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Rustic Roasted Tomato Soup

Tomato season isn't over yet, folks!  It may officially be the start of the Fall season, but locally-grown heirloom tomatoes are still filling the produce shelves (and, thankfully, arriving by the bagful in our CSA share!).  We won't have these bright, meaty, wonderful fruits much longer, so now is the time to get your fill while they are still here!
To make the soup, I generously coated the tomatoes with olive oil and roasted them until the skins started to split and the flesh softened.  This not only makes them quick and easy to peel but it also adds an extra depth of flavor to the dish.  I also used plenty of little Colorado-grown butterball potatoes, unpeeled.  I like the extra flavor and texture that the potato skin gives to the soup, but if you want a less "rustic" version you can use peeled potatoes.  I served this alongside an onion bagel with a mixture of shredded, fresh mozzarella and Fruition Farms sheep's milk ricotta (one of my absolute favorite locally-made cheeses and a must-try ingredient available at Marczyk Fine Foods).  The whole thing was melted and toasted under the broiler and then topped with a little extra parsley.  Now that's a "grilled cheese and tomato soup" meal that I can get behind!

Rustic Roasted Tomato Soup
serves 6

2 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes
8 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 T olive oil, plus more for roasting
1 yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 lbs small potatoes (fingerling, butterball, etc.)
2 jalapenos, minced
2 T tomato paste
2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 425.  Generously coat tomatoes and garlic cloves with olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet.  Roast until tomatoes soften and skins lightly brown, about 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool until they are ready to handle.  Gently peel the skin from each tomato and squeeze the garlic cloves from their skins.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot over medium-high and add olive oil.  Add onions and saute until they soften, about 5 minutes.  Add potatoes and jalapenos and cook another minute.  Add tomato paste, stock, peeled tomatoes and garlic cloves and bring soup to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes.  Use a potato masher (or a food processor, if desired) to break apart the potatoes and tomatoes until a thick, chunky mixture results.  Generously season with salt and pepper and serve hot, topping each serving with a little of the fresh parsley.


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Classic Chili

Every home cook needs at least one great chili recipe in their arsenal.  It's the ultimate comfort food - hearty and wholesome with tons of flavor and universally crowd-pleasing.

This chili was inspired by all the beautiful organic beans that we have been getting from our Grant Family Farms CSA share.  I used the mixed black and pinto beans we got this week and some of the kidney beans from last week, which is a pretty classic trio of legumes for chili.  I like the color and texture that results from this combination, but just about any bean you have laying around in your pantry will do!

I used 100% grass-fed beef and Niman Ranch pork to make the meal a little more special (we don't eat a lot of meat in this house, after all!) but this chili is quite flavorful and delicious without the meat, too.  I love topping each serving with lots of fresh cilantro and queso fresco.  Use whatever toppings you like best - some might prefer a good aged cheddar and red onions or a heaping spoonful of sour cream and green onions.  The best thing about chili is, it's easy to make it your own!

Classic Chili
serves 6
3 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups mixed beans (I used pinto, black, and kidney), rinsed and picked through
1 can whole San Marzano tomatoes
6 cups vegetable or beef stock
1 T chili powder
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp Mexican oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
1 T tomato paste
salt & pepper
1 pound grass-fed ground beef
1 pound ground pork

Optional garnishes:
Cilantro and queso fresco
Aged cheddar and diced red onions
Sour cream and sliced green onions

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high.  Add onions and cook until lightly browned, about 7 minutes.  Add garlic and cook an additional 30 seconds, or until fragrant.  Add beans, the liquid from the can of tomatoes, and increase heat to high.  Crush the whole tomatoes by hand in large, rustic chunks and add to the pot along with the herbs, spices and tomato paste.  Stir well and allow mixture to come to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and allow to simmer until beans start to become tender, about 1 1/2 hours. 

Meanwhile, heat a large shallow pan over medium-high.  Add ground beef and pork and break apart with a flat-ended wooden spoon.  Cook meat until lightly browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes.  Once cooked, drain the fat from the meat in a colander.  Add to chili.

Continue to simmer the chili with the meat until beans reach desired level of tenderness - for slightly al dente, cook another 30 minutes.  Season well with salt and pepper and serve with garnishes.

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Curried Spinach and Cilantro Soup

The spinach recipes continue!  

This is a perfect meal for a scorching summer day.  The creamy texture of coconut milk and pureed potato and the mellow sweetness of spinach pair nicely with the cooling, almost stringent taste of cilantro and tangy lime to make a decidedly light and refreshing soup .  Use your favorite Thai-style curry powder or curry paste and make sure to adjust the salt level at the end of the cooking process so as not to over-season.  I like to garnish with a healthy handful of cilantro leaves to really give the soup a bright, vibrant flavor.

