Squash Soup and Veggie Frenzie

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If you’ve read my previous post, this (the above photo) is what I ended up making with the squash/pumpkin I had bought at the market.  I made soup.  The soup is utterly vegetarian and, if you eschew the grated parmigiano at the end, it is most definitely vegan too.  If you are interested in the recipe and want to skip my meanderings, please scroll straight down to where it says “Ingredients”.

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I defy anyone to have not reacted even in some minimal way to Megan and Harry’s bolt from the blue statement a few days ago.  I don’t usually watch the news much but even I found myself glued to various TV programmes prying into the story and trying to navigate what ‘really’ is going  with the couple and the British monarchy.   I did find it terribly rude of them to make the announcement without forewarning granny Elisabeth beforehand.  Then it turns out they actually did but only minutes before they went media public? What is at the bottom of wanting to dash off and do their own thing, with their own website ?(Sussexroyal.com doesn’t sound very royal at all to me, but it is catchy I suppose.)

Anyway, discussing the events with friends and family, what stood out for me in the end is that … the world is changing.  Has changed.  Will change.

If the only constant is indeed change, as hindu/buddhist traditions have been banging on about for centuries, with modern physics following in hot pursuit, how are we to accommodate constance and continuity, instead, without turning into paper cut-out doll versions of ourselves, stiff pinocchio-like wooden puppets, as opposed to heart-and-guts living, thinking, loving bodies and people/souls?  Let’s face it, not many people embrace change lock, stock and barrel and most of us rather fear it when it’s thrown in our face, even more so when it’s not our choice number one.  Very often because it means we have to reinvent ourselves, and that can be somewhat tedious when there are so many other important matters to be dealt with on a daily basis.  Like waking up in the morning, brushing our teeth,  looking after people, remembering to throw the rubbish/recycling out, dealing with a boring job, dealing with having to find a job,  dealing with a difficult partner, dealing with living solo after a broken relationship, dealing with people who have not had the benefit of good manners incorporated in their upbringing.  All that and more.

One of the reasons I love cooking and eating so much, I believe, is not just animal appetite and greediness or sensual satisfaction.   I think it is a quasi therapeutic exercise for me – my byline for this blog is “good food to put you in the mood”, remember?  In the mood for what? Well, that depends.  Sometimes we are upbeat, sometimes melancholy, sometimes melodramatic, sometimes quiet, sometimes musical, sometimes sexy, sometimes gossipy, on occasion silly  billy full of love – it’s easy to run the whole gamut and range of human moods via food and eating.  For food is indeed life.  There are no two ways about it.  No-food equals starvation equals diseased  bodies equals death.

And food can also equal fads.  Is it just me who sees the irony in how we all seem to be so preoccupied with our health in an era when the human lifespan is getting longer and longer thanks to better living conditions, access to food and improved medical health care.  It is sometimes nose-scrunchingly puzzling to understand just why, why?, these food fads continue to burst forth.  Fashion I suppose, maybe.  Refreshment?  Seasons are the refreshments of the world we live in, of our days, a reminder of change being unrelenting but reassuring too.  So it may well be that the same old food recipes can strike people as stagnant and very boring, same ol’, same ol’, same ol’.

My sister and I were talking along these lines a few days ago, nice glasses of Frascati wine to keep us going, as we took some of our reveries to task.  And since we both love cooking, and easy recipes in particular, the subject touched upon vegan recipes.  Neither of us is a vegan.  And I would be the world’s biggest fibber if I said that vegans hadn’t irritated me in the beginning.  Whilst the ethos of not hurting animals is obviously laudable, there was a lot of holier-than-thou preaching and even religious-like intensity in conversion that I found distasteful.  Dietary rectitude.  One of the more tiresome (for me) offshoots of veganism was the rebranding of recipes and dishes that had been around for ever as being ‘vegan’.  “Vegan lentils”, for instance. Since when had lentils not been vegan?  Don’t get me started on gluten- free commercial homogenising, either, with labels that are utter nonsense, such as “gluten free rice”.  Seriously?  “Vegan burgers” was another one. A burger is supposed to be made with meat otherwise it is a patty.  Why desire to keep the name of a food that you vociferously want to eschew from your diet on the grounds of ethics?

I continue to think that it is not a healthy way to eat (Vitamin B12, for instance, is hard enough for vegetarians to assimilate let alone vegans).  Veganism is so often presented as a dietary nostrum.   Not convinced.  I also believe that one cannot disregard biology and evolutionary history (https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/food/debunking-a-few-myths-about-meat-eating-and-vegetarianism).

