Sunday Spring Cleaning: Heirloom Squash Soup with Roasted Chestnuts

squashsoup

Whether you’re on the East Coast or the West, it seems to be grey, chilly and raining – perfect weather for this spicy, warm and satisfying soup.  And with 3 lbs of pumpkin cleared out of my freezer, I’m wondering how many California almonds (and walnuts and pistachios) I can fit into my carryon bag…

I thought that the Last Fresh Pumpkin of ’08 had fallen, but I did not count on my friend Nadine fobbing off giving me two of her own CSA pumpkins left over from last Fall.  She knows that I am pathologically incapable of allowing food to go to waste and she was heading off for a week in Mexico, so pushed them at me saying “I know you will do something with them.”  And really (although it sounds like it) I’m not complaining – free food, especially healthy, local, organic pumpkin, should be a celebration after all… but when one has been diligently cleaning out the one tiny freezer, and one suddenly ends up with another 6 lbs of pumpkin, one can feel a little pissy, even about free, local, organic pumpkin.  Can’t one?  OK, no, I guess not.  But you see, I did use it: I peeled it, roasted the seeds (this time with Shallot Salt, free from Penzey’s – pretty yummy), cut some into chunks for the freezer, and turned some into pumpkin puree.

This Spring Cleaning recipe therefore included 3 lbs of diced pumpkin chunks, a quart of roasted vegetable stock, and a habanero pepper from the freezer, the last of a head of roasted garlic in the fridge, and a it’s-been-around-a-suspiciously-long-time package of roasted, vacuum-packed chestnuts from Trader Joe’s. The ‘pumpkin’ was actually a Long Island Cheese Squash, which are nicely deep orange inside, with a whitish skin on the outside, making this a true “heirloom squash” soup – however, any pumpkin or winter squash (butternut, Hubbard, Kabocha, etc.) will work.  It was a nice taste experiment, as I bought some seeds of this very plant to grow this season.

This recipe was adapated from one of the same name in Taste by Michel Nischan.  The soup was flavorful, with cinnamon, cardamom and chile pepper, and similar to his pumpkin soup in Homegrown (a personal fave), but I’m not so sure about the roasted chestnuts; I don’t know if it is because mine were past their prime, or because they were pre-roasted and vacuum-packed rather than freshly roasted, but I did not really care for the texture and they didn’t add much to the flavor of the soup.  I’ll stick with the crispy fried-sage garnish in the Homegrown recipe (which I will post one of these days!).

More spring cleaning to do?  Click here for more Sunday Spring Cleaning recipes.

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Heirloom Squash Soup with Roasted Chestnuts

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 lb Long Island cheese squash, OR pumpkin or other winter squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 3 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 medium red onion (size of an orange), cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 8 garlic cloves, separated but with paper intact, OR 8 roasted garlic cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 green cardamom pods (or 1/2 tsp ground cardamom)
  • 1 small green habanero pepper, OR 1/2 small red Thai chile or other spicy chile pepper, seeded and minced
  • 4 cups roasted vegetable stock, unsalted
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tbsp fresh)
  • 12 chestnuts, roasted, peeled and sliced, for garnish
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, for garnish

METHODS

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine squash, 2 tbsp of grapeseed oil and a sprinkling of salt & pepper, making sure the squash cubes are well coated with oil.  Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and place in the center of the oven to roast.  Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  3. Ten minutes into the cooking time of the squash, make some room on a corner of the pan and add the onion slices and garlic cloves (if not already roasted).  Drizzle with the remaining grapeseed oil and salt & pepper to taste.  Set the timer for 10 minutes.
  4. Check the onion slices and garlic; turn over, and cover garlic with tinfoil if starting to burn.  Set the timer for another 10 minutes.
  5. After a total of 30 -40 minutes cooking time for the squash (20 – 30 for the onions and garlic), the vegetables should be tender and just starting to brown.  Remove from oven and add the squash, onion, peeled garlic, stock, cinnamon, cardamom, and chile pepper to a medium stock pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 25-30 minutes, or until the squash begins to fall apart. 
  6. Remove the cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods (do not forget this important step and try immersion blending with the cinnamon sticks still in the soup, unless you want horrible grinding sounds from your immersion blender and big chunks of cinnamon bark in your soup – I”m just saying…). Puree the soup with an immersion blender or transfer to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. 
  7. If, at this point, you want a thicker consistency soup, simmer for another 10-15 minutes in order to achieve the desired consistency.  If the soup is too thick, add a bit more stock or a small amount of water and blend well.  (Consistency can vary depending on how much liquid was in the squash.)  Once you have achieved the desired consistency, add salt (taste first if you used a salted stock), pepper and dried thyme.  Taste and adjust seasonings.
  8. Serve garnished with sliced chestnuts and fresh thyme leaves.

Serves 4 – 6.

OPTIONS

  1. The soup is a little richer made with chicken stock, however, the vegetable stock does allow for delicate differences in winter squash flavor to shine through. Either is tasty.
  2. Other yummy garnishes include grated parmesean (or other hard cheese), spicy roasted pumpkin seeds, toasted pepitas, or a small drizzle of walnut oil.
  3. The pumpkin soup featured in Homegrown is essentially the same, with the following alterations: chicken stock instead of vegetable stock, sage replaces dried thyme in the soup, and whole sage leaves fried in olive oil are used as garnish.  Yum!
  4. Using cardamom pods instead of ground, and a sweet white onion instead of a red onion, will help to maintain the beautiful orange color of the pumpkin.

STORE

The soup lasts in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days, and freezes well for up to 3 months.

SEASON

Year-round with frozen pumpkin chunks, but Fall is the season for pumpkins. It’s nearly impossible to find local chestnuts due to the chestnut blight that devastated American chestnut populations across the East; you could try planting your own chestnut tree with some help from the folks at the American Chestnut Foundation.

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