As we tumble into fall, all eyes turn to those fleshy orange squashes that we associate with holiday cooking. Although I must say that I recently devoured a maple cream puree made with the grey squash above, I prefer winter squash dishes that don’t add extra sugar. The marshmallow yam Thanksgiving casserole? *shudder*
Sure, a little sugar heightens flavor, and a sweetener like maple syrup (especially the stronger tasting Grade B) can add nuances to the monochromatic flesh of squash. So can smoky fats and meaty nuts. When making roasted squash, I opt for olive oil and spices like coriander, cumin, and black pepper instead of the baking spices, or a Japanese flavor profile of soy sauce, mirin or sake, and sesame. I like roasting because it creates different textures on the top and bottom of the squash pieces.
Pumpkin soup made with white miso is fantastic. For Thanksgiving, I’ll sometimes make small cups of my kabocha squash and bacon soup. The ultra-rich, smooth, dense texture of the kabocha makes particularly good soup. Or add a little bourbon, and olive oil infused with rosemary and thyme, the ingredients of the world’s first perfume, Queen of Hungary water. A couple of weeks ago, I made a lighter soup from sweet meat squash (the grey squash I’ve already mentioned) with fresh cream, zucchini shreds, and corn, flavored with the nutty Egyptian spice mix dukkha.
It’s all good, as my students say. To turn squash into a soup, you can either simmer chunks in water or chicken stock until tender, then smash up right in the same pot, or take the easy route and roast the squash in larger pieces (halves or quarters, depending on the size) with the skin on. Brush the pieces with a little vegetable oil, then roast at 375 degrees. When tender, let the squash cool until you’re able to scoop the flesh from the skin. Much easier to manage than hacking off the uncooked skin, plus you get a flavor boost from the roasting.
When turning the roasted squash into soup, add a few cups of rich milk or chicken stock, and your spices of choice. I won’t even complain if you add a little maple syrup and tiny pieces of bacon. Or, if you cook up your bacon and then let it caramelize in some maple syrup, *then* add it. No, I sure won’t.