So, I was having lunch at Sting’s castle one day…
While I did have lunch at Sting’s castle one day, Sting was not actually there and I was not actually a proper guest…just a young reporter doing a profile of Sting’s wife, Trudie Styler, for Lifetime Magazine, an evening news mag for women produced by ABC and Lifetime way back in the early 90’s. And, come to think of it, we didn’t actually have this soup, but a homemade papparadella pasta with a lamb and mushroom ragu…
But why let the facts get in the way of a good story, right?
At the time, Sting and Trudie, who founded the Rainforest Foundation, were in the throes of restoring their historic castle, Lake House. Going green before “green” was even a term in remodeling, they were making dramatic efforts to restore the castle’s former glory while doing the least amount of damage to the environment. Rather than using rare mahogany to replace rotted-out bannisters and trims, they had replicas crafted out of recycled wood products and hired local artists to painstakingly hand-paint the grain; they salvaged antique fixtures for baths and kitchens, put in the most advanced and environmentally friendly heating systems and insulation, and converted the surrounding land into an organic and sustainable farm.
As a serial re-modeler of antique houses, by the time we paused for a late lunch at the long and lovely table in the centuries old eat-in kitchen with Trudie, her children, my producer and our camera crew, I was in love…with their home, their magical life, and the well-considered efforts they were making to do the right thing for the historic castle and lands under their care.
And, a few years later, when Trudie and her chef, Joseph Sponzo, published, “The Lake House Cookbook,” I fell in love all over again…
This recipe for Spiced Winter Squash Soup, which Trudie writes is Sting’s favorite, has been tweaked a bit to remove some fat and simplify the cooking technique, but the taste is still the same and I make it regularly in winter months (just in case Sting and Trudie stop by….)
And you should, too! Look, even though Sting’s never shown up to eat in my kitchen, who knows who might show up to eat in yours!
SKINNY AND SPICED WINTER SQUASH SOUP ala STING
Just a couple of notes about ingredients and technique:
There are a dozen varieties of winter squash. For this soup, I recommend Butternut, Kabocha, Red Kuri, Hubbard, or a mix. At about 80 calories a cup, all of the winter squash varieties have an amazing nutritional profile, and are rich in cancer and heart disease fighting antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, vitamins and fiber.
And, thanks to Trudie and her chef, I learned an amazing trick about recycling what would be kitchen garbage for culinary good: a rind from a hard cheese tossed into a simmering broth imparts the amazing flavor of cheese without the actual cheese! If you live near a Whole Foods Market, they sell them, cheap, and what you don’t use in this recipe can be tightly wrapped and frozen for later use. If you don’t have a Whole Foods near you, just ask your local cheese store for their rinds and they’ll probably just give them to you. (Free is even better than cheap, right?)
And though I occasionally roast the squash before adding it to the broth as The Lake House Cookbook prescribes, more often than not, I now just cook all of the ingredients in one pot…with so many other flavors at play, the loss of the roasted veggie taste doesn’t seem to matter that much and using just one pot saves you some cooking and clean-up time. To save calories and fat, I’ve also removed a sweet potato, heavy cream and grated cheese from the original recipe and, having made the soup both ways, I promise they’re not missed. By the way, this soup, skinny-fied, now adds up to just 63 calories a cup!
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, roughly chopped
3 large stalks of celery, roughly chopped
1-2 T garlic, sliced or chopped
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t ground cumin
1/4 t cinnamon
a dash of nutmeg
10-12 cups of vegetable broth (I prefer using Better Than Bouillon paste to make broth.)
10 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied with twine into a bundle
2 bay leaves
1 piece Parmesan cheese rind (you’ll remove and toss after cooking)
1/4 c fat free half and half
juice of a small lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Chop the veg and measure out the spices and other ingredients before you begin. Heat a large non-stick soup pot over medium high heat and spray with cooking oil.
Add the spices and chopped garlic and cook and stir 4 minutes more.
Fish out the bay leaves, the bundle of thyme and the Parmesan rind. (It may take some hunting with a spoon to find them all, but don’t forget to remove them…you don’t want the thyme twigs, tough bay leaves or the waxy brine in the pureed soup!)
Add in the 1/4 cup of fat free half-and-half and the lemon juice and puree again to combine.
To serve, sprinkle with a few sunflower or pepita seeds, add a bit of finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano, or a dollop of fat free yogurt or fat free sour cream and fresh herbs like thyme, savory or marjoram..Or toast up half a slice of low-glycemic Ezekiel Bread and make some quick and gluten free croutons.
As a starter for an elegant meal or a hearty lunch with a side of kale salad, this skinny version of Sting’s soup is truly a rock star!
PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD
If you can’t find fresh leeks, you can substitute shallots, or even the white and light green parts of a green onions.
And, if looking to add more protein to this souper-skinny meal, you can always take a tip from Alice Waters’ cookbook, “The Art of Simple Food,” and add a few cooked white beans after pureeing the soup…the extra texture, heft and nutrition of the beans will really fill the bill.
RE-USE, RE-PURPOSE, RE-CYCLE
This recipe makes about 16 cups of soup…(Hey, Sting has a LOT of kids!) But, if you’re a single or have a small household, go ahead and make the full batch anyway because it freezes beautifully! If you have freezer safe containers, or just freezer safe baggies, stash 2-4 cup portions away and this big and hearty pot of soup–that you make just once–can feed you and yours for a month!
Remember, when it comes to losing weight without losing your mind, it’s all about inventory, baby!