First we forgot where we'd planted those bulbs last year. Then we forgot that we'd planted at all. Then we forgot what plants are altogether...
-Dar Williams, "February"
Very often around this time of year, I wonder how it is that a month with so few days can seem so long. Since moving to Paris from upstate NY, sure, my winters have gotten softer, warmer, but they've also gotten quite a deal grayer. Gone are the bright days where the biting wind has chased away all clouds (and the desire to go outside), snow so frozen you can walk over it without leaving footprints, and the ice on the trees that reflects the sun dazzling into your eyes.
Here it's dreary: slow rain and low skies, and the ever-penetrating damp. And who am I kidding, no matter where I am, I find February dreary. I start burning candles every chance I get and become a chain-herbal tea-drinker. Because February gets me down, I need some hearty food to pick me up. Luckily, winter food is often designed for exactly that purpose!
This Sweet Potato and Chickpea Soup, for example, was calling to me from over at Lemon and Cheese, saying seductive things about being warm and colorful and filling. Yes please! I didn't have sweet potato, but I had 1/2 of a lovely orange butternut squash from my CSA, chickpeas in the cupboard and stock in the freezer, so there was no reason not to give in. I paired it with some thyme croutons, cooked in goose fat, which were a nice balance for the sweet and creaminess of the soup. It was just what I needed to pick me up. Thanks Nicola!
Butternut-Chickpea Soup with Thyme Croutons
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
a pinch of nutmeg
a pinch of cayenne
1/2 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock (more or less depending on how thick you want it)
1 (425ml) can of chickpeas, drained
For the croutons:
1 cup bread cut into cubes (a little stale is perfect)
1 Tbsp shortening (I used goose fat. Butter or olive oil is good too.)
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
Heat the olive oil in a large pot and soften the onions for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another few minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, nutmeg and cayenne and stir well for 1 minute. Add the cubes of butternut squash and pour in the stock. Bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer until the squash is tender (about 20 minutes).
In the meantime, heat the shortening for the croutons in a frying pan. When hot, sprinkle in the thyme and then the bread. Stir well and cook on medium-high, stirring occasionally, until the pieces of bread start to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
When the squash is tender, add the chickpeas to the soup and heat through. Blend the soup. Serve with a dollop of heavy cream in each bowl and a sprinkling of croutons.