I’m particularly proud of this creation, a squash soup made with one of our giant heirloom ‘Oregon Homestead Sweetmeat’ squashes, onions and leeks, and celery leaves. I was seeking a way to make pumpkin soup without the sweet flavors that always dominate. I wanted a hint of sweetness and more body than just fiber. That usually means UMAMI, the battle cry of the meat eater.
Umami is, as we’re probably all well aware by now, the “meaty” fifth taste, alongside its frat brothers, sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. Think mushrooms, nuts, soy sauce, cheese. Sauteed onions, too, add some umami to a dish.
The garnishes keep the soup fascinating, another risk one runs with monotone squash soup. I roasted the squash seeds after only a quick rinse to retain some of the squash fibers clinging to the seeds for more flavor. Topped with black pepper, truffle salt, and a bit of argan oil, they were gilded like gilded lilies. But even better, I broke apart pickled chive blossoms and floated them on top of the bowl of soup.
I urge you, gardeners, to make chive blossom vinegar this spring. It’s a wonderful dressing, colored rose pink, and you can use the pickled blossoms in all kinds of ways. Here, it provides the sour balance to the sweet, salty, bitter (from the celery leaves), umami soup.
Don’t omit the celery. It provides an important taste component (see above), and the soup really needs the mirepoix of onion-leek-rutabaga-celery to add complexities to the flavor.
I’ve been using Marisa at Food in Jars‘ suggestion to take soups to work in mason jars. I’m a bit leery of using my canning jars for daily eating, since they tend to break more easily when they’re redeployed in canning after being banged about, but portable soup is such a messy proposition, I recommend the nice, tight seal canning lids can provide.
Here’s my basic recipe. The delight of soups is that you add as you go, so I don’t have measurements for this one.
Savory Sweetmeat Squash Leek Soup
- A healthy chunk of sweetmeat, or butternut, pumpkin, or similar squash (estimate 6-8 cups cubed)
- 1 onion
- 1 small rutabaga or a few carrots or parsnips
- 2-3 leeks
- 2 stalks of celery, with leaves
- 2-3 tablespoons of butter or bacon fat*
- 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
- 1-2 teaspoons of winter savory or thyme
- enough chicken stock to cover squash by a few inches
- a cup or so of half-and-half
- salt and pepper to taste
Cut the squash in 1-inch cubes and dice the other vegetables. Add all vegetables to a stock pot with the butter/bacon fat and some salt and pepper, and sweat on medium low heat with the lid on until everything softens up, about 20 minutes. Add stock and herbs, and mash the vegetables. Bring to a simmer, then let cook down for 45 minutes or more on medium low heat. Puree the soup with a hand blender, then add the half-and-half. Mix well. Let flavors combine and liquids cook down even more, about 30 more minutes, on low heat. Adjust seasonings and garnish before serving with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chives, or other herbs.
Another option is to roast the squash first, in large chunks, at 325 degrees for about an hour, then scoop the flesh off for the soup. It adds more flavor. Plus, you can roast the squash seeds at the same time.
* I have the luxury of having a tub of wonderful bacon grease from local pigs, so it adds loads of flavor to my soups and pot roasts. You might consider browning some pancetta, minced, in oil and using that for the fat.