Makes 6 servings
There are some foods that invariably produce a sigh of delight and a smile when you mention them to the French. It's easy to imagine this being the case with chocolate or fresh-from-the-farm crème fraîche, oysters, truffles, or even simple dishes like rice pudding and roast chicken. But when a squash gets a swoon, you know you've hit on something. The squash of sighs is the Red Kuri, or what the French call potimarron, a name that probably describes the vegetable's genetic makeup and certainly gives you a heads-up on what it's going to taste like. The poti comes from the French word for pumpkin, potiron, and marron is the word for chestnut. The squash is remarkable, it's great tasting, it's beautiful, and it has a characteristic that neither pumpkins nor chestnuts have: it doesn't need to be peeled, always the most difficult task when you're dealing with hard-shelled squash. For reasons only botanists can fathom, the shell of the potimarron softens in cooking and becomes completely edible, a lovely culinary anomaly.
So, there I was at a French dinner party and I mentioned that I'd seen potimarron in the market that morning. "To me," I said, "it signals that fall is really here." "Ah, to me," said my friend Beatrix Collet, "it means I can make the first potimarron soup of the season." And, no sooner did she say that, than her husband, Jean-Paul, who was engaged in conversation but who must have caught the critical words potimarron and soup, turned, smiled, and asked if it would be that weekend. After everyone around the table sang the squash's praises, I asked Beatrix about her soup. "It's so simple, it's almost foolish to give you the recipe," she claimed, "but it's just so good, you must try it." That was on a Thursday night, and I made the soup on Friday night and have been making it ever since. It is easy in the extreme and as good as Beatrix claimed—thick, velvety, and a pretty pumpkin color, and it does, indeed, taste as though you cooked the squash with a pile of chestnuts.
Beatrix's soup has nothing in it but squash, leeks, milk, and water, and, as she said, that's suffisant, or sufficient. But because I'm an incorrigible tweaker, I routinely add nutmeg as a seasoning and apples and nuts as a garnish. See Bonne Idee below for more ways to play around with this simple recipe, as well as how to make this soup when you can't find Red Kuri squash at the market.
If you're using the apples and nuts, spoon some into the bottom of each soup bowl and ladle over the hot soup; top each with a little cream.
The soup can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days (it will thicken as it stands, so you might want to thin it when you reheat it) and for up to 2 months packed airtight in the freezer.
For The Soup
To Make The Soup: Scrub the squash under running water, using a brush if necessary to scrape off any dirt. With a sharp chef's knife, cut off the pointy tip of the squash, then cut the squash in half from top to bottom. Scoop out the seeds and the strings that bind them, then cut the squash into 1- to 2-inch chunks, skin and all. Toss the squash into a large Dutch oven or soup pot.
Add the leeks to the pot, then add the milk and water, salt generously, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the squash is soft enough to mash when pressed lightly with the back of spoon.
Using a blender or a food processor, puree the soup, in batches if necessary, until it is very smooth; or use an immersion blender. Depending on how much liquid boiled away, you may have a thick soup and a decision to make: leave it thick (I do) or thin it to whatever consistency pleases you with more milk or more water. Taste for salt and season with pepper and nutmeg. Heat the soup if it cooled in the blender or processor or if you thinned it—this soup is at its best truly hot.
Spoon the apple and nuts into the soup bowls, if using, ladle in the soup, and garnish with the cream, if you like.
If you're intrigued by the flavor combination of squash and chestnuts, the pair that come packed together in Red Kuri squash, but you can't find the squash, you can use butternut squash. Choose one that's about 3 pounds, peel and seed it, and cut into small cubes; and add 7 ounces shelled chestnuts to the mix. You can use jarred or vacuum-packed chestnuts. Look for packs of chestnut pieces they're perfect for pureeing and less expensive than intact nuts.
Another Bonne Idée
You can top the soup with olive-oil-sautéed bread cubes—toss some shredded sage into the skillet along with the bread. Or top with toasted thin slices of baguette that have been sprinkled with grated cheese and run under the broiler—use a nutty cheese, like Gruyère or Emmenthal, or a blue cheese, like Gorgonzola or Roquefort. Or sauté some cooked chopped chestnuts (you can use bottled chestnuts) in a little butter or oil, season with salt and pepper and chopped fresh thyme or sage, and spoon a little over the soup or, better yet, over the crème fraîche.
This page created December 2010
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