Genetically there is little difference between the three siblings from the Cucurbita family. Some people think the difference lies in the color and others say the flavor of squash is milder, the texture, finer. The best explanation I found said, “a pumpkin is something you carve, a squash is something you eat and a gourd is something you look at”. My personal favorite to eat, at the moment, is kabocha squash. Narrowing the choices even that much still leaves plenty to contemplate.
Mair Farm Taki at the University Farmers Market has steaming hot samples of several varieties of kabocha squash. I chose Sunshine, round and bright orange, looking suspiciously like a small pumpkin. All of the “winter squash” got its start in the summer but are tagged “winter” because they store well throughout the cold weather. Don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of time to try all the different varieties.
I have a couple of fabulous recipes that I can fully endorse from the new-to-me cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin. I have tagged half of this book with recipes I’d like to try, so be prepared to hear more about it if you haven’t already.
Using a whole squash for one recipe means lots of leftovers if you have a small family. I decided to make a soup, a warm salad and candied squash seeds, all from one squash and it worked out perfectly. I could have eaten more of this soup — the best squash soup I’ve ever had and the salad was a big hit served as an appetizer with Manhattans on Friday night.
Kabocha Squash and Fennel Soup
1/2 medium kabocha squash
1 medium fennel bulb
2 T olive oil
2 t fennel seeds
3 T butter
1 cup sliced onions (I used a couple of shallots too)
1 T thyme leaves
2 chiles de arbol
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup sherry ( I didn’t have any on hand so I used Lillet instead)
4 cups chicken stock
Preheat the oven to 400
Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place the squash cut side down on a cutting board and using a sharp knife remove the peel. You can peel the entire squash and save half, covered and refrigerated, for the salad. Cut the fennel in half lengthwise and then into 1/2 inch wedges. Cut squash into 3/4 ” wedges.
Toss squash and fennel in olive oil, salt & pepper in a large bowl. Place on a baking sheet and roast 35 minutes until tender and slightly caramelized.
Toast the fennel seeds in a small pan over medium heat, then pound coarsely in a mortar.
Melt butter in a soup pot and then add onions, fennel seeds, thyme, chilis, bay leaf, salt & pepper. Cook about 10 minutes over medium high heat until onions are soft and translucent.
Add the roasted squash and fennel and stir to coat. Turn heat up to high and and pour in sherry. Let it reduce for a minute or two. Add stock. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove bay leaf and chilis. Working in small batches, blