Winter is coming. And I'm not just saying that as a Game of Thrones fan. With the early sunsets and icy breezes, winter is always a great time for soup, but soup is unfortunately not typically regarded as haute cuisine. I wanted to try to make a soup that would put some excitement back on the dinner table. People may appreciate chicken noodle, but it doesn't usually elicit oohs and ahs. I also wanted to find a way to feature pumpkin, as it's the signature produce of October, without falling prey to the ubiquitous assault of pumpkin spice (insert noun). Eventually, I found my way to a Spanish stew named Berza de Calabaza. Many sources list this as an Andalusian specialty, though the recipe I settled on as a base template employs a Catalan ingredient in picada: an almost pesto-like blend of toasted bread, almonds, and garlic, as a thickener. Between the pumpkin, picada, and beans, this makes an extremely hearty winter stew to warm the toes, stick to the ribs, and lift the spirit.
|Soaking away the blues|
The original recipe I started with required several pots and pans and employed far more steps than necessary. I simplified things a bit, lightly trimming ingredients (the pears of the original seemed, to me, affected and overly sweet) and arranging it so that everything can be prepared with only a baking sheet, food processor, and stockpot. If you don't have a mortar and pestle for grinding saffron threads, use a saucer and the back of a spoon. The finished soup is heady with the flavors of garlic, paprika, and saffron, and boasts a blazing display of autumnal colors, accented by the brilliant green of haricot vert. Serve by heaping ladlefuls in heated bowls and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
Berza de calabaza (Spanish pumpkin stew)
Adapted from Williams Sonoma
If you're planning for leftovers, batch the soup base after cooking in the picada and add the pumpkin and green beans only when freshly heating it. Exposing them to heat for too long (like cooking once, cooling, and reheating) will cause the pumpkin to abandon all structural integrity and rob the green beans of their vibrant color. Serves 8.
Pick over the chickpeas and beans for any small stones and discolored or misshapen beans (which are probably also stones), rinse well, and set aside in a bowl full of plenty of cool water to soak overnight.
Drain chickpeas and beans and warm the first two tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy stock pot over medium-high heat.
Add onions and chorizo to the pot and cook until the onions are translucent. Add the paprika, saffron-salt, and tomatoes and cook until warmed through and fragrant, then stir in the stock and bring to a low boil.
Add the beans, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer the soup, uncovered and stirring frequently, for about an hour.
|Pork fat rules|
While the soup cooks, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and toss the almonds, bread, and garlic on a baking sheet with the remaining olive oil. Bake until toasted to a light golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.
Pour the almonds, bread, and garlic into a food processor and pulse into a fine paste, much like pesto, while streaming in the sherry. The mixture will be very thick.
|Toasted to perfection|
Once the beans are tender, stir in the bread mixture, pumpkin, and green beans. Continue to simmer for another 15 minutes, until the soup has thickened and the vegetables are tender. Serve immediately.
This post is also available in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette.