Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dark Days Challenge week 4 - squash soup (and the Slow Food Ark of Taste)

This week we had a lovely soup made from green-striped cushaw squash and caramelized onions, along with some homemade croutons.

My method for squash soup is very similar to the one for making potato soup. I start with aromatics, which in this case was simply onions. I decided that I wanted a very rich flavor from them, so I caramelized them until they were a rich brown color (to do this you must cook them slowly, use plenty of butter or oil, and have infinite patience. It always takes much longer than you think it will. Try to allow half an hour.) I added some garlic at the end (garlic will burn if you cook it too long or in too hot a pan) and also a chopped carrot. Carrots go very well in squash soup, and they have the added bonus of really upping the orange factor of the soup. This particular squash had pale yellow flesh, so the carrot really made it look more appealing.

I was using a larger squash so I roasted it beforehand; you could easily use peeled and cubed raw squash for this, but when it comes to tackling a big, hard-skinned squash you can save yourself a lot of trouble by washing it, poking a few holes in it with a knife, and roasting it whole at 400 degrees, checking it/flipping it at 15 minutes for a small squash, or 30 minutes for a large one. I usually put my squash in a pan or on a cookie sheet, but you can also put it directly on the oven rack. For larger squash an hour should do the trick; smaller squash will be done in half an hour. The squash should give to the touch. I split the squash when it comes out of the oven, then let it cool before trying to scoop out the seeds. Okay, so I don't always let it cool completely, but trying to scoop out the seeds while the squash is steaming hot is fairly painful, even with kitchen-hardened fingers. I usually hold the squash with an oven mitt and use the other hand to scoop away the seeds with a spoon. Once the seeds are removed I spoon the flesh into the soup pot.

At this point your squash is cooked and your onions are cooked, but they need some quality time together. I add stock or broth to just cover the squash, and let pot simmer for 10 minutes or so. If I am using raw squash, I do the same thing but allow the squash to simmer until tender, stirring frequently. I added some fresh thyme at the end of the cooking time, since it is my favorite herb at the moment (and you don't want it to cook too long.) I attacked the soup with my immersion blender, seasoned with salt and pepper, then served it with freshly-ground pepper and a sprinkling of Alaea sea salt, which is a traditional Hawaiian table salt with a beautiful red color.

The squash came from Pop and Judy, two of my favorite farmers (and also my source for local heirloom beans.) Pop told me a wonderful story about how the cushaw squash was his mother's favorite, and that the first year he grew them the plants only produced 2 squash. He gave one to his mother for Christmas, and she proudly showed it off to all of her friends and family. Apparently cushaw are a popular squash in the Appalachians, so my love for it is perfectly understandable (since I have a fair bit of Appalachian heritage.)

Both the sea salt and the squash are items in Slow Food's Ark of Taste Program, which is a catalog of foods that are being threatened with extinction. I'd become hooked on cushaw squash last year (when I roasted an enormous orange-striped cushaw), and the sea salt was left over from an Ark of Taste tasting I attended with my local Slow Food group.


Anonymous said...

This sounds really good, especially with the vast amount of squashes around this time of year. Have you tried lightly roasting the squash during some point in the cooking process? I wonder because I started roasting the potatoes when I make potato soup, and it gives a nice flavor depth. Your carmalization process makes me want to try your recipe/method too.

Anne said...

I usually roast the larger ones very lightly, just so I can manage to cut through the rind. My CSA farmers insist that they taste best when you roast them whole, since they steam a bit in the process.

One thing I haven't tried is really roasting them, to get the squash nice and dark and caramelized. I may try that for my next batch!

Bear said...

Kudos for what sounds like a particularly good use of a couple of delicious Ark products. (We've gotten hooked on the Alaea salt in particular.) I'd kill for some of that soup right now... sounds perfect for this weather!