I love Winter Squash. When I was a toddler, I suffered from beta-carotene poisoning from being fed too much strained squash. Apparently, it was one of the only things that I would eat. I am older and less picky now, but I still love the sweet orange flesh of winter squash. Hubbard, fairy, turban, butternut, buttercup, these are all cultivars of the species “cucurbita-maxima," and they are delicious when roasted or made into soup.
This year, I bought a few Buttercup plants for my garden and planted them in late spring after the last frosts. By September, the vines were approaching 20 feet long with big orange blossoms and apple sized dark-green fruits growing. They also were attracting cucumber beetles and squash bugs, which is another story entirely. By the time the first frost of Fall had killed the vines, I yielded about 10 pounds of fruit.
After the harvests, what better way is there to celebrate than to share my bounty with family and friends? My winter squash takes center stage this year as a simple bisque that lets the sweet flavor of the squash really shine. This requires a conventional blender, a big stock pot, two large Pyrex bowls, and not much else.
VERY SIMPLE INGREDIENTS
Two tablespoons of butter or olive oil
Two stalks of celery
One head of garlic
One large sweet yellow onion
Three to four large winter squashes, about 5 pounds.
I begin by halving the squash with a sharp, heavy chef’s knife or a vegetable cleaver. Take care, these fruits are dense and difficult to cut! With an ice cream scoop, I scrape out the seeds and stringy bits, but DO NOT THROW THEM AWAY! The squash guts are packed with flavor and we are going to make stock with them.
Now, the squash flesh can be cooked in one of two ways. If you have a large enough steaming basket, the squash can be cubed and steamed in the stock pot that you will be making your stock in. Otherwise, you can lightly oil the insides of the squash halves and roast the squash in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until tender. The former method has the benefit of infusing the squash flesh with the flavor of the stock but, I prefer the latter method as the squash sugars get caramelized a bit when roasted.
On the cutting board, I chop up the onions, celery and garlic. Under medium heat, I add my oil or butter to the stock pot and when hot, I add the onions, celery, garlic, a bit of sea salt and the squash guts. I stir the contents frequently, making sure that nothing is burning on the bottom of the pot. The onions and celery are translucent and the steam coming off smells delicious but I keep on stirring because I really want to unlock the flavors of the squash seeds. If it begins to burn, I add a little bit of water.
Finally, I am satisfied that everything is a cooked down into an orangy, stringy, seedy gack. I add three cups of boiling water to the pot. I taste it at this point and add a bit more sea salt. This is all the stock that I need for the soup. I have effectively made a Mirepoix, substituting carrots with the squash guts.
If I am steaming the squash, I would want to keep the stock at a low boil and begin to steam the squash cubes in a covered steamer basket on top of the pot. This should take about fifteen to twenty minutes to stem the flesh until it is fork tender.
If I am roasting my squash, I will simmer the stock while I wait for the squash to cook through in the oven. Once the roasted squash halves are cooked, I scrape the flesh from the skin into a large Pyrex bowl.
I place a large colander over my second large Pyrex bowl. Into the colander I pour the contents of the stock pot, stirring the colander to let the liquids drain into the bowl. When I have reclaimed all of the liquids I can now discard the solids. They have imparted all their flavors into the stock and can now retire to the compost pile.
I begin to put my cooked squash into the blender, filling it only about halfway. If I fill it up past halfway, I risk making a mess and scalding myself. Carefully, I pour just enough of the stock into the blender to cover the squash. With the lid ON the blender , I blend the contents until it is nice and smooth. If the contents do not blend right away, I add a bit more stock. Returning the blended bisque into the stock pot, I then repeat the blending until I have make all my bisque.
Voila! I add sea salt to taste. I warm up some crusty bread in the oven, while my bisque is warming on "low". I serve the soup with the crusty bread and butter and some spiced apple cider. Just the thing to warm up cold bones alone or with family and friends on a cold winter's evening.