Please allow this post to serve as an explanation of why I don’t harbor fantasies of working in a professional kitchen.
I could, with herculean effort, overcome the obvious: you know, better shape, willing to work nights and weekends for barely a living wage, more deference to authority, and, you know, the whole “punctual” thing. I could learn to endure the cuts and the bruises and the burn marks. I could even get used to the Hammer Pants.
This much should be obvious if you have been around a while: It’s all about the sloppy and the haphazard. In fact, It is often a small miracle that dinner even happens.
Now, I do precisely one thing with winter squash. Well, technically two things. I cube it, salt it, oil it, roast it. At this point, I either turn it into a soup, or I don’t. If I chose the former, it becomes Rosemary Squash Bisque, with a supporting cast of pork products, vegetable broth, rosemary, cream, and the tender ministrations of my Cuisinart.
And I LIKE this soup. Maybe because I so seldom cook with rosemary and really only do winter squash twice every three years. It’s always a surprise to taste something that seems both brand new and completely familiar. And each time, it just seems to get filed away until the ever-vague “next time.”
But this time… I thought about going a different way. At least for a garnish.
I am by no means a faddy person. And I have some misgivings about “molecular gastronomy,” But as soon as I started thinking about the squash soup I started thinking about converting it into spheres. The first iteration of the idea was to serve the soup as little caviar-like balls, alongside some kind of blini. Rosemary obviously pairs nicely with potato, and we eat caviar with… you know… so one thing kind of led to another.
But what SHOULD have happened next was several weeks of equipment sourcing (a better digital scale, for one), research, proof-of-concept analysis, and a slow, methodical escalation – different combinations of increasingly complex ingredients leading up to the “Main Event” this Sunday evening where everything goes exactly according to plan.
In other words, I’m not upset with myself that things didn’t turn out so well. In fact, after a few tries, it turned out better than I thought it might. The science basically held up: I submerged a liquid in a sodium aglinate solution and after a bath in calcium lactate, I kind of had a membrane and a gel. The creatures below owe their hue to grenadine, and the membrane DID contain the liquid just enough to create a small “burst” of flavor. And too much gel.
But I think it’s my typical problem, and maybe I’m just reading too much into things. I found myself this evening at a point where I look at my results and think, wow, that was an interesting idea, I think it would have turned out much better if you weren’t so sloppy. In this case, you know, not waiting until the last minute and measuring your ingredients out and MAYBE having some idea what you were going to do.
I mean, I need to make this taste right and then I need to make it look right I would have really liked for these to scream with flavor and for the bacon to be suspended inside and pick up just a ‘ding’ of resinous rosemary. Perhaps another time.
Oh, the soup:
Rosemary Squash Bisque
2 medium spaghetti squash
1/4 C salt pork or 2 strips bacon
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
2 cups milk or cream. Do not use soy. (Yes, I’ve tried it. Too cloying and sweet. – just omit the milk and you’ll have a hearty, tasty soup)
1 T rosemary, minced as fine as practical
Preheat oven to 425
First, prep the squash. Remove the top and bottom with a serrated knife in order to stabilize the squash, and then “saw” the rind off with a carefully considered mix of caution and violence. Use your chef’s knife to cleave the thing in two from top to bottom, and scoop out the guts with your melon baller. Chop the “flesh” into cubes. Repeat.
Place the sqash cubes in your roasting pan, along with “some” olive oil and a three-finger pinch of salt. Give it a quick stir, and roast for about 45 minutes, stirring two or three times along the way. The flesh should deepen in color, and you should see a little char around the edges. About like THIS:
At that point, sweat your salt pork (or bacon) over low heat in your soup vessel with the heat at medium-low. Once fat has rendered into the pan, remove the pork product and save for garnish.
Place the onions in the pan, stirring, and cook until translucent. Add the roasted squash, and stir for a moment.
Add the broth, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Add the milk, cream, and rosemary.
Dump the mixture (carefully!) into a food processor, and blitz until smooth. Garnish, tastefully or otherwise, and serve.
I don’t think Grant Achatz is going to be returning my calls anytime soon. As long as I have soup, I can live with that.