Sunday, October 07, 2007

Grown-up Spaghetti-Os

My husband writes music reviews, which means I have the opportunity to hear a lot of good music...and a lot of, well, music that I don’t love. I also get to stare at Mark in awe as he confidently describes albums as “angular artrock” or “Japanese instru-metal.” Angular WHAT? Japanese HOW? It is strange to hear someone you know so well put together phrases that you completely and utterly don’t understand.

Food imagery is rarely as impenetrably obtuse, but the craft of describing food and describing music are not that dissimilar. Both involve allusions and metaphors, evoke your senses, and, in the end, reflect just as much about the describer as the described. Although I usually lack the vocabulary and reference points to express more than a gut-level like or dislike of music, I occasionally try to impress my husband by, for example, telling him that a singer-songwriter sounds like what would happen if Iron & Wine shouted instead of whispered. Could fool you into thinking I know what I am talking about, now couldn’t I?

Mark, in return, shares his insights about food. Like when, after tasting this soup from Morocco, he quickly exclaimed – “It’s like grown-up Spaghetti-Os!” Sweetened by squash, freshened with lemon, and sustained by dainty pasta strands instead of Os – why yes, yes chorba bil matisha does taste a bit like grown-up Spaghetti-Os. Although this easy-to-prepare Kitty Morse recipe may not be as thought-provoking as angular artrock or Japanese instru-metal, it deftly transcends the seeming average-ness of pureed tomatoes and squash through the inspired addition of cilantro, celery leaves and cloves. Like new music from The Old Ceremony, Roman Candle, Sara Bareilles, Bobby Bare Jr., The Be Good Tanyas, and The Crooked Jades, it will join our regular playlist.

Chorba Bil Matisha
Adapted from The Vegetarian Table: North Africa
Serves 4 generously

1 onion
4 whole cloves
6 cups / 1.5 liters vegetable broth
2 pounds / 1.2 kilograms butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into small chunks
4 celery stalks, including leaves, coarsely chopped
5 tomatoes, quartered
12 fresh cilantro (a.k.a. coriander) sprigs
¼ teaspoon / 1.25 milliliters ground turmeric
½ cup / 50 grams angel hair pasta, broken into 2-inch / 5-centimeter pieces
½ cup / 125 milliliters milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Lemon wedges

Stud the onion with the cloves. In a large saucepan, combine the onion, broth, squash, celery, tomatoes, cilantro and turmeric. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the vegetables are tender, 30-40 minutes. Take the pot off of the heat and discard the onion with its cloves.

Use an immersion blender to puree the vegetables and broth until smooth. Return to heat and add the pasta. Simmer until the pasta is tender, about 6-8 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in the milk, and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, with lemon wedges.