grits

Faking It.

I feel that I am at a point in my culinary education where my brain has stopped taking in recipes. As a person who rarely follows them, when I do “use” a recipe it’s only as a jumping point for whatever I feel like doing or creating a variation using whatever it is I have to use up–I’m looking at you truckload of turnips that just won’t stop. I’m now moving into a place where I simply repeat the demonstrated steps & otherwise go by instinct. However, with my ever present need for perfection, I then do a lot of second guessing–rarely with positive results.

Thus, upon our next assignment, I had a bit of panick. We were to draft a recipe–one that we enjoyed and often made at home–in the style of our textbook. The only recipes I generally repeat are the simplest ones–ones where you’d rather not cook, but you should eat at home because you can’t affored the price or calories of eating out…i.e. not suitable for impressing anyone.

And so, I approached the assignment from a different perspective: a method I enjoy and frequently use at home–the use of csa items from last week that I had better use before they turn. This week it was butternut squash and red delicious apples. But wait: conundrum. Butternut squash soup is kind of passe, maybe a little boring, so I had to enliven it somehow. Since I’ve made several variations of said potage, I was up for the challenge of making a new one & trusted my gut that it would work. It did. By roasting the squash first, the earthy, caramel sweetness of the squash shines through. An addition of star anise throws in a different, unexpected flavor, providing a counterpoint to the earthy and the addition of chicken stock provides a heartiness that water or vegetable stock might not.

Of course, a properly Frenchified soup wouldn’t be a properly Frenchified soup without some garniture. Luckily we’d had grits that morning for breakfast & because of an excess of grity goodness had been prepared (totally by accident….totally…) grit croutons were my go-to decoration.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Grit Croutons

For the Soup
700 g butternut squash (about 1 large) or other winter squash,
       skinned and cut in large dice
2 medium sweet apples, skinned & cut in mirepoix
1 medium red onion, cut in mirepoix
500 mL chicken stock
20 g butter
20 g olive oil
10 g brown sugar
1 star anise
10 g (½ t) Ceylon cinnamon
Salt and Pepper, to taste

For the Croutons
240 mL water
240 mL milk
120 g instant grits
30 g butter
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
Oil, for frying

For the Soup

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Toss squash with olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon and star anise and spread in a single layer on a sheet tray. Place in the preheated oven and roast until tender and starting to brown (about 30 minutes), tossing once during cooking.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepot. Sweat onions for about 1 minute. Add apples and sweat, covered until soft. Remove the lid and allow the collected liquid to evaporate and begin to develop sucs on the bottom of the pan.
  3. Making sure to reserve the star anise, place roasted squash with apples and onions in a blender, adding just enough stock to puree.
  4. Return puree to saucepan along with star anise and brown sugar. Add enough stock to reach desired consistency. Bring to a simmer and cook on low for 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning and remove star anise. Keep warm for service.

 For the Croutons & Service

  1. Bring water and milk to a boil, immediately whisk in grits and ½ t salt. Bring back to boil, reduce heat and cook at a very low simmer, covered, until thick, whisking occasionally to avoid lumps.
  2. Once it is very thick, about 10 minutes, whisk in butter and nutmeg, plus an aggressive amount of salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  3. Pour grits into a 9X3 pan and allow to cool. Once cool, turn grits out onto a board and slice into 1-cm cubes.
  4. Bring oil to 350F and fry grit cubes until golden. Drain on a paper towel. Serve soup in hot bowls, garnished with croutons.