Friday, February 2, 2018

Roasted Delicata and Charred Broccoli Soup with Preserved Lemon and Tahini

I find cooking inspiration in all aspects of my life: friends, books, travel, events, cravings, moods, philosophical musings – all can be signs flashing SOUP at me.

Sometimes, though, the inspiration comes from a literal sign, as in the first sign I saw upon walking into Madison’s at Findlay Market on Thursday.

“Oo, pretty!” I thought. Regardless of the fact that I had no plan whatsoever of what I would do with it, I knew I had to have it.  The colors were Crayola perfect and it felt so smooth and firm to the touch – a lovely specimen that I felt a visceral need to take a knife to. Apparently I have a Dark Passenger when it comes to ripe, local, seasonal produce. Uh, yikes? Also, remind me to work on getting some pop culture references that match the freshness of my vegetables.

Delicata squash has a thin, delicate skin (which I’m reminded of by how hard autocorrect is trying to fix my spelling of “delicata”), so I knew I wanted to leave it intact rather than making this a pureed soup. That meant roasting the charming little smiles of squash until it was golden and bubbly, amping up the sweetness factor and making the flesh melt-in-your-mouth tender with just that paper-thin skin holding its shape. 

Since I was going to be turning the oven on anyway, why not roast a few more things? I adore the flavor broccoli takes on when you — let’s face it — burn it a little, and obviously I’m going to want some roasted pepitas incorporated in some way.

My sense of why-notness ended up building the whole soup. I had a hard time naming this recipe since I kept yes-anding my ingredients. I know there’s joy to be found in simplicity, but sometimes you just want to pow yourself in the mouth with flavor. In this soup, the depth came from the roasting, the charring, the melting of leeks. But the pow? The pow came at the very last minute with the addition of preserved lemon, a secret weapon ingredient that adds a bright, salty tang that’s just unfamiliar enough to make this soup exciting. Yeah, I said it. EXCITING SOUP. Get on my level.

The last truly important element is the tahini, another “why not” that worked out brilliantly. The soup tasted fine before I stirred the little pile of tahini concoction into my bowl, but the creaminess and body just a little bit of tahini adds to the broth takes the pow and adds some silky lusciousness. The tahini mixture can be served on each bowl to give the eater some sense of accomplishment (“And I helped!” – very current pop culture reference), but if you don’t have four people eating, it also works to mix it into the whole pot. I can tell you from experience that the leftovers remain delicious.

Is this a life-changing recipe? No. But this represents one of my favorite luxuries: The luxury of time to play in the kitchen. No restrictions and no directions, just a fridge, a pantry and my imagination. After traveling for a few weeks, nothing makes me feel more at home than creating something from scratch (let’s not quibble over the bouillon) from my very own brain on my very own stove while wearing my very own pajamas and listening to my very own Stitcher Premium playlist. We each have our own definition of self care (so hot right now); this is mine.

Soup post-stirring, featuring pajama-pants cameo.

Roasted Delicata and Charred Broccoli Soup
with preserved lemon and tahini

Serves 4

For soup:
extra virgin olive oil
1 head of broccoli, stem peeled and diced, crown separated into bite-sized florets
zest of 1 lemon
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
crushed red pepper flakes
1 delicata squash, halved, seeds and pulp removed, and sliced ¼” thick
1 leek, white and light green parts, halved and sliced ¼” thick and rinsed well under cold water
4 or 5 small Yukon gold potatoes, quartered and sliced ¼” thick (about 1 cup sliced)
1 or 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth of your choice (I used Better than Bouillon no-chicken base)
4 leaves of lacinato kale, ribs removed and leaves sliced into ribbons

For topping:
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tahini
1 teaspoon minced preserved lemon
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
juice of 1 lemon (probably the one you zested earlier)

Preheat oven to 425F. Line two rimmed cookie sheets with parchment paper (for ease of clean-up – it’s okay to skip this if you don’t have any) and dump your broccoli stems and florets on one and your crescents of squash on the other. Divide the minced garlic between the trays, and add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to each. Add lemon zest to the broccoli, then give each tray a good splash of olive oil. Mix each until well coated, and put trays in the oven. After 15 minutes, remove trays, stir the broccoli around and return to oven for an additional 10 minutes (or more if necessary). Flip squash slices and push to one side, then add pumpkin seeds with a little drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper and return to oven for an additional 10 minutes. Broccoli is done when stems are tender and it’s got some black char around all the edges, and squash is done when it’s soft and you have golden bubbles formed on the cut sides.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep sauté pan, lay down your leeks, top with potato slices, and add 1 or 2 teaspoons of unsalted butter and 1/3 cup of water. Season with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Turn heat to medium and cover pan with a lid – let cook for about 15 minutes. At this point the potatoes should be fork tender and the leeks should be very soft (“melting”). Uncover pan and turn heat up to medium-high until all liquid has evaporated and you’re getting some color on the leeks – another 3-5 minutes. Add broth and kale ribbons, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer.

In a small bowl, mix together toasted pumpkin seeds, tahini, preserved lemon, Italian parsley and lemon juice with about a tablespoon of olive oil.

To serve, ladle soup base into bowls and top with a quarter of the broccoli and delicate squash slices, then a quarter of the tahini mixture.  

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