Creamy “pumpkin” soup
January 2, 2013 § 35 Comments
Happy, happy New Year to you all! Did you ring in the New Year in style?
I know we did. Much more stylishly than we really are, in fact. But if the holidays aren’t a time to up your style game, when is, right?
Perhaps it’s the crash after the high of holiday activity, perhaps it’s that the New Year always makes me nearly as nostalgic as October does, but I’m now left feeling quietly morose. “Another year,” a voice somewhere inside of me sighs, “another year, and I still don’t understand.”
So I’m sitting in our living room now, which feels dark as the Christmas twinkle lights have all been put back into boxes, wondering to myself, ‘understand what? What do I so yearn to understand?’
The answer, I’m sorry to say, is anything and everything, as far as I can tell. The answer is Life.
Day by day life happens, intermittently glorious and terrible, and I don’t understand any of it. At all. Not a bit.
I’m suddenly remembering a quote my mother told to me earlier this year (I’m not entirely sure of its origin), “this thing of which we speak cannot be found by seeking. But only seekers will find it.”
I don’t entirely understand the quote either, but it speaks to me about life and meaning on a level separate from understanding. I feel somehow like that’s it. Like maybe trying to understand won’t get you anywhere. Life just is, it isn’t an entity to be dissected and understood. You have to get out of your own way, but at the same time seek and make that daily effort to get out of your own way.
But I’ll be darned if I can manage anything of that sort on the average day. Rarely even on a good day, I’d say. It’s far too simple to be easy.
Plus, I’m a total fusser, always trying to manipulate myself and my reality into something else, some other thing I don’t even know what is.
Perhaps that will be my resolution this year. I’m not much of one for resolutions, but I made one last year, and it had a surprisingly powerful effect on me and my way of seeing. Perhaps this year I should resolve to practice not fussing with things, not fussing with myself, and not fussing with how I experience. It won’t mean never making changes or responding when necessary, just not fussing over it. Getting out of my way to let myself live. We’ll see.
If nothing else I can start metaphorically, right?! Metaphorically as in, with soup.
This is one of the simplest squash soups I have ever made, and one of the best.
I rarely go on quests to perfect recipes, not even for this space, I’m afraid. What you see here is what we really eat on a day to day basis. (Perhaps that’s terribly annoying. I can definitely imagine you saying, “jeez, what kind of person cooks this way every day? Doesn’t she have anything better to do?” Answer: no, I don’t. I think cooking good food for yourself and those you love is one of the best things to do! And yes, I really do plate the food we eat, even if I’m not photographing it. My mother tells me this is something I’ve done since I was a little girl!) Though I share only the things that I like the best from each week, I can’t 100% guarantee that there isn’t a way to make them even better. But, I always put up things I believe are worth the effort.
However, now and then I do get a bug and try to work on something until I get it just right. I’ve been working on Sicilian pizza for 6 months now and am nowhere close. I’ve also spent about the last two years trying to create my perfect pumpkin/winter squash soup. I’ve added curry, ginger and coconut milk, pancetta and sage, cardamom and coriander, poblanos and cilantro, apple cider, pears, sherry, truffle oil…
To this one, I added nothing. Well, almost nothing in comparison to most recipes I’ve tried. There is onion and garlic (there should always be onion and/or garlic), there is just a smidge of thyme and nutmeg, and a small swirl of creme fraiche. But the flavor itself really rests on the squash. I used a kabocha squash, exceptionally sweet and fleshy, and it carried the soup into a dream of creamy orange. Silky, sweet, but not overly so, approachable but no so comfortable that it isn’t also elegant. The thyme and nutmeg provide the lightest undertones of wintery woods and the vaguest reminder of the holidays.
I don’t really want anything more from squash soup than that it be squash soup, it turns out.
Which is not to say that it can’t be dolled up just a little bit. Accessorizing is not the same as fussing, people.
I ate this soup plain for lunch one day, but the next I was extra hungry, so we topped the soup with thick slices of toast smeared with blue cheese and sprinkled with a handful of pecans, all particularly good companions for winter squash and perhaps even better when all together. The toast went all soft and pliable as it soaked up the soup, the blue cheese melted into spunky puddles of flavor, and the pecans added buttery crunch.
You can accessorize with any, all, or none. No need to worry, and certainly no need to fuss.
Here’s to 2013, friends!
Creamy Kabocha Squash Soup (serves about 6)
- 1 medium-large kabocha squash (about 3 lbs.) – you can also use another type of winter squash (like butternut, buttercup, pumpkin…)
- 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- a pinch of nutmeg
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/2 – 1 cup creme fraiche
- salt and pepper
- 1 thick slice of crusty bread per person (optional)
- crumbled blue cheese and toasted pecans, for serving (also optional)
- Heat your oven to 425F. Put your squash in a roasting dish (poke some holes in it with a knife if you’d like, though I rarely remember to) and roast it in the oven until it is soft and easily pierced by a fork, about 1 hour. Remove it from the oven and set it aside to cool for a bit.
- In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and garlic plus a pinch of salt. Give this a stir, turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and let the onions cook for about 10 minutes to let them soften and collapse, but without much browning.
- In the meantime, you can slice open the squash, scrape out the seeds (discard them or clean them and roast them for later snacking), then scoop the flesh out of the skin into a bowl – or directly into the pot if you are coordinated enough.
- Add the squash to the pot along with the thyme and nutmeg and stir to combine with the onion mixture. Add the stock, bring to a simmer and cook for about ten minutes.
- Using a handheld blender or a regular blender, puree the soup (in batches if using a regular blender). Really puree the heck out of it! You really want it to be smooth. Then, return the soup to the pot, taste and add salt and pepper to taste. You can add more stock as well, if it seems too thick, and rewarm it a bit. Finally stir in the creme fraiche, starting with 1/2 cup and adding more if you’d like the soup even creamier. (You can also use coconut milk, if you’d like the soup to be vegan/dairy free.)
- Toast the bread slices if you’re using them. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with toasts topped with blue cheese and a sprinkling of pecans. Or just blue cheese. Or just pecans. Or nothing at all. Whatever suits you best.