I do think that we should all be more mindful of how animals are treated from start to finish, from how they are raised to when and how they are slaughtered.  And if there are countless articles on how modern cattle rearing is cause for much of the world’s travails, it is also true that farm animals raised ‘properly’ really do contibute to the health of the soil which will then be able to produce lots of nice veggies and cereals for us.  Read the following The Guardian article:  “Intensively farmed meat and dairy are a blight, but so are fields of soya and maize. ”  Also: unless you’re sourcing your vegan products specifically from organic, “no-dig” systems, you are actively participating in the destruction of soil biota, promoting a system that deprives other species, including small mammals, birds and reptiles, of the conditions for life, and significantly contributing to climate change.” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/25/veganism-intensively-farmed-meat-dairy-soya-maize)

This is, as we all know, a contentious subject and one that I don’t have time for within the context of this blog post, not in the detail it deserves.   Why?  Because it’s bloody complicated, that’s why.  There are too many considerations to take into account.  The bottom line, however, as far as I am concerned is the following one.  Would I be able to slaughter a cow, say, or a pig or a lamb?  And the answer is no.  So there you go … I have to admit that there is some kind of double-standard to my reasoning on food choices.  I have gone fishing and done that.  I come from a family that went hunting/shooting for little birds and remember my grandmother plucking their feathers, and their little dangling heads.  Still, even if I knew how to shoot, I don’t think I would enjoy killing lots of birds.   I am able to eat snails, and have bought them live.  I saw my grandmother kill a chicken when I was little.  It didn’t seem to bother me then.  But I don’t think I would be able to.  And yet I continue to eat chicken, and duck, and lamb, and pork, and beef.  All of which leads me to think that who knows? in the future? Change, as I wrote at the beginning of this post, is inexorably on its way.  I might indeed end up being vegetarian.  But not vegan.  I have no qualms over good quality milk, cheese, eggs and honey.

All this to say that … despite not being vegetarian or vegan … I am absolutely obsessed with vegetables.  It is the reason why I define myself as a vegetarian who eats a lot of meat.  I can easily skip meat or fish at a meal but I definitely cannot …. will not … skip vegetables.  “And by the way, I do think veganism is here to stay, ” my sister said the other night as we delved into some vegan recipes she was looking into.

Bring it on say I.  I live in a country where so many people, in the not so distant past, had to be vegans pretty much because there was little else for them to eat.  Meat was out of the question, only for the very rich.  Some fish maybe.  A little cheese too.  But for the rest, only vegetables and cereals.  The cuisines of the Middle East, Persia, the Indian Subcontinent and the Far East are chock-a-block full of vegan recipes.  I think that veganism, or at least a version of veganism,  has been around for a long time only perhaps we weren’t aware of this.

So … Happy New Year everyone.  Enjoy your vegetables and cereals!  And, say I, also your milk, cream, butter, cheeses and eggs.  Try and help the cause for the better treatment of animals.

Last, please remember that some animals are human animals.  There is a lot of human trafficking where vegetables are concerned.   Immigrant workers in Sicily,  is just an example, bringing us the joy of delicious tomato varieties at a terrible cost to them. K

Kindness for all.  The little we can do, let us do.

INGREDIENTS: squash, onion, garlic, olive oil, salt, peppercorns, nutmeg, parsely, freseh sage leaves, parmigiano/parmesan

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Squash or pumpkin.  Cut it up and remove the skin.

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Drizzle plenty of olive oil into the pot and brown a roughly chopped onion for a few minutes.  This happens to be a small pressure-cooker.  I think they are brilliant when it comes to soups.  I also included a few peppercorns and plenty of salt when I later added the cut up squash.

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Next it was time for parsely and sage leaves.

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A little bit of garlic, too, why not and a good twist of nutmeg.

16Pour in the amount of water that’s required.

17Pressure cook the soup for … oh gosh, sorry, I can’t remember.  I was busy with other stuff.  Ahem, er … let’s say twenty minutes?

18Once it’s safe for you to open the lid of the pressure cooker, do so and then blend all the ingredients.  It was a bit too thick at this stage, so I added a little more water.  I tasted it, and had to add a bit more salt too.

19A snowstorm of freshly grated parmesan/parmigiano and Bob’s your uncle.  No cheese and you are veganic.

Silver spoon optional.

Vegetables Va Va Voom

Hello there, how are you all getting over the recent festivities and what usually accompanies them?  You know what I mean – that extra pound or two as we weigh up the situation on the scales, the liver sensibly asking for some respite from tipple-mania, and the body aching to be involved in a modicum of movement and fitness.   Yes, it is very good to overindulge every now and then, to allow our hair to cascade down, to increment the variety of spices in our life and to let two of the Seven Cardinal Sins, gluttony and sloth, out of the moral no-no box in which we justly allocate them the rest of the year.  My mother-in-law Maria’s mental health is  fast degenerating on account of dementia/Alzheimers with all the sadness that that entails for all concerned, not least of which are the ‘missing’ wit and quips in her conversation.  If there were to be just one sentence I would love to hear her utter again then that would be, “Lord save us from the virtuous !”.

