Paprika-Spiced Roasted Acorn Squash Soup with Feta

When I get an idea for a recipe I invariably to want to try it out S.T.A.T. I don’t really care how seasonally-appropriate the recipe is, or whether I have the ingredients on hand. I’ve just GOT to make it happen. This isn’t to say I feel the recipe is particularly brilliant or inventive (my genetic predisposition toward self-deprecation precludes such thoughts), or even that it will be successful (i.e. edible). Rather I’ll get a really strong hankering for a particular combination of flavours or textures.

Something along these lines occurred earlier this evening, as I stood before an open fridge in search of a snack that would quell a craving for something salty-sweet. I glanced about until my eyes met with a jar of stuffed manzanilla olives. From there I moved to the cupboard and took out a box of Honeycomb cereal, and proceeded to munch (somewhat aggressively) on mouthfuls of each. Pretty gourmet, I know! Living in an RV  – even more so than being pregnant – seems to have given me the green light to eat foods that have no business being consumed together. While my recipes are slightly more palatable and evolved (I hope!) than creating a post-dinner morsel out of a cocktail garnish and Mike’s children’s sugar cereal, the same desire for a specific flavour/texture combo is at play when a new recipe comes to mind.

Such was the case as I was bandying about ideas for this soup. First it was squash – prepared in the oven and made tasty with olive oil and seasoning – that came to mind. Never mind the fact that the Okanagan is scorching hot right now. Or that the nearest acorn squash was a 45 minute walk away. [You may have noticed that I always measure distance in terms of how far away something is on foot. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m in my mid-30s and have yet to learn how to drive. Maybe a little public self-dennouncement will serve as the motivation I need to get my license, seeing as nothing else seems to have worked!]. Nope, I was going to get that squash, and I was going to ROAST it, even if it meant the Gypsy Roller would be converted temporarily into something akin to a schvitz.

Just as that roasted squash came to mind, so did the feeling it was going to need something spicy to amp it up a bit. But not spicy-spice per se (think Charo)… I was leaning toward more of a mellow, smokey heat (think Al Green), the kind which paprika – a staple in my spice collection – provides. Yes. And to counterbalance that heat? Some cheese, feta cheese – sprinkled atop the soup and allowed to melt a little  – a sizeable chunk of which was burning a hole in my fridge, along the components of a mire poix that would serve as the base for the soup. So getting my hands on that acorn squash was the only hurdle that needed to be cleared before my squashy-spicy-cheesey concoction could be realized. Not one to lollygag – I meant it when I said I make things happen fast when it comes to cooking – before the afternoon was up I had that evasive gourd in my hot little hand and was ready to have my way with it (so to speak).

Well maybe there was just one more obstacle. The oven. Ever since moving into the Gypsy Roller I’d avoided using it, recalling an off-putting discussion about a propane tank, a pilot light and a match during our training session on how to operate the RV. Such talk was enough to confine my cooking to the stove top, accustomed as I was to a conventional gas oven that worked the normal, easy and SAFE way (i.e. with the turn of a dial). But if this soup was going to get made, I was going to have to get over my anxiety and get the effing oven lit. So with Hunter sequestered at the other end of the RV lest a giant fireball billow forth, and with Mike as my guide (and potential means of transportation to the burn unit), I had a go with the pilot light and flame.

The anticlimactic end to this story is that the oven was lit entirely without incident. No singeing or scorching of hair, skin or clothing. No frantic groping and grappling for the fire extinguisher. Nothing! Maybe the world really is a safe place after all. And who knew that this gas-spewing little death machine would cook faster and more evenly than the fancy-pants convection oven at our old place in Vancouver. In the end the squash got the roasting it had coming to it – the Gypsy Roller became acutely hot for a time, as anticipated – and the soup recipe turned out to be a keeper. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with hot soup on a hot day (if you have a sadomasochist streak as I do), this one will taste great come Fall, too.

Recipe: Paprika-Spiced Roasted Acorn Squash Soup with Feta

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 small-ish acorn squash
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 4 cups vegetable stock (low sodium if preferred)
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Prepare squash: Preheat oven to 400F. Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Place squash halves skin-side down on baking sheet and drizzle each half with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with freshly ground black pepper and a bit of salt. Roast squash in oven for 50 minutes or until flesh is tender and caramelized. Remove from oven and set aside to cool (or put in fridge to speed up the process).

Prepare mire poix: While squash is cooling, in a large saucepan over medium heat, saute onion, celery and carrots in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until soft. Add minced garlic and saute just until golden brown. Add paprika, cumin and coriander and stir until spices coat other ingredients.

Finish soup: Once squash has cooled enough to handle, scoop flesh from skin and cut into small chunks. Add squash to saucepan and stir to combine with other ingredients. Add vegetable stock and bring saucepan to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and let soup simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. (You can also transfer soup to a conventional blender in small batches to puree). Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle feta on top of each serving. Eat!

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