Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Squash soup

A few nights ago I prepared cream of butternut squash soup for the first time.

I do not come from a family of adventurous vegetable eaters. This was due in part to living in Michigan during the seventies and eighties; a depressed economy coupled with those pre-foodie times meant mediocre vegetables. Even now--I have not returned in years--I doubt Michiganders have the wondrous glut of produce we Californians take for granted. Snow and ice do not lend themselves to lush year-round gardens.

Further, vegetables were not the focus of Jewish food culture. It was more important to buy an Empire kosher chicken, or especially nice piece of brisket. Onions, carrots, and potatoes were the inevitable standbys. Salad meant iceberg lettuce with slices of mealy tomato and bottled dressing. Canned peas and carrots, frozen green beans, and canned or frozen corn comprised the rest of our plant diet.

Beets, turnips, celery root, rutabagas, brussels spouts, mustard greens, torpedo onions, okra, fresh ginger, easter egg radishes, artichokes, fresh asparagus (canned was a special treat in my home, the spears divided carefully amongst five people), leeks, garlic, portobello mushrooms, eggplant, and parsnips were all as foreign to me as natto. Squash meant pumpkins, appearing as Jack O’Lanterns or the rare Thanksgiving pie.

I couldn’t tell a rutabaga from a turnip from a parsnip. I did not know that tomatoes grew in a profusion of varieties. To me, there were only the small, round supermarket tennis balls and their little brother, the cherry tomato—equally hard and tasteless, just cuter.

But you cannot miss what you don’t know. Even after my family moved to California, we continued eating as we had in Michigan, sticking with the familiar, going so far as to cut down the mature avocado tree growing in our yard. We considered it a nuisance. Its roots were breaking the concrete, the fruit dropped into the pool. My father went out and brought home three strapping Mexican fellows, who diligently removed the tree. God know what they must have thought of us foolish gringos.

It was Hockeyman who turned me into a vegetable person. The son of a fine gardener, he was accustomed to beautiful tomatoes, peppers, and lemonade squeezed from the fragrant lemons growing in the family’s southern California yard. When we moved in together and I began cooking, he gently asked if we might eat more fresh vegetables. I ventured into the Vons produce section and bought some brussels sprouts. I thought them interesting-looking.

In short order I stopped buying canned and frozen produce. Eighteen months ago I joined Full Belly Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture box program and have never looked back. Fifteen dollars weekly brings us seasonal, organic produce—everything from walnuts to corn to tomatoes to okra.

When I tell people about our CSA, I am invariably asked whether we decide what goes into the box. When I say no, I am met with surprise. People cannot imagine giving up that kind of choice. It does not bother me, as I am forced to learn new things, like how to prepare all that eggplant or deal with a red kuri squash. (Half became bread, the other half, soup.) Nor do I ever worry our vegetables making us sick.

Butternut Squash Bisque, adapted from Jessica Prentice’s recipe, which can be found here.

Or in her book, Full Moon Feast.

My adaptation of Butternut Squash Bisque
Feeds 2-3. Two hours to roast the squash (a good thing to do ahead), about an hour to prepare the soup.

--Half of a red kuri squash, approximately 1 lb., roasted and scraped from the shell

--Summer squash, peeled and sliced. I used three.

--One medium onion, sliced

--Fresh garlic, sliced, to taste. I used four cloves.

--olive oil

--fresh thyme

--salt and pepper

---Chicken Broth to cover. Three cups was ample for dinner and one lunch the next day.

--3/4 cup buttermilk at room temperature

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot. Add the onion and garlic. Saute until softened over medium heat. Add all the squash to the pot and allow it brown slightly. Stir so the roasted squash does not stick (you may need to add a bit more olive oil).

Add the chicken broth and seasonings. Stir.

Allow the soup to come to a simmer but don’t let it boil. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables are soft and the roasted squash has begun to come apart in the stock, about half an hour.

Puree using either an immersion or coventional blender. I do not have an immersion blender, so I ladle the soup into the blender goblet, then hold the lid down with a towel. Remember, this is hot liquid. Be careful!

Pour the blended soup back into the pot to reheat gently.

Serve topped with croutons, chopped scallions, creme fraiche, or yogurt.

Notes:

--I was afraid the soup alone would not be filling enough for H-man, so I added orzo, which I prepared in a second pot while the soup simmered. The next day the soup had thickened to a near-stew consistency but was still delicious.

--I stirred yogurt into my soup, which added a nice, tangy flavor. Hockeyman loathes yogurt and ate his soup with plain sourdough bread. (It was a weeknight, and I was too tired to bother with croutons).

Given squash’s essential blandness, the soup had a suprising depth of flavor. With the deep orange of the squash tempered by the creamy buttermilk, the soup was as pretty as it was tasty. Perfect the cooler weather.

Food, Cooking, Community Supported Agriculture,

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