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CucumberSoup-4

Inspiration

I was recently asked “what inspires a great recipe?”. There is no straightforward answer to that question. Inspiration comes at every level of the cooking process, my ultimate goal always being to serve food that is delicate, refined, zen, in other words thoughtful.

Sometimes, the idea is born of a rather universal food memory like the interplay of cream, lemon and cucumber that finds its roots in the basic Mediterranean traditions. From that starting point, I work on a choice of raw and simple, carefully selected ingredients; on a possible combination; and on cooking tools and techniques.  The questions that I always ask myself are : what tool will reveal each flavor at its best? What technique will yield the most satisfying results? I am certainly not working to impress my guests with an edgy, impressively looking plate, but rather with an incredibly flavorful, delicious food.

To continue with the lemon-cream-cucumber example, a simple illustration of my recipe-creating process is the cucumber soup that we serve at Baumé this month. One technique to bring out the crunchy, fresh flavor of the cucumber is to remove the seeds and leave it in salt for 2 to 3 hours before using it for the soup. Another very simple addition is lemon oil instead of the traditional olive oil and lemon (juice). We also add hints of verbena and truffle, for they both subtly complement the crisp cucumber taste by adding tangy, bright notes and earthy flavors. Finally, instead of mixing in sour cream or yogurt, I keep the cucumber base of the soup very simple – cucumber, spring water, salt – to preserve its taste. I then add a small dash of crème fraîche at the end. The result is much softer.

A great recipe is one that allows me to build on the classic cooking techniques to invent new ones that I can then reuse for future creations. But again, whether it is in the cooking process, in the textures, in the condiments, or in all of the different layers of a recipe,  taste remains my main focus.

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SoupePistourestau5web

Infused and fresh vegetables for a flavorful, light soup

Bright flavors… are the first words that come to mind when I think of the soup that I want to tell you about today.

This soup is a layered trio of fresh, dried and pureed ingredients. It combines:

- seasonal baby vegetables,

- dried vegetables and herbs infused like tea in a vegetable broth,

- and a creamy “pistou” (basil, garlic and olive oil sauce, the French version of pesto).

It is meant to be a firework of colors and scents, a light seasonal soup that leaves you with a fresh taste and a clear mind – perfect for lunch or supper.

It is also a soup that can be prepared fairly easily at home with a few tweaks to the restaurant’s recipe.

If you are preparing this soup for a party of 4 or more, I would recommend dicing larger vegetables – for example rainbow carrots, celery, chioggia beets, fennel, leeks.

You can blanch them in either a vegetable broth or salted water for a few minutes. The thinner the julienne – the shorter the boiling time – the better for preserving the vitamins and each vegetable’s distinct taste.

Using a mortar and a pestle, puree a large bouquet of basil leaves (after separating the leaves from the stem and washing them) with 2 cloves of garlic and 1/4 cup of olive oil. Salt to taste. It would probably be faster to make pistou using a food processor, but the contact of the sharp blades on the basil leaves makes them taste bitter.

To serve, spread one teaspoon of pistou on the bottom of a bowl then pour the soup.

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Shisoleaf

Creative squash soup

Most of us think of squash soup as a wholesome, comforting type of meal without flash nor fuss. The sweetness and creamy texture of the squash, the warmth of the soup and the easiness of the recipe make it a perfect winter meal.

At Baumé Restaurant, we like to prepare this kind of recipe with locally sourced, organic ingredients and turn them into healthy yet refined and playful delicacies that – we hope – will  intrigue or encourage  your creativity as a cook. For squash soup, I would choose a kabocha squash because, of all types of squashes, it is the most firm and the less watery one. The soup will be richer in texture and flavor as a result. To bring out the sweetness and warmth even more, I like to serve it with something crunchy, tangy and/or cold.

I find that the soup pairs beautifully with caramelized masago rice and shiso icecream (shiso is a minty and peppery tasting leaf used in Japanese cuisine, notably in sushis). But there are many other options out there. To please the eye as much as the palate I like to present the different elements of the soup separately and combine them slowly as shown below.

As an encouragement for you to try different variations on your own, I am including the base recipe.

Kabocha Squash Soup

Serves 6-8

1 small kabocha squash, about 1-2 pounds
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
3 ribs of celery, chopped
½ gallon spring water or enough to cover the vegetables
4 Tbs butter or to taste
salt and pepper to taste

(Note: green celery ribs are to be avoided as they can turn the soup
brown. Use instead the inner yellow part of the celery)

Peel the kabocha, removing as much of the green skin as possible.
Halve the squash and remove seeds and stem.
Chop the kabocha into large chunks.
Place all vegetables into a large, heavy bottom pot and cover with
spring water.
Season liberally with salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. When vegetables have cooked
thoroughly, take off heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
Blend in small batches, covering blender with a towel to prevent
splashing.
Return to the stove and finish with butter to taste.

NOTE: can be garnished with crème fraiche or steamed milk, seasoned
with cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice and sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds.

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