Curried Spinach and Cilantro Soup
serves 4-6

2 1/2 T butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 garlic scapes, chopped
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 can light coconut milk
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1 1/2 T Thai curry powder
5 cups tightly-packed spinach leaves, tough stems removed
1 cup cilantro stems (about 1/2 a bunch)
Juice of 2 limes
salt and pepper, to taste
cilantro leaves

Heat butter in a large pot over medium-high until melted.  Lower heat, slightly, and add onions.  Saute until tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic scapes and potatoes and cook until scapes are fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add coconut milk, water, and curry powder and bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

When potatoes are fork-tender, add spinach leaves and cilantro stems and stir until leaves are wilted and soft, about 5 minutes.  Using an immersion blender (or a food processor, in two batches) puree soup until smooth and creamy.  Season with salt and pepper, stir well, and remove from heat.  Add lime juice and stir to combine.  Serve soup hot with a handful of cilantro leaves in each bowl, to garnish.



"Sesame Three Ways" Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup

This recipe is one of those happy accidents that results from a combination of two things:  a half-empty fridge and a total lack of desire to go grocery shopping.  I had a whole bunch of carrots and sweet potatoes (don't ask me why) and almost nothing else to work with - and it turns out that's really all you need! 

If you keep a well-stocked Asian pantry, this soup is totally dirt-cheap and easy to put together.  If not, I would highly recommend investing in all the Asian ingredients that are called for (including the garnishes) because they are great staples, are found in lots of different Asian dishes, and make this soup incredibly flavorful and unique.   The tahini not only adds good nutrition (sesame seeds are packed with good fats and protein!) but also gives the soup a thicker, creamier consistency.   The soy sauce adds that wonderful, mysterious umami flavor and a complex saltiness.  The drizzle of toasted sesame oil really brings out the pure flavor of sesame and adds a toasty nuttiness to the dish.  I used black sesame seeds as a finishing touch because they added one more layer of sesame flavor and they look really beautiful sprinkled on the soup, but blanched sesame seeds or toasted white sesame seeds would work just fine.  Lastly, Sriracha is a spicy, garlicky and totally multi-purpose condiment that adds a nice heat and extra depth of flavor to the soup.  I used about a tablespoon per serving for a medium-strength heat.  Use more Sriracha if you like your soup really spicy.

"Sesame Three Ways" Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup
serves 8

2 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 lbs Sweet Potatoes, peeled and diced
1 lb carrots, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup ginger, minced
1/4 cup mirin or white wine
8 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup tahini
2 T soy sauce

black sesame seeds
Sriracha sauce
toasted sesame oil

In a large pot over medium heat, saute the onions in olive oil until translucent, about 8 minutes.  Add potatoes, carrots and ginger and cook until ginger is fragrant, about two minutes.  Deglaze the pan with mirin, then add stock.  Raise the heat to high and bring liquid to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover pot and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally until potatoes and carrots are very tender, about 40 minutes.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, add a little of the hot liquid to the tahini and stir to dissolve.  Add mixture to soup and puree with an immersion blender until smooth and creamy.  Serve with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and a drizzle of oil and sriracha sauce to garnish



Delicata Squash and Pinto Stew

Whether you shop at the grocery store, the farmer's market, or the farm stand, (or all three!) you can't go anywhere without running into squash right now!  The best markets will already have a rather diverse selection, which might include kabocha, acorn, buttercup, delicata, butternut, spaghetti, and carnival squash.  All are wonderfully flavorful and nutritious, and each has it's own unique characteristics that make it special. 

The delicata squash may look rather unassuming next to the cute and colorful carnival squashes or the rustic, brightly-colored sunshine kabocha, but it is actually a wonderful little gourd!  Delicatas are small and yellow with green striping and are one of the easiest squashes to prepare raw because of their small, easy-to-manage size and their thinner skin.  Their flavor is rather mild and "delicate" compared to other varieties of winter squash.  The delicata blends well with other ingredients because of it's unassuming flavor but still lends that signature nutty-sweet flavor of squash to any dish.

This stew is a nice, easy weekday meal with a lot of the cooking time being inactive.  It is healthy yet hearty and quite inexpensive to put together, and makes great use of a lot of kitchen and pantry staples.  Since it has some distinctly mexican characteristics to it, I had a couple tortillas on the side (and for dipping!) to make it a nice, filling meal. 

Delicata Squash and Pinto Stew
Serves 6

2 T olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 celery rib, diced
1 Delicata squash, peeled, seeded and diced
1 large green pepper, seeded and diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1 1/2 cups dried pinto beans, cooked
about 6 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 T ground cumin
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp Mexican oregano
salt and pepper to taste
Tortillas, to eat alongside the stew (optional)

In a large soup pot over medium heat, add olive oil.  Add onions and celery and cook until onions are soft and lightly browned, about 6 minutes.  Add squash and peppers and cook another five minutes.  Add garlic in the last minute.  Deglaze pan with white wine and allow liquid to reduce for about two minutes.  Add pinto beans, stir well, then add enough vegetable stock to just cover all the vegetables.  Bring liquid to a boil, then add spices.  Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer until fragrant and slightly thickened, at least 20 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and serve with warmed tortillas on the side.

Optional step:  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup for about a minute so that there are still lots of diced vegetables