Sunday, October 16, 2011

Enlightenment in a Squash

People are so self-involved. They think that ball games in faraway cities are won or lost by whether they put on their team hat back-to-front or front-to-back. Or if they wear their great-aunt Neddra's cameo necklace to their next internet date they'll be more likely to find their ideal mate. Or, like me (Self-involved? A blogger?), all I had to do was admit, at long last and after much kicking and screaming, that it's fall-going-on-winter. Then the sun could come out and we could have a few precious days of sunshine.

The come-to-Jesus, can't-deny-it-any-longer moment came when I was at my local grocery store and saw a pumpkin display out front. (It may also have been helped along by the jeans, boots and two layers of coats I was wearing.) Most of the squash were the large orange orbs that beg to be carved into humorous lanterns…I particularly like the ones that looks like they're throwing up seeds and pumpkin guts…but there was one flattened, bronze beauty that called my name, a Musquee de Provence weighing around ten pounds or so.

It was begging to be baked and made into fall's perfect meal, a squash soup. And that's what I told the woman ahead of me at the checkstand when I heaved it onto the conveyor belt and she asked what I was planning on doing with it. Once home, I scooped out the pulp (after making my son look at "the vomiting pumpkin!" and getting an eyeroll for my trouble), chopped it into wedges and baked it.

I'd made a Thai-inflected coconut squash soup before, so something more savory seemed in order this time. Earlier I'd noticed my neighbor's sage plant looked like it wouldn't miss a few leaves, so those went into the pot along with an onion, some garlic and chicken stock. There were some piquillo peppers sitting in the fridge that would make a nice drizzle on the top, so while the soup cooked I made a little sauce with those.

Ladled into bowls with some of Dave's bread, these made a perfect fall dinner. And you know what? Make of it what you will, but the next day the sun came out.

Luscious Squash Soup with Roasted Piquillo Pepper Purée

For the soup:
8 c. baked winter squash (see recipe, below)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, shopped
A dozen fresh sage leaves
4 c. chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

For the pepper purée:
1 c. roasted piquillo peppers (or other roasted red pepper)
1 Tbsp. olive oil (or the oil from the jar of piquillo peppers)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes or 1small dried red pepper
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400°. For a large squash or pumpkin, halve the squash and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Slice into wedges and place on aluminum foil on large baking sheet. Bake for approx. 1 hr. or until a fork can easily penetrate the flesh. Separate the flesh from the skin and place in bowl. Set aside.

Heat oil in large soup pot on stove. Sauté onion and garlic till translucent. Add 8 sage leaves, then the squash and stock. Stir to combine, then, using immersion blender (or working in batches with processor or blender), blend until smooth. Bring just to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 30 minutes or more. If desired, briefly fry extra sage leaves in hot oil for garnish.

For the pepper sauce, place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Drizzle over soup and serve more alongside.

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