Sunday, December 12, 2010

Local Flavor: Four Squash Soup

Over the past year or two, I seem to have become more and more of a locavore.  Fall is turning into winter here in the northeast U.S., and I'm already missing our local farmer's market, so I do love me an excuse to go to the Stockton Indoor Market.  It's not really a farmer's market (OK, it's not a farmer's market at all), but an indoor market of local vendors selling everything from cheesecakes to locally made soaps (love the goat's milk oatmeal soap!) to organic free range chickens to fresh scallops to artisan chocolates to organic locally sourced ice cream to hand-made tamales.  I wish I could take you there with me, because you'd love it, too: they let you sample everything.  There is one vendor that sells absolutely beautiful produce now, too, though, and they always have interesting varieties of things I haven't tried before.  As I was perusing cookbooks last week looking for hearty soups that would feed us for a few nights, I happened across one that called for kabocha squash.

You're thinking to yourself, "she already made squash soup."  Yes, true.  But that didn't have kabocha squash in it.  And it didn't have heavy cream in it.  I don't generally make soup with heavy cream; to me, the point of vegetable soups is that they're good for you.  But this, my dear readers, is worth the cheat; it's not too much cream, and it makes the soup taste like the kind you'll find in high-end restaurants at this time of year.

I've made kabocha squash once before; it has knobbly-looking deep green or orange skin with white stripes, has deep yellow-orange colored flesh on the inside, and is shaped like a squatty pumpkin.  It's exceptionally sweet and almost nutty in flavor, especially when roasted.  It's also not widely available at all times of the year; you may find it in the supermarket during Thanksgiving, but once that week passes, you may have to look at bit harder for it.  I knew, once I struck out at the supermarket, that I'd find what I was looking for at the Stockton Market.

My favorite thing about striving to be a locavore is that I get to talk with the people who grow and produce my food.  Though my experience with the CSA this summer taught me a few things about really living locally, and convinced me that I like the modern day convenience of a supermarket and the luxury of choice (there are no mango trees where I live, nor are there cacao beans), there's something great about being able to ask the guy selling the squash to describe to you the difference between the green and orange varieties, and knowing that he knows, because he grew it.  Local flavors just taste better.

And unrelated: I've entered a Scharffen Berger recipe contest ... please vote here if you like my Chocolate Toffee Cookie recipe!  (Just scroll down to the thumbnail pictures and click "vote" next to #17 Chocolate Toffee Cookies.)  I promise to bake for everyone if I win, even if you're not local.  ;)

Four Squash Soup

3 1/2 lbs. kabocha squash, halved, seeded (one orange and one green if you can)
2 lbs. butternut squash, halved, seeded
1 1/2 lbs. acorn squash, halved, seeded
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 c. water
3 T. unsalted butter
1 white onion, thinly sliced
1/4 t.ground cardamom
1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 t. ground ginger
1/8 t. ground cloves
4 1/2 c. chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1/2 c. heavy cream (half and half would probably also work here)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Season the kabocha, butternut and acorn squashes with salt and pepper and lay them cut side down on 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Pour 1 cup of water onto each baking sheet, cover the squash with foil and bake for about 1 hour, or until tender. Let cool slightly, then scoop the flesh into a bowl.

In a large saucepan or casserole, melt 3 T. of butter. Add the onion and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon each of the cardamom and nutmeg and 1/8 teaspoon each of the ginger and cloves and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Add the squash flesh and heavy cream and simmer over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor and return to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm over very low heat.

Serve with toasted croutons, lightly toasted almonds/pine nuts/pumpkin seeds, or other topping of your choice.
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  1. Oooooohhh pumpkin soup, my favourite thing! Agree about the cream, I rarely use it in vegetable soups but it does make a nice finish for something special and occasional treat. it took me a while to work out what you were talking about with the kabocha - we simply call that japanese pumpkin here.

    I love love love farmers markets and would love to see yours - I remember when you wrote about finding the indoor market last year. :)

    I tried to vote for you, but couldn't see where...but that's prob just because I am really tired. I plan on making your toffee cookies over Christmas. Looking forward to catching up on all the posts I have missed!

  2. Well, it looks like I can only vote once, ahem, hehehehe and you can take me to an indoor market any day.

  3. I also tried to vote, but like Andie couldn't figure out where.

    Wish we had a nice indoor market around here, I love shopping market style!

  4. I do love pumpkin soup! this morning I had scrambled eggs and veggies - mushrooms, spinach, and roasted pumpkin - and couldn't remember if I'd commented on this post or not. A small amount of cream can add such a luxurious smoothness, but I usually add a little low fat yogurt. I like the contrast of the sour with the sweet of the pumpkin. And I like a spoonful in the middle of my bowl so I can play with the amounts for each bite. This recipe sounds yummy.

  5. I will definitely be trying this recipe, even if it is summer here in Australia! I love a good pumpkin soup recipe. I usually add sour cream to it though. So in the USA, squash means pumpkin?
    And you'll be getting my vote for the cookies!

  6. This sounds so good. I have always been a little intimidated to use squash in recipes, but you've inspired me to try it. And as far as the Chocolate Toffee Cookies...yes please :)

    I know what you mean about the personal connection to the person selling you the produce. There is nothing like it.


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