This weekend we had some friends over for dinner, and I couldn’t decide what to make. If you know me, this will come as no surprise, because you probably know I am the most indecisive person on the face of the earth. I also like to exaggerate. I get this from my Mom. (Hi, Mom). Sometimes when we have people over for dinner I really want to make some big, elaborate recipe so I can impress them with my cooking. But I also just really enjoy hosting. I like feeding people a deliciously satisfying, home cooked, vegetarian meal. However, I did not have the energy for going all out and making six different things, so in the end I ended up making — you guessed it — soup. One of the simplest and most delicious meals I can think of is soup and bread. It doesn’t get much better than that. I love slathering my bread with butter (well, actually, we use Earth Balance, which is so delicious, and perfectly vegan, and tastes just as good as real butter), and dipping it in my soup. Mmmmmmm….
We had some butternut squash from the farmers market, so I decided to make a recipe that I made a million times last fall. It is super easy and super delicious. Not a lot of ingredients required, not too much peeling and chopping, and doesn’t take long to cook. Perfect, right?
I also made a simple no-knead bread to go with it. Now, if you’ve never made bread before, don’t be intimidated. Before I made bread, I thought only professional bakers made their own bread. Nonsense. I found this ridiculously easy recipe last year on Steamy Kitchen. Anyone can make bread. You do, however need a large covered pot (at least 5 qt.) that can withstand 450° temps for this recipe. I think a dutch oven is best. You could go spend hundreds of dollars on a pretty Le Creuset, or you could run on over to Target and buy a 5 qt. cast iron dutch oven for $35. That’s what I have, and I have to tell you, as much as I love Le Creuset’s fun colors, I don’t think it’s worth the extra bucks. Mine works just great.
Now that I’ve finished advertising for Target, let’s get to the cooking. First the soup. I got this recipe from the cookbook Clean Food by Terry Walters, and added a couple of things to modify it. This is a great cookbook, and a good guide for seasonal eating.
Apple Squash Soup (serves 8-10)
1 large butternut squash (or 2 packages of peeled & chopped squash from Trader Joe’s, which makes life way easier)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
4 large apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup rice milk (or any unflavored milk alternative. I used plain almond milk)
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
About 1 Tbsp. curry powder (optional)
About 1 Tbsp. brown sugar (optional)
Sea Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste (optional)
Peel squash, cut in half, and remove seeds. Cut into 2 inch pieces.
In large pot (at least 6 qt.) over medium heat, sauté onion in oil until soft (about 5 minutes). Add squash, apples, stock, rice milk, coconut milk, and nutmeg. Cover, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until squash is soft. Remove from heat to cool slightly. Add salt, curry, brown sugar, and pepper. Puree with handheld blender.
The original recipe did not include the curry, brown sugar, or pepper, but I found the soup the tiniest bit on the bland side. I felt like it could use some extra flavor. The curry gives it just the right kick, while the brown sugar sweetens it up a bit. FYI — I estimated on the amounts I added, so don’t feel like you need to go by those too strictly. I just kept adding and tasting until I thought I got the flavors right. The end result is a beautiful, smooth soup, perfect for a chilly fall night.
Quick and easy, right? On to the bread. The bread may be easy, but it’s certainly not quick. It will take a little bit more planning on your end. You can’t decide to do it last minute, because the dough really needs to sit overnight. If you’re planning on having it for dinner the next day, my advice is to mix the dough before you go to bed (It takes all of 2 minutes). That way, you can time it so that it’s fresh and warm from the oven for dinner the next night.
3 cups bread flour (you can use all-purpose flour but bread flour will get you better results)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt (or 3/4 Tbsp of kosher salt)
1 1/2 cups warm water
Covered pot (five-quart or larger cast iron, Pyrex, ceramic, enamel…something that can go into a 450° F oven.)
1. The night before, combine all ingredients in a big bowl with a wooden spoon, until the dough just comes together. If you want to add any dried herbs to flavor your bread (basil, rosemary, oregano, etc.) you can add those here, too. I’m not sure if it would make a huge difference, but if I’m using fresh herbs (or cheese), I wait to add them in the next step. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 12-20 hours.
2. After sitting overnight, the dough will be wet, sticky, and bubbly. With a wet spatula or wet hands, dump the dough on a floured surface. Nudge the dough into a ball shape. Make sure you keep your hands or spatula wet so the dough doesn’t stick. If you want to add in any fresh chopped herbs (I used rosemary) to flavor your bread, you can add that in here. You can basically add in anything you want to flavor your bread. I’ve done little chunks of parmesan cheese, fresh rosemary, fresh ground pepper… Use your imagination. The bread will taste amazing with or without the added flavor.
After you’ve mixed in your herbs, etc., generously dust a cotton towel (not terrycloth) with flour and set the dough down onto it. Fold towel over the dough and let sit for 2 hours. You can leave it on the countertop if you want a flatter loaf, or you can put it into a bowl with high sides if you want the dough to rise a little more. When you’ve got about a half hour left on your clock, stick your covered (empty) pot into the oven and preheat to 450° F.
3. After your 2 hours is completely up, uncover your dough. It should have doubled in size.
Remove the pot from the oven, and dump the dough in the pot. You will need to use your fingers to get the dough completely un-stuck from the towel. Cover the pot, and back in the oven it goes. Bake for 30 minutes. Now, uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes until you have a beautiful golden-brown crust. Let cool on a wired rack before serving.
Enjoy it warm and buttered, right along with your soup.