Autumn came unceremoniously to Wisconsin - as it often does. There were a couple of "transition" weeks thrown in there where it rained and got a little cooler but, for the most part, it was summer one day and not-summer the next.
This season is bittersweet. I hate that summer is over because I love the sun and the warmth and the activity. Plus, the end of summer means that winter - my most hated season - is just around the corner. (Argh!) But there's something lovely about autumn too. The crisp feeling in the air. The smell of crumbly leaves. Wrapping up in a favorite sweater. And, for me, the return of comforting soups.
Now, don't get me wrong - I eat soup year round. I'm a huge fan of cold soups in the summer with Cold Cucumber Soup being my favorite. But there's something so nest-y and "mom" about a good, solid hot soup that I think of autumn and the subsequent unmentionable season as the seasons for this particular food.
There's also a nice dovetail with soup and the dreaded "garden clearing." The last of the tomatoes (which look kind of puny), the overgrown and flowering basil/fennel/oregano/etc., the squash, etc. all need to be dealt with. They're generally not nice enough to stand alone at this point so they need to be cooked into some lovely concoction and soup is the perfect vehicle.
Coincidentally, Bon Appetite Magazine's September edition has a really nice article about a woman who taught herself to cook by making soups. It's a fun story and I recommend it for both the treatise on soups and the provided recipes.
So, to kick off your autumn the right way, make a big pot of soup this week! Here are a couple of recipes to get you started. One uses up the last of the garden and the other is a fast and easy soup created from canned beans. Enjoy!
Squash & Tomato Soup
3-4 large tomatoes or the equivalent in medium to small tomatoes, skin & seeds removed, chopped
4-6 cups of various cubed summer squashes (eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, etc)
1/2 a large onion diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, diced
2-3 T olive oil
Basil, oregano, thyme, (or Italian-blend seasoning) to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste
(optional: diced bell pepper; kale; spinach; cabbage)
Heat soup pot on medium to medium-high heat. Add olive oil. Saute onion until translucent. Add garlic and saute for one minute. Add chopped squash. Saute for a few minutes - until squash is a bit soft. Add chopped tomatoes. Stay with the pot, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down enough to make a broth. If your tomatoes don't have enough juice to make a broth, add a small can or two of diced tomatoes with their juices. Add your herbs. Once the consistency is sort of stew-like, lower heat to simmer and cover. Let it cook for thirty minutes or so and check that the squash is done. As soon as you're happy with the consistency, salt, pepper, and cheese to taste. Serve hot with a cheese to sprinkle on top.
This is the base soup. You can add many different veggies to this (see "optional"). Any vegetables you add, just saute for a bit before you put the tomatoes in. Common sense says that harder veggies (eggplant, carrots, celery, etc) should cook a little longer. Softer veggies like spinach and summer squash need less time to cook so plan your sauteing accordingly. :)
Three Bean Soup
2-3 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small head of green cabbage, chopped
2 cans of garbanzo beans
2 cans of canellini beans
2 cans of black beans
Stock (preferably vegetable) to cover
1 Bay leaf (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Sautee the onion in the olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add cabbage and stir well to coat cabbage with oil/onion mixture. Cook until cabbage is wilted and a little soft. Add the beans and mix well. Cover with stock – I use vegetable stock but chicken is also good. The use of vegetable stock means no additional fat is added to the soup. Add bay leaf and salt if desired. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for one hour. I usually cover it to ensure less splatter but if you simmer uncovered, the soup will boil down a bit and be thicker.