Autumn Bean & Sausage Acorn Squash Bowl Soup

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When W and I first became engaged, back in the winter of 2011, I was dreaming of an Autumn wedding. Every vision for the day included a leafy branch framing the splendor of the season, billowing in dramatic shades of red, orange, and gold. I envisioned the colors and weather exactly as we have been enjoying these last few days. And when I planned the wedding menu, it involved all of our favorite soups and stews:  Hearty Beef & Mushroom, Creamy Fennel, Irish Vegetable, and this savory combination of white beans, sausage, red potatoes, and autumn vegetables, served in a lovely winter squash. The wedding soup menu, a break from the tradition of a formal catered meal, was prominent in my mind as I formulated a blueprint. I wanted our day to be unique to us, and I am happy to eat soup in any season, on any given day, hot or cold. Why not soup on our wedding day, in the crisp autumn when it is a welcome comfort?

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Then all my dreaming went askew as we decided to jump our wedding day back to the beginning of June, and all the favorite soups, so fitting for fall were out of place. No one wanted to eat soup served in a winter squash in June. Believe me, I asked. Our venue was confirmed and though perfect in every other way, the location wasn’t conducive to preparing our wedding meal. I gave in. Soup was no longer an option. There would be no red and golden leaves framing our photos.

Though the day did turn out perfect, it was in a different way, celebrating the beginning of a beautiful summer. The soup waited. And now here it is.

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This soup is part of The Recipe Redux October challenge, which is to create a No-Casserole Crock Pot recipe. Though I have made this recipe on the stove top in the past, the slow cooker really is a less-intensive option, and after testing the results, I will definitely be saving myself some time by preparing it in this way into the future.

Autumn Bean and Sausage Acorn Squash Bowl Soup, adapted from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook
2 cups dried white beans, soaked overnight
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried sage
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
5 cups water or vegetable stock
5 tsp. vegetable stock bouillon powder (omit if using stock above)
1 large onion, diced
8 large carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 celery stalk, diced
12 oz. red potatoes, chopped into 1-inch pieces
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 lb. pork sausage 
1/4 cup gf all-purpose flour
1 large acorn squash
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup frozen peas
  1. In a large slow cooker, add the soaked and drained beans, bay leaves, thyme, sage, black pepper, stock, onion, carrots, celery, potatoes, and mushrooms. Turn to the highest setting.
  2. While the beans and vegetables are beginning to heat, sauté the pork sausage in a medium skillet, until browned. Drain off the fat, and add the sausage to the slow cooker. When the mixture begins to bubble, turn it down to medium. It can bubble away for the better part of a day (mine cooked for 10+ hours).
  3. About an hour before serving, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the acorn squash in half and remove the seeds and string. If necessary, cut off a small slice from the top so it will set flat on a plate. Dabble a bit of olive oil into the squash halves and rub it all around with your fingers. Then season the squash with salt and black pepper. Place the squash upside down in a glass baking dish and bake for approximately 60 minutes, or until soft. 
  4. Thirty minutes before serving, stir in 1/4 cup flour and frozen peas into the soup. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Cover again and continue cooking until ready to serve and the squash is soft. 
  5. Remove squash from the oven. Flip the halves onto a plate. Break up the center and edge of the squash with a fork; this way it will melt into the soup better, as you’re eating it. Ladle the soup into the squash bowl, and serve. 

Handmade Pizza

What I consider our first date–my fiancée and I’s–occurred over pizza.  I meant to take him to a cute little Southwestern restaurant but ended up at my favorite local pizza joint instead.  Come to find out later, he didn’t think much of the Southwestern restaurant, so apparently I made an excellent choice.

And while my favorite pizza restaurant in town is certainly not his, we do eat a lot of pizza together.  We live in a college town, after all.  After about a year of pizza-critiquing the local restaurants, and somehow finding each wanting in some way, (This one’s crust is just bland, I don’t like that one’s sauce, the other one has boring toppings, etc.) we decided to go into business–the handmade pizza à la us–business.

I discovered homemade pizzas during my first years in college, when my grandma sent me off with a bread maker, which made great dough, but not great bread.  It was just one short step from pizza dough to pulling out of the oven goodness, and any toppings that were lying around in the fridge were fair game.

Fast forward several years, and I’ve discovered the crust and the sauce.  You know, the one’s that blows all the local pizza restaurants out of the water.  What’s more, Will and I finally agree on pizza.  We like this one best.

While we may finally agree on dough and sauce, we still haven’t come to terms on toppings.  In particular, as you can see–one of us tends to go for a heavy hand with the cheese.

Favorite Pizza Dough (adapted from The Art of Simple Food)
2 tsp. dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup  + 3 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
  • Stir 1/2 cup warm water and yeast together in small measuring container.  Add in 1/2 cup flour and mix well.  Cover this container and set it for about 30 minutes.  Make sure your container is large enough to allow for big expansion of flour/yeast mixture!
  • When this mixture is quite bubbly, pour it into a large bowl with remaining flour and salt.  Mix well with cold water and olive oil.  You may need to add more flour or water, depending on the temperature and moisture in the air.  Once ingredients are incorporated, pour out on floured surface and knead for five minutes.  
  • Once kneading is complete, put dough back into oiled, clean large bowl and give it a couple turns to cover dough with oil.  Cover and let rise for about two hours, until doubled.  You can also put it into the fridge in the morning and let rise slowly all day.  This develops even more flavor in the dough.  If you do this, make sure to take the dough out of the fridge approximately two hours before baking.  
  • Once ready to form into pizza, split dough in half.  Use either your hands or a rolling pin to form a circle and place on a pizza stone or circular baking sheet.  
  • Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.  When sauce and toppings are on, pat a small bit of olive oil around the edge of the crust and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over toppings.  Bake the pizza for 10 minutes.
 
Favorite Tomato Sauce (adapted from Joe Bastianich in Runner’s World Magazine)
2 1/2 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 14.5-oz. cans diced tomatoes, no salt or seasoning added.
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 
  • Heat olive oil in medium saucepan over medium-heat.  When it sizzles, add garlic and sauté until just golden.   Add tomatoes and spices and turn to low.  Simmer for about 45 minutes.  Let cool for a few minutes, and then puree in a blender for a smooth consistency.
For this particular pizza, we layered sauce, a small handful of cheese, onions, mushrooms, green bell peppers, and artichokes.  We followed with a good amount of cheddar and Parmesan cheese.  Feel free to experiment with toppings!
Hint:  This tomato sauce is also are signature stand-by for a quick pasta dish.