Autumn in Florida {Pumpkin Pottage with Kale, MahiMahi and Bacon}

Florida vs London

The rain was coming down in torrential buckets after the stifling heat of the day, enticing my curiosity to go outside and observe nature in the tropics. In Florida the rain is different to that in London, where moments before I had been transported by the prologue of the book I’ve just started, Capital. Here at this latitude, it is almost always accompanied by a fanfare of thunder and cracking that makes one realise the heavens can be quite ferocious and nature has no friends (as we say in Spain).

Rain in Florida is crude and raw. And sometimes finicky. It can vary from a permanent sheet of water that lasts for hours to intermittent vicious downpours that last minutes and then open up the skies to a brilliant, intense sun the next moment.

In London, the rain is more elegant, refined. The skies are more considerate and less noisey, almost as if apologising for being English, ‘I’m sorry, but you know it’s just me again’. It happens often with no discrimination of season. But rarely will it put you out on a grand scale.

London is selective even with its show of creatures. There’s the urban red fox who has unwillingly been pushed into the city (because humans have taken over their natural habitat) and the surprisingly enchanting sight of the exotic green parrots who have made the banks of the Thames their home, possibly defying Mr. Darwin himself at that latitude.

In contrast, Florida’s creatures lurk in crevices, are in constant motion that makes one’s vision continuously do double-takes. The ubiquitous lizard that comes in a variety of sizes and shades of green and brown (as if one size fits all is not enough variation for this little critter) is harmless but nonetheless never seizes to startle me. There are snakes that slither in front of you popping up out of nowhere. There are huge cockroaches that appear in the most inconvenient moments. There are teeny, tiny frogs that show up inside your house unannounced…and dead. (Leaving one to wonder just how did it get inside in the first place when all the doors are shut? And why is it lifeless? Did something else bigger and scarier bring it in?) And of course, there are those monstrous demons called alligators croaking in the swamps, patiently waiting for their prey. Their guttural sounds warn of their presence on Kiko and my daily walks, making our excursions a little uneasy.

Heat Wave in November

There once was a year that I spent Christmas and New Years in the Rivera Maya, Mexico. I remember posing for a picture in front of a huge gaudily, but joyously decorated Christmas tree in a central plaza in Merida, dressed in shorts and sandals and revelling at the marvel of summer at Christmastime. For someone from Spain like myself, there is something uncanny about this, kind of like observing a Dalí painting, where your mind has trouble wrapping itself around reality and surrealism.

Back then I lived in NYC and escaping to the sun-drenched, immaculately white beaches weighed more heavily with me than snuggling up to a warm fireplace surrounded by my loving family and traditional holiday fare. The exotic won.

Fast forward about ten years and once again I find myself at a similar latitude in the tropics and in a similar season. However, this time around I’m longing for the mundane, as we are experiencing temperatures in the mid 30s Celsius (90s Fahrenheit) with a humidity that makes taking a step outside unbearable. Plus, at this point, I’m slightly perturbed that I can’t wear my Ugg boots or the snood I made for myself last Spring.

Time for Cuchareo

At more reasonable latitudes in the northern hemisphereit’s that time of year when the mornings are brisk and the evenings even more so. And the days are chilly too, maybe even down right properly cold. It’s time for scarves, jackets and coats, and dusting off the boots. It’s a time of year that generally gives us a reprise from the long, hot summer days and brings us shorter ones with the promise of winter and holidays.

I am a person who easily bores, and therefore the seasonal switch suits me perfectly. Contrary to many, I welcome most change enthusiastically and excitedly. I take delight in new experiences and new things. As for seasonal changes, I love the variation of temperature, I enjoy the new gifts with which nature surprises us, and I dive wholeheartedly into the opportunity to change my wardrobe and in definitely being able to wear some footwear a little more restricting and warmer than a flip-flop.

They say be careful what you wish for. Last winter in Connecticut with record snow storms, I was wishing for sun and heat. I got the perfect combination this summer in my beloved Andalusia. But now, residing in Florida, I find myself longing for some chill in the air, for an excuse to wear my comfy winter robe and slippers, to snuggle up with a cup of hot cocoa whilst reading a good book, and to allow myself to be mesmerised by the glittery sparks of a fireplace. Yet, I’m rather ‘forced’ instead to enjoy the incredibly high temperatures (and humidity) that we are experiencing and live with what seems like eternal air conditioning.

I don’t mean to complain, after all not many in the northern hemisphere can relate to enjoying a swim in the pool or going to the beach in early November! Nonetheless, as I don’t foresee being granted my wishes any time soon, I’ve turned to creating a bit of autumn in the kitchen instead. Food is such a comforting lifesaver in all situations. Isn’t it?

Growing up in Spain, one of my favourite dishes was anything to be eaten with a spoon, which translates to pottages, stews, soups … colloquially we call it cuchareo from the word cuchara which means spoon. Typically the season of cuchareo starts when the first chill can be felt in the air, which should be just about now …

This potaje de calabaza is hearty, delicious, very easy to make and a meal in itself. Without the fish, it could be a starter. And if you cook the pumpkin in advance, you can make the soup in just under an hour.

Potaje de Calabaza con Col Rizada, Dorado y Beicón
(Pumpkin Pottage with Kale, MahiMahi and Bacon)

Serves: 4-6
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 45 min

Ingredients

2 1/2 – 3 cups cooked pumpkin pulp
5-6 handfuls of chopped, cleaned kale
1 cup lima beans (optional if strict Paleo)
1 large filet of MahiMahi (or another thick, white fish)
6-8 cups of filtered water
1/4 cup white cooking wine
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4-6 slices of bacon
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon curcumin/turmeric
sea salt and pepper to taste

Method

In a large pot, cook the bacon slices. Once done, remove the bacon from the pot and place on a paper towel. Add the butter to the bacon fat and melt over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the celery and onion. Cook until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Pour the white wine over the celery and onion and reduce, about 3-4 minutes. Add 6 cups of water, the pumpkin pulp and spices, excluding the sea salt and pepper*. Stir well. Add the kale and lima beans and cook covered over medium heat for 30 minutes or until the kale and beans are tender, adding more water if necessary. Stir occasionally.

For the fish: I prefer to slightly sauté with some butter or olive oil it in a pan before adding to the pottage, just a few minutes on each side. This makes for a flakier fish. Using your hands, tear chunks apart and add to the pottage. Cook another 1-2 minutes longer.

(You can also cook the fish directly in the pottage. Cut it into chunks and add to the soup, cooking about 4 minutes until done.)

*Season the pottage to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and give it a stir.

Pour into soup bowls and sprinkle some torn up bacon bits over each bowl. Serve immediately. (Another nice touch is to add some grated hard Manchego just before serving.)

Scullery notes

(1) If you’re using frozen fish, make sure to thoroughly thaw out before cooking to avoid excess water and ensure it cooks through properly.

(2) I used frozen lima beans (I hadn’t eaten them in years and I’m thrilled with the buttery texture!). I didn’t thaw them out as it’s not necessary. If you’re lucky to procure some fresh ones, all the better!

(3) Depending on the size of your butternut squash, you could have enough for two recipes. For freezing, I like to bake the squash and mash the pulp into a bowl, the same in which I later freeze it. To use frozen pulp in the pottage or a soup, simply thaw out thoroughly prior to using.