient parking area just a short walk from the falls. We noticed on the map that an alternate route would lead us in a loop after the falls and decided to look for that path on our way back.

After admiring the falls and climbing over the mossy stones to the other side (ignoring the nearby bridge, because who doesn’t love the thrill of almost falling into an icy pool at the base of a waterfall?) we set off for the return trip. I saw the signpost for the North Wales Path, so we knew we were on the right track as we set off.

The loop took us past a smaller waterfall we hadn’t heard about, Rhaeadr Fach. Then we turned toward the sea and got a sweeping view over the valley. We climbed up to a hill with a gorgeous view of Anglesey and even Llandudno before finally traipsing back down into town and to the car. The loop made our walk a good bit longer (about 2 hours and over 4 miles) but definitely worth it.