from Daniel Larkin
to jamey w. bennett 

It’s downright shameful how long it’s been since we swapped recipes – picture texts and Facebook bragging not withstanding.  I’ve been on a huge homebrewing and comfort food tear lately, and I’m finally at a breathing point where I can record it all.

So it’s officially soup season, and this is the first year I really feel like I’ve embraced the bowl and spoon with any modicum of success.  I’ve already described my chicken soup in an earlier email, but I’ve got two more for you – a beef and barley stew that I randomly threw together and a vegetarian butternut squash and pear soup that I used to make at the Red Rooster Diner in Nashville.  Both are astonishingly good, and both will warm you to your cockles this winter.  Yeah, I said cockles.

First off, the Beef and Barley Stew.  It’s super simple, and the prep work can be done in 30 minutes or less.  The stew itself should cook for at least four hours, but I like to prep it in the morning and let it go all day.  Peasant food was the original, “set it and forget it” theme in the kitchen.

  • 1 qt chicken stock – homemade if you’ve got it, it makes ALL the difference in the world.
  • 1 lb lean sirloin steak, diced into small cubes, salted and peppered and spread across a pan to reach room temperature.
  • 1/2 stick butter.
  • 1 pack beef bones (I recently noticed that most grocery stores sell large bone scraps for stewing, usually in packs of about a pound.  A few of these in the pot with everything else transforms your chicken stock into a mighty warrior of deliciousness.  And they’re dirt cheap.)
  • 2 carrots diced
  • 2 ribs of celery diced
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 4 cloves garlic diced
  • 1 14 oz can of diced tomato with liquids
  • 1 fistful of pearl barley
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 bottle Guinness Stout

You can see where this is going, and I probably don’t even need to continue.  But here it is anyway.

In an oven safe pot with a good fitting lid, brown the beef cubes in the butter on high heat – set aside.

Sauté celery, onions, carrots, and garlic on remaining butter and fat for a few minutes.

Toss the beef back into the pan, and add the stock, Guinness, tomatoes, beef bones, red pepper flakes, and barley and bring to a boil.

Toss the simmering mix into the oven at 220º and let it go as long as you can – four hours minimum.  Remove the beef bones when it’s done, and salt and pepper to taste.

This is such a well rounded stew, nutritiously and flavor-wise.  I recently took a Thermos of it to Ramsey Cascade Falls in the Smoky Mountains, and it was almost as good as the view.

OK, to the second soup, Butternut Squash and Pear.  I used to make this at a little diner on the West Side of Nashville, and it always stuck with me as a favorite.  Easy to make, and it can be ready in under an hour.  I can’t believe it took me this long to make it again.

  • 1 medium butternut squash peeled, cored and diced into approximately 1-inch squares.
  • 4 pears, peeled, cored, and diced small.
  • 2 small onions diced
  • 1 qt vegetable stock
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, approximately 6-inches, whole.
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Sugar or honey to taste – if the pears are good, you shouldn’t need much
  • Heavy cream – less than a cup

The rest is simple.

Sauté the squash, pears and onions in butter until the onion is translucent.

Add stock, rosemary and cinnamon and simmer for 20 minutes, or until squash is done/mashable.

Remove the rosemary sprig and run that shit through a blender or food processor until it’s smooth.

Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste.  You’re looking for more balanced comfort than sweet.

(An optional step here is to simmer it again on low heat for another 30 minutes or so, but it’s not 100% necessary)

Finish off with a touch of cream to round it out.

I like to serve this garnished with a dollop of sour cream on top, just to contrast the slight sweetness of the squash and pear.  Jenny and I ate this on Christmas Eve alongside my sad attempt at a rustic bread loaf.  It was delicious, though, and the subtle fruit, squash and rosemary flavors are all intrinsically winter for me.  mmmm…..

Enjoy, hombre.

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