20 November 2011

A Squash by Any Other Name

The basement is lined with dozens of squash.  Although pleased by the plentiful supply, I'm daunted by the task of finding another variation on a squash theme.  One Wednesday afternoon while exhausting my resourcefulness for an inspirational dinner, I came up with something.  It is not original in the grander world of dinners, but it is original for our home.  If a meal isn't born in garlic and olive oil or an alternative herb in butter, it isn't our standard fare.  I routinely use our garden-grown herbs for flavor, but couldn't have been more bored by an onion or garlic let alone the rosemary and sage that have made appearances in more than a few meals over the past several weeks.  After testing our fair share of pumpkin pies for The Paisana's Patisserie, it occurred to me: pumpkin pie soup.  I have a freshly-stocked spice rack full of ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon begging for experimentation outside the pastry crust.

a small portion of our Butternut Squash harvest

To call it pumpkin pie soup is slightly deceptive as there is no pumpkin in the dish. However, it is a much more appetizing title than any that came to mind containing the word squash.  According to Romeo, 'that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet'.  Although romantic when applied to adolescent love, the theme isn't as relevant in regards to the Cucurbitaceae family.  Squash, though a true culinary delight, was not named accordingly.  At best, it conjures images of peasant or Native American cuisine--not that both categories lack delicious highlights, but neither immediately points to them either.  

1 gallon of farm-fresh milk
I wanted something redolent of the holidays--something that perfectly defines these transitional weeks of November into the official holiday season.  It had to be creamy, satisfying, and slightly exotic, but common enough to be a comfort food, just like pumpkin pie.

roasted and cooled squash halves
The ingredient list is simple: Butternut squash, milk, pumpkin pie spices, maple syrup or flavoring, brown sugar, kosher salt.  One of the purposes of this blog is to explore the gastronomic opportunities of Midwest gardening.  I point this out because my recipes are not always the most time or labor efficient.  In our effort to produce as much of our food as our sanity allows, I've reclaimed certain steps typically done by a factory.  So for this soup, I split, roasted, skinned, and pureed the squash.  If we are not cut from the same cloth in the kitchen, you are welcome to buy pure pumpkin puree from the store if trying this recipe.  You'll save time and effort; your kitchen will remain much tidier than mine as well.  

Pumpkin Pie soup makes a cozy winter lunch, puts the abundance of garden squash to good use, and is an anticipated respite from our standard meal equation: x + olive oil + garlic + parmesan = repast.  I think it may be the perfect tree-decorating companion lunch and certainly makes more room in the basement.  I only wish it were as delicious with a more virtuous name.

Pumpkin Pie Soup
serves about 8 

2 medium butternut squash 
5-6 cups milk
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp ginger
2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp allspice
1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp maple flavoring (or 3 Tbsp maple syrup and eliminate brown sugar)

Halve squash and place faced down on a foil-lined and oiled baking sheet.  Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes in 350 degree oven.  The squash should be slightly caramelized on the outside and very soft.  Remove flesh and blend in batches in food processor or blender with enough milk to make a smooth puree.  Add squash, spices, and enough milk for a creamy, but not too thick consistency to a large stockpot (I use an 8 qt stainless steel).  Cook on a low heat until it's very hot, but not boiling.  The milk will form a skin if you bring to a boil.  I find this soup is much better on the second day because it allows enough time for the spices to infuse.  The texture is better after it sits a day or two as well.  

Please note that the amount of spice in the ingredient list is a suggested starting point.  Often, pumpkin pie recipes use more cinnamon than the other spices, but I really like the kick that the extra ginger gives.  Next time I may even add a little cayenne. I usually don't list my recipes because there aren't any, but this is my best attempt to estimate how much of each ingredient went into this dish.  Feel free to adjust according to your liking.  Were I serving this as a lunch or first course for a dinner, I might garnish with some creme fraiche and candied pecans along with a nice crusty baguette.  It's just fine with a dash of nutmeg and sea salt for a meal of less decorum.  I enjoyed it most by the light of my Christmas decorations with a side of silence provided by Vivienne's nap.  

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