Cookbook author Paula Wolfert, right, treats NewsHour producer Cat Wise, center, and husband Bill Bayer with her butternut squash soup. Photos by Jason Lelchuk/NewsHour
Paula Wolfert has been writing about Mediterranean food for four decades. In a time when popular cookbooks promoted recipes and methods that made cooking easy — like the 1975 bestseller “Crockery Cookery” — Wolfert’s recipes stood out for their authenticity and adherence to traditional technique.
“I was interested in the real food in the countries that I had visited,” she told PBS NewsHour recently. “In writing about the food you have to explain the people (of the country). At that time people didn’t do that very much in cookbooks, they just tried to make it look fast and easy. … But I was interested in how they really made the food.”
Wolfert, 75, doesn’t cook as much as she used to. She is in the early stages of cognitive impairment, which leads to dementia. These days, instead of testing Moroccan recipes in her kitchen in Sonoma, Calif., she makes antioxidant-rich shakes. They’re not delicious, she said, but they are packed with nutrition she believes will help her stave off decline.
We visited recently with Wolfert and her husband of 30 years Bill Bayer. She welcomed us into her kitchen and whipped up two of her tried and true recipes: Butternut Squash Soup with Tomato and Aged Goat Cheese, and Pan-Roasted Cauliflower.
Watch the broadcast Tuesday to see how Wolfert has called on her culinary skills to battle against Alzheimer’s.
Butternut Squash Soup with Tomato and Aged Goat Cheese
Photos by Cat Wise
The recipe for this soup has its roots in the Rif Mountain region of northern Morocco. Traditionally made with local pumpkins, it’s cooked very slowly along with an intense mix of spices and a rich tomato sauce. It’s a family favorite, said Wolfert. But what makes it extraordinary, she added, is the addition of Riffian aged goat cheese.
This is Wolfert’s “Thanksgiving in California” version, made with butternut squash. It makes 6 cups.
- 1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
- Coarse salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds butternut, kabocha or calabaza squash, peeled, seeded and cut up, about 6 cups
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- 3 /4 teaspoon mixed spices, preferably ras el hanout
- 1/4 teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon
- 1/2 cup heavy cream or crème fraiche
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup shredded or crumbled aged feta, dried crottin, pecorino Romano or an American-aged goat cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In a medium sized casserole, preferably earthenware or enameled cast iron, toss the onion with the salt and oil, cover and cook over medium low heat until the pot is hot and the onion is soft, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the squash to the casserole with the sugar, cover with a sheet of parchment paper and a lid and steam for 20 minutes.
3. Add the spices, tomato sauce and 1 quart hot water to the casserole, bring to a boil and cook at a simmer until everything is tender, about 20 minutes.
4. Transfer the soup in batches to a blender, and puree until smooth. Add the cream and half the cheese to the last batch of soup in the blender, and puree until velvety.
5. Reheat the soup, and season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the soup into warm bowls, and top each portion with a light sprinkling of the remaining grated cheese.
Note to the Cook: When reheating, if the soup thickens too much, thin it with hot water and readjust the seasoning.
Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts and Raisins
- 1 1/2 tablespoons raisins or currants
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (2 cups)
- Pinch of crushed red pepper, preferably Marash (see Note)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, cover the raisins with hot water. Let stand until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, in a 10- to 12-inch flameware skillet, heat the oil. Add the cauliflower and sugar and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until the cauliflower starts to soften, about 10 minutes. Raise the heat to moderate and cook until the cauliflower is lightly browned, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in the tomatoes and crushed red pepper, season with salt and black pepper and cook until the tomatoes have begun to soften, about 5 minutes.
3.Add the raisins into the skillet along with the hot water, pine nuts and chopped garlic. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake the cauliflower for about 30 minutes, until it is very tender. Or pour the contents into a baking-serving dish and place in the oven.
4. Remove from the oven. Stir in the parsley and lemon juice and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Serve warm.
Notes: Mild, earthy Marash Turkish red pepper flakes are available online at vannsspices.com and zingermans.com.
Make ahead. The cooked cauliflower can stand at room temperature for up to four hours. Reheat in a 350-degree oven before serving.