The colourful side of Autumn

squash

Farmer market and posh shops are invaded by thousands of pumpkins and squashes. I’m not sure what German people do with squash foodwise, but for sure they love its rustic looks for decoration. One of my neighbours has displayed three carefully choses pumpkins on his doorsteps: they are lovely! And their  colour is very similar to the beautiful trees that line the sky in this region.

I love squashes because they are so flavourful and sweet, and so  poor in calories. I also love their colour. I usually roast them, cut into chunks (if you look into my oven, a good 70% of the times there is a squash roasting close to whatever else is there) before doing anything else. However, this being not possible, I am exploring other methods. A quite convenient one is to steam it, cut into largish chunks, using a basket in my pressure cooker. It takes about 10 minutes and the flavour and consistency are quite well-preserved if you don’t overcook it.
No matter what cooking method one chooses, for a good final result, the right variety of squash is vital.  However it is not so easy to understand which is which! By the way, I never grasped the difference between pumpkin and squash: to me they are just ‘zucca’. In Italy you will find varieties with green or orange peel, the green one being usually sweet and dense, the orange one very watery and full of filaments. Useless to say what my favourite one is: don’t even dream to make ravioli with a big red pumpkin! In the UK I started to appreciate butternut squash, which I have found also here. But the other day at the farmer market I faced the choice between zillions of different varieties (some of them were mercifully market as ‘speise’, ie edible,  to help my choice). I purchased a slice of a big orange pumpkin, with pale yellow skin, that was quite nice in flavour, and an orange, round pumpking that was filed under the name ‘kabocha’, but I doubt it really is: its peel should be green, but it is red! Anyway it is one of the nicest squashes I have ever come across, with a sweet, delicate pulp, a great consistency and a very bright colour also when cooked.

This soup, put quite simply, is the best pumpkin/squash soup I have ever tried – it is delicious. Make it. Don’t bother with the garnish if you don’t have time or are vegetarian or are so inclined. The soup here is the real star: it is one of those food combinations that seem to be a match made in heaven. It is just perfect. I’m not sure I’ll make any other pumpkin or squash soup after trying this one. I first tasted it on last year’s eve: a friend brought it over for the dinner party. It was warm and nice and the spices were just perfect: the nutmeg was clear, but I could not guess the ginger, I had to ask the chef. My version has a tiny bit more ginger, a little fresh garlic addition, and less nutmeg. Anyway, the magic combination is nutmeg +ginger + squash. Now that you know it, you’re in.

Spicy squash soup

serves 3

ingredients:

about 500 gr clean squash

600 ml vegetable stock

1 fresh garlic clove, to taste

salt and pepper

about 1 cm long piece of ginger, peeled

grated nutmeg, to taste

For the topping:  a handful of  brussels sprouts

50-60 gr speck, diced

a little olive oil

Steam the squash flesh, cut into cubes, until soft but not overcooked. Blend it with the hot water, ginger and garlic, using a hand blender, until smooth. If you want to make sure it really is, you can pass it through a sieve.  Heat it gently, until it reaches the desired consistency (I like it quite thin and sometimes I add also a little of the pumpking  steaming water if needed: the total amount of liquid depends greatly on the squash variety).

Add a generous pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

Cut the sprouts into quarters or even more if quite large. Heat the speck cubes in a non sticking pan, with a little oil if they are very lean, until slightly browned. Add the sprouts and saute’ for a couple of minutes, until the sprouts begin to wilt but are still quite crunchy. Adjust with salt and pepper, depending on how much the speck has seasoned the sprouts.

Serve the soup in shallow dishes, with some sprouts and speck scattered on top.

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