The change of season is such a lovely time. The air is crisp, the trees are turning brilliant shades of reds and orange, leaves are piling on the ground, and pumpkins greet us on every doorstep. Walking through our community, and seeing these sights, I am inspired to pull these all into one big pot of wonderfulness. The magic that greets you when a delicious bowl of steaming soup appears in front of you is one of community and love.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Oil baking sheet. Place squash, cut side down, on baking sheet. Bake until squash is very soft, about 50 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, remove peel from squash; discard peel.
While the squash is cooking, heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-low heat. Mix in onion, brown sugar, ginger, garlic and cinnamon stick. Cover pot and cook until onion is tender, about 15 minutes, stir occasionally so that your onion does not burn but is slightly golden and caramelized.
Add the cooked squash and 4 cups chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Take out the cinnamon stick but reserve.
Working in batches, purée soup in blender (or use an immersion blender.) Return soup to pot with the cinnamon stick. If desired, add heavy cream and/or half and half to thin it out to your desired consistency or add more chicken broth. Add the maple syrup to taste. If desired, include a bit of ground cinnamon to taste.
Season soup with salt and pepper. Bring to simmer and ladle into bowls and serve.
(Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Cover and refrigerate.)
In the coming months, you will from time to time be treated to new recipes from “guest bloggers”. These are old and new friends — dedicated chefs and passionate voices who share our love of cooking. After all, we are Recipes from a Monastery Kitchen, and these kitchens extend far and wide, all over the world. Tables that welcome the “Stranger as Christ”, kitchens that “practice the presence of God” as Brother Lawrence taught, and communities that are built by hospitality, love and prayer. Our lives are enlarged as we welcome them and listen to their unique voices, share in their story and try our hand at their creativity.
Mepkin Abbey is a monastery of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappists. We follow the Rule of St. Benedict and were founded in 1098 in Citeaux, France, from which we get our name “Cistercian.” As Trappists we are a cloistered contemplative community, worshipping God by chanting the psalms daily and seeking God in silence and solitude. Mepkin Abbey was founded in 1949 from Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, the first Trappist abbey in America founded in 1848 from France.
We have the tradition of eating simple meatless meals. The recipes in “Food for Thought” are chosen with the eye to healthy, easy to prepare meals that met the needs of our tradition and satisfy hard working monks. Good healthy food contributes to the mindfulness of God that we seek as we give thanks for all God has provided us.
Lent is a special time, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday our main meal consists of bread and water. And in the evenings the brothers share a time of sacred reading of the Lenten book they chose, which was given in ceremony to each one by Father Abbot.
Beautiful zucchini and yellow summer squash continue to come in from the gardens every day, and while they do it would be a shame not to have a nice stuffed zucchini boat meal before the season slips by. This is what last night’s convent cook thought as she prepared to make our dinner. She wanted to do something a little different from what we usually do and she turned out a meal that brought applause from the entire sisterhood even though we have had quite a few zucchini meals this summer. Using a combination of sweet and hot Italian sausage and a generous mixture of favorite Italian cheeses she succeeded in satisfying even the most discriminating pallet that evening.
The two things, I think, that put this dish over the top was the combination of cheeses (she used Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, Asiago and Gorgonzola) any of which give a distinctive taste, and then the generous use of fresh garden herbs like basil, oregano and Italian parsley.
Blanch the zucchini in a large pot of boiling water, 7 minutes, then place in cold water 5 minutes. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, then scoop out all but ¼ inch of flesh. Brown the sausage in a small skillet, breaking the pieces into small bits, 5 to 6 minutes, then remove the meat from the skillet.
In the same skillet, on medium heat, add the onion and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté 1 additional minute (add a little bit of olive oil if the pan is dry). Add the meat back to the skillet along with the cream cheese, zucchini pulp and bread crumbs and stir until the cheese has melted. Taste and add salt and pepper or other seasonings as desired; fresh basil, oregano and parsley are nice.
Place the zucchini boats on a small sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then fill with the meat mixture. Top with tomato halves and grated cheese.
Place in oven and bake 25-30 minutes until the cheese melts and starts to brown. Garnish with basil.
Current surveys show that Italian food still ranks highest in popularity on restaurant menus across the country. With so many other ethnic foods gaining interest in the food world this surprised me a little when I recently found it out. I know it is true in our convent (that’s why we have Italian night on Friday of every week) but didn’t expect it was on such a large scale. This being the case let’s consider some more Italian versions of favorite meals and perhaps something other than provincial tomato sauce dishes that usually come to mind when we think of Italian cooking.
This week I experimented with chicken using some very typical Italian ingredients with the exclusion of tomatoes. I came up with a beautiful and flavorful Italian chicken featuring citrus fruit as well as figs, olives, garlic and herbs and seasonings all native to Italy.
In a large roasting pan, season chicken with salt and pepper; drizzle with oil. Squeeze lemon and orange over chicken, then add fruit to pan. Add wine, orange juice, and thyme or oregano. Roast 25 minutes.
Remove pan from oven; rotate chicken pieces if browning unevenly. Add olives and whole garlic cloves. Roast until a thermometer inserted in chicken breast (avoiding bone) registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit, about 15 minutes more.
Transfer chicken and citrus to a platter.
Place roasting pan over high heat, until sauce is reduced and thickened, about 3 minutes. Pour over chicken; serve.