Real food, simple ingredients, and season as you go.
This was a constant theme during each meal and cooking experience we had in France. I was expecting loads of butter and cream on our trip. A few weeks before, I had been transitioning to a more plant-based diet. Knowing that I was going on the trip of a lifetime, I took a few deep breaths before boarding the flight to Paris and kept a favorite Julia Child quote in mind in mind; "If you're scared of butter, just use cream!” I was ready to fully embrace the lifestyle that Julia loved so much regardless of how much butter and cream I consumed while over there.
Much to my surprise, we didn't use more than a drop of cream and a pat of butter in our cooking classes. The French appreciate the food being prepared and find ways to enhance the natural flavor rather than diluting it with cream. They are also conscious of the nutritional value of food without making it too complicated like we do here. There was no mention of superfoods, gluten, or sugar; just a focus on eating real food, not too much, mostly plants (hey, Michael Pollen).
One of my favorite recipes was butternut squash soup. The ingredients were so basic, but it is a soup I have recreated numerous times since being home. We shopped at the market for our ingredients, prepared them simply, and tasted and seasoned as we went. There wasn't any cream or butter in this soup but it was so delicious, velvety, and perfect.
If you remember me telling you about our chef Benjamin, you know that he loves vegetables and loves teaching people how to cook. He gave us a great tip when learning to season our food. He suggested setting aside a small portion of whatever you are making (soup, in our case) and intentionally over-season it. Benjamin said that we will never know or perfect degree of seasoning until we've tasted something when it's over-seasoned. We would season, taste, and evaluate. Just like anything, learning to season food well takes time and practice. The only way to learn is to cook more! So whip out that apron and wooden spoon and get to work!
Butternut Squash Soup
Note: I used the vegetable scraps to make my own stock for this soup. If you choose to use store-bought broth, try to find and unsalted or low sodium version so you can control the seasoning at the end.
2-3 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 small butternut squash, peeled, halved, and seeds scooped out (save peels if making own stock)
1 onion, diced (save scraps of onion if making own stock)
1 large carrot, peeled and diced (save peels if making own stock)
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced (save peels if making own stock)
2 sprigs thyme
Water to make stock (see note)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper (I used a pepper we got in France that I talk about here)
Optional garnishes: roasted chestnuts, chives, balsamic vinegar
1. Add vegetable scraps to a medium pot of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer while preparing the rest of the soup.
2. Heat a large pot over medium heat, add oil. Next, add squash, onion, carrot, potatoes, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes until vegetables brown lightly.
3. Drain vegetable stock and discard peels. Add enough stock to just cover the vegetables. Cover pot and simmer over medium low heat until vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
4.When vegetables are tender, pour mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Add additional stock as necessary until soup reaches desired consistency. Add cumin, salt, and pepper, to taste. Garnish, if desired.
Not only is Rachel an excellent chef and writer, she also was the photographer for this post. Images are used with her permission. If you're interested in more of Rachel's recipes, she's one of 45 bloggers featured in the Casual Veggie Cookbook.