In the fall, as the days shorten and the sunlight slants low across the sky, cooking instructor Kay Baumhefner brings the earthy flavors of autumn into the kitchen with savory soups made with slow-cooked onions, winter squash and dark winter greens.
As the onions braise, the house warms up and entices guests with their mouthwatering aromas, leaving the chef's hands free to work on other dishes.
For a recent "Come Home to Cooking" class in her Petaluma home, Baumhefner helped students prepare an autumnal supper she designed to evoke a walk in the woods after the first rain.
Fall Feast With Kay Baumhefner
"You're going for a mushroom hunt, and you smell the oil in the trees and the light is golden," she said. "So I wanted a golden soup with some braising greens."
Baumhefner created a Roasted Butternut Squash with Spinach and a choice of tasty garnishes: pine nuts and bacon, truffle oil and truffle salt.
"For me, this soup really feels like autumn," she said. "Especially with the toasted pine nuts and smoky bacon on top."
The chef was known for her deeply satisfying bowls of soup when she worked at Della Fattoria caf?in Petaluma, as well as for her tasty sandwiches. So she paired the squash soup with Sauteed Mushroom and Melted Cheese Toasties, an upscale version of mom's grilled cheese sandwich.
"I love the dance around the palate and the textural contrast of the crunchy bread with the creamy cheese," she said. "And the mushrooms are woodsy and earthy."
Together, the soup and sandwich would make a hearty lunch or dinner, or you could simply serve the soup enhanced with spinach or mustard, kale or chard.
"The greens add color, texture and B vitamins," she said. "You could just have a piece of bread with it, and it would make a whole meal."