That said, one does have to be sensible.  I can’t stand the term ‘detox’ but I’m presuming a large swathe of post-holidays revellers are embracing it full on.

Last Saturday I went to Frascati’s weekly Slow Food (local) farmers’ market as well as to the town’s covered market which is open six days a week, and it was as if I couldn’t get enough of the vegetables on offer.  I went quite beserk, and came home laden like a mule with bags hanging from both shoulders and being carried in both hands.  It’s not a long walk from these markets to where I live but it was quite the haul, I assure you and not very comfortable.  As I took out the vegetables out of the bags, I could see that I had perhaps … ahem … erred on the side of vegetable excess (can’t think of the Cardinal Sins’ name for that one) ?  I made myself some squash soup for lunch and as I went about my way, I fell into a reverie of sorts.

We all know vegetables are healthy and good for us.  But really, I do love love love me veggies – there wasn’t a hint of ‘detox’ notion clouding my purchase – it was sheer lust (another Cardinal sin) that drove me.  Vegetables make me happy, you see.  As does wine.  And so my thoughts flitted about being  vegetarian and vegan in our contemporary times.  Again, I came to the conclusion I’ve had for a while, which is that I am an omnivore with a twist: I am a vegetarian who eats lots of meat, fish and dairy foods.  But I can easily eschew meat or fish at a meal whereas I simply cannot contemplate one without vegetables.  I started writing a post along these lines yesterday but it ‘degenerated’ and got to be so long that I am going to post it separately.

Here, in the meantime, just take a look at all my lovely vegetables from last Saturday’s morning shop.  The exercise included walking and weights so well done I.

6Radishes … mmm.  My sister made a herring based paté to serve with them (it included yogurt, thick Italian spreadable cheese, freshly grated horse radish, lemon juice and zest, parsely and olive oil.  We tweaked the recipe from one of Jamie Oliver’s TV ones that was made using smoked mackerel instead.

1Artichokes are coming into their own season-wise just now.  We had these three beauties for dinner last night, cooked the classic Roman way.  See link below.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/edible-roses-the-seasonally-correct-artichoke-1/

7Spuds.  We got these for our mother.

IMG_6186Thinly cut, lots of olive oil, dried chilli flakes, and salt and pepper.  This is how we cooked them that evening.

4The garlic bulbs  (Italian, from the Abbruzzo region) were for my sister to take back to Blighty.  It’s hard to find good garlic in the UK.  The fennel is still in the fridge, as is the  bunch of spring onions.  That yellow thing is a bergamot.  I’d never seen one before. Smells heavenly.  Tasted the zest and it was overpowering, fwah.  The apple I ate after lunch.  The red pepper: we griddled it and had it for dinner with olive oil, parsely and thin slices of garlic.  Up top in the photo and hard to make out, is some lamb’s lettuce and a small bunch of rocket/arugula.

8These are what we call ‘broccoletti’ in and around Rome.  Broccoli Rabe or Rapini elsewhere.   I’d trimmed them of the bits that are not nice to eat and left them to soak in this cheerful yellow tub.  Later I boiled them in salted water until tender.  Once drained and cooled, they need to be pressed to remove the excess moisture.  They can be served either plain, with just a squirt of lemon juice and olive oil (which is how we enjoyed them).  Or else, they can be cooked a second time in a frying pan, tossed about and coated in olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes.  Here’s a link to a quick pasta recipe using broccoletti:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/hurry-up-pasta/

10This is what we call cicoria – pronounced chee-corr-eee-ah in English.

11It’s a bit of a labour of love trimming cicoria.  It too needs soaking in plenty of water before cooking.  There is always some soil attached to it that needs removing.

The link below will show you what I did with this cicoria, after boiling it first.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/cichorium-intybus/

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The above vegetable is “Cicoria catalogna”, another variety of cicoria.  During this time of year, this veggie gets trimmed and turned into a beautiful salad.  We call this “puntarelle”  here.  The dressing includes the ubiquitous olive oil, plus garlic, vinegar and anchovy fillets.  Quote from wikipedia: Puntarelle or cicoria di catalogna or cicoria asparago is a variant of chicory. The heads are characterized by an elongated shape (about 40–50 cm), light green stems and dandelion shaped leaves. ‘Puntarelle’ shoots have a pleasantly bitter taste.

Our Christmas Eve wouldn’t be the same without them.  Anyway, see a link on how to prepare them:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/little-points-big-salad-puntarelle/

2This broccolo romano is still in the fridge.

3Ditto this cabbage.

12And last and definitely not least, here is some of othe squash I used to make myself some soup as already mentioned.

Here is wishing you all a happy vegetable-filled year.