Magazine article Sunset

In the Woods

Magazine article Sunset

In the Woods

Article excerpt

The countdown to Christmas begins with tree-cutting and hot soup

It wouldn't be Christmas for the Easton family without a trek to Farnham Ridge Tree Farm. The first weekend in December, three generations of Eastons canvass the acreage, looking for the perfect white fir. After the tree is cut, Bill Easton's wife, Jane O'Riordan, unpacks sandwiches while he uncorks the wine. The heart of the menu is a warming soup transported in a widemouthed thermos. Only when the picnic is eaten, the tree loaded, and the family on the road is the season officially ushered in.

Throughout the West, tree-cutting expeditions are a rediscovered tradition. And a soup picnic like the Eastons' fits in well. Three choices follow, adapted from O'Riordan's Rhone Appetit (Toyon Hill Press, Woodside, CA, 1998; $17.95).

Tree-cutting Picnic

Soup of choice: Soupe au Pistou; Butternut Squash Soup with Sage; Lamb, Sausage, and Bean Soup * Ham and Herb Cream Cheese Sandwiches * Apples and Christmas Cookies * Terre Rouge Zinfandel, Barbera, and Syrah * Cider and Hot Chocolate

Soupe au Pistou

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 1 1/4 hours

NOTES: Soup can be made up to 2 days ahead. Reheat, covered, over high heat. Transport in a thermos or a tightly covered container in an insulated chest. Carry pistou in a separate covered jar.

MAKES: 12 to 14 servings

3 1/2 quarts vegetable or fat-skimmed chicken broth 1 pound butternut or Hubbard squash 2 carrots (6 oz. total), peeled 1 red thin-skinned potato (5 oz.), scrubbed 3 stalks celery (1/2 lb. total), rinsed 1 onion (1/2 lb.), peeled and chopped 3 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 pound zucchini, ends trimmed 1 red bell pepper (1/2 lb.), rinsed, stemmed, and seeded 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves or 1 teaspoon dried basil 5 cans (15 oz. each) cannellini (white) beans, rinsed and drained Pistou (recipe follows) Salt and pepper

1. In an 8- to 10-quart pan over high heat, bring broth to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, cut skin from butternut squash. Cut squash, carrots, potato, and celery into 1/2-inch cubes.

3. Add butternut squash, carrots, potato, celery, onion, and garlic to boiling broth. Cover, return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, cut zucchini and red bell pepper into 1/2-inch cubes.

5. Add zucchini, bell pepper, basil, and beans to broth. Cover and return to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until all vegetables are tender when pierced, about 20 minutes longer.

6. Stir 1/4 cup pistou into soup, then ladle soup into bowls or mugs. Add salt and pepper and more pistou to taste.

Per serving: 211 cal., 18% (39 cal.) from fat; 10 g protein; 4.3 g fat (0.6 g sat.); 34 g carbo (8 g fiber); 303 mg sodium; 0.9 mg chol.

Pistou

PREP TIME: About 5 minutes

NOTES: If making pistou up to 1 day ahead, cover and chill. Serve cool or at room temperature. Top may darken as pistou stands; just stir to blend.

MAKES: 1 cup

5 cloves garlic, peeled 2 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves 2/3 cup olive oil 2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

In a food processor or blender, puree garlic, basil, and oil. Add cheese and whirl until blended, scraping container sides often. Pour into a bowl.

Per tablespoon: 104 cal., 87% (90 cal.) from fat; 2. …

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