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Okay, between my trip to Turkey and then making half a dozen recipes from my first ever Cookbook of the Month selection (Turkish Fire) I think it’s safe to say I’ve now had my share of Turkish food and am good for a while (unless you present me with a plate of manti, those I can’t ever turn down). So when it came time to selecting a new cookbook, a new culinary region/country to explore, I debated between two. The first option was The Elote Cafe Cookbook, the name of course coming from the famed restaurant in Sedona, Arizona. I didn’t get to eat there when I visited but I did pick up the cookbook and made only two recipes from it (thus far), shrimp chilaquiles and quesadillas de costilla (both excellent by the way). The second was The Cooking of Southwest France by famed chef and cookbook author Paula Wolfert. From this cookbook I had only ever tried one recipe (and never blogged about it) so it seemed like the perfect pick.
I know what you’re thinking, French food? How unoriginal, I thought you were all about the ethnic food? Like, where’s the Burmese cookbook selection? Well, the thing about French food is that no one label accurately defines it. France (for Europe) is a massive country comprising many different regions and cultures and you guessed it, each region has its own unique culture. This is especially the case in southwest France, home to the French side of Basque country which has an extremely unique/nothing like it culture. So lest you think I’ll just be sharing recipes for coq au vin, bœuf bourguignon, and onion soup (and fyi, in France there’s no “French), think again.
I won’t lie, some of the recipes found in The Cooking of Southwest France are on the more involved/time-consuming side like the Walnut Tart from Masseube and the Traditional Confit of Duck (super intensive). But in making my selections (done in advance), I found four varied, not too complicated, and tasty ones. God willing I’ll be making all four-a soup, an entree, a vegetarian entree, and a dessert.
I actually did visit southwest France on my first trip to Europe, back at the tender and not at all palate-refined age of 18. The village of St. Jean-de-Luz left no impression on me whatsoever (sorry Cézanne) but I did particularly enjoy the seaside town of Biarritz, a popular vacation spot for European royalty back in the day. It’s an area, like many, I’d like to return to for another shot and more importantly, delve into the local cuisine.
For the first recipe I tried, I went the soup route (it is January in western Pennsylvania after all). I opted for a squash soup since squash anything is a favorite of mine, but especially in a creamy state. I had to tweak the croutes quite a bit-my supermarket only sold diced proscuitto (why it looks different in the photos) mais c’est la vie, they still tasted good. The recipe made a large amount so it’s perfect for a family meal and would freeze well too.
Autumn Squash Soup with Country Ham and Garlic Croutes (Crème de Potiron)
Recipe adapted from The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert
1 1/2 to 2 pounds butternut, kaboch, or buttercup squash
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup half and half
Pinch of red pepper
2 1/2 ounces Serrano ham or prosciutto, minced
6 thin slices of stale baguette
2 tablespoons fresh or dried chives
-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wash the squash, halve lengthwise, and lay cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake about 30 minutes, until soft. Turn the squash over, turn off the heat, and let the squash finish cooking and browning in the hot, turned-off oven for 10 minutes longer. Remove the squash and let stand until cool enough to handle. Scoop out the seeds and cut away the skin; discard.
-Meanwhile, heat the oil and half the butter in a heavy 4-quart pot over moderately low heat. Add the onion, potatoes, and garlic and slowly cook the vegetables until soft and pale golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the chicken broth and simmer for 30 minutes.
-Scrape the roasted squash into a blender or food processor. Add a few tablespoons of the hot soup broth and puree until velvet-smooth. Working in batches, puree the contents of the pot. Season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon to taste. Add the half and half and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
-In a medium skillet, heat the remaining butter with a pinch each of black pepper and hot pepper. Add the prosciutto and the rounds of bread and saute over moderately high heat until slightly crisp, about 2 minutes. Generously rub the bread with the remaining garlic. Serve the soup garnished with the ham, toasted bread, and chives.