Scarlet Kabocha squash soup with ginger, apple and hazelnuts
Navigating squash varieties can be both confusing and exciting. Their skins, like those of delicata and sweet dumpling squash (pictured to the right), range from lively and attractive to the light brown of butternut squash, which reminds me of chilly day in late November.
For quartering and roasting, or thin-slicing and pan roasting, I prefer acorn, sweet dumpling and delicata squash, which has an edible skin if you're up for a little extra fiber in your diet!
Butternut, kabocha and Hubbard squash, along with sugar pumpkins, are the best winter squash for soup-making as they tend of have a dense, high-yielding flesh that is dry and meaty enough to eliminate the need for starch-based thickeners, potatoes or cream.
Like many of us, I am attracted to the most vibrantly colored squash, so when I spotted a scarlet kabocha (pictured below) when last shopping at the farmers market, I grabbed it, even though I wasn't sure exactly what I'd do with it. It ended up being creamy and thick, with an almost buttery quality when I pureed it. (Green kabocha squash offers up the same texture when roasted and pureéd.) Perfect for an autumn soup!
The vegetables and stock for this soup can used with any squash variety you favor, whether for its flavor or color! Purchase quality vegetable stock if you're pressed for time. (I find the carrot flavor a little heavy in most brands.)
Makes 4 to 6 bowls of soup suitable for serving as a meal
1 medium size winter squash, about 2 pounds
2 apples such as Braeburn, Cameo, Gala or MacIntosh, peeled and coarsely chopped.
1 medium-size leek, white part only, coarsely chopped (reserve green top for vegetable stock)
6 cups vegetable stock, homemade (see recipe) or purchased
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 orange, juiced
2-tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
3 tablespoons olive oil
10 sage leaves, stems removed
1/4 cup sour cream or plain full fat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup roasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and discard them or set them aside for roasting. Place the squash halves in a pan, cut side up and sprinkle lightly with salt. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place into the oven to bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until the skin collapses and the flesh is soft and pliable. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside until the squash is cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, put the apple and leek, along with a splash of vegetable stock, in a deep saucepan with a fitted lid over low heat. Cover the pan and let the contents cook and soften over lowest possible heat for about 20 minutes; you don't want to add any color, so add a bit more stock if the apples or leek are caramelizing.
Scoop the flesh from the squash halves and add it to the saucepan with the rest of the stock. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium low heat and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the contents cool slightly before transferring it in batches to a food blender or processor to puree.
Depending on the tool you use to puree the soup and how smooth you like it, you may not need to strain it. Adjust the consistency as needed, adding more vegetable stock if it seems too thick, or allowing it to simmer slightly longer if it is thin. When the desired consistency is reached, cool the soup and store it, or enjoy it immediately.
To fry the sage leaf garnish, heat the olive oil in a small sauté pan until it is hot. Add the sage leaves and let them pop and lightly brown, removing them after a minute or two. Remove the sage leaves from the pan to a paper towel to drain and season lightly with salt. The garnish can be prepared in advance.
To serve, reheat the soup until it is hot and use a microplane to grate the ginger. Add the grated ginger, orange juice and butter, if using. Season to taste with salt.
Ladle the hot soup into bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, fried sage leaves, toasted hazelnuts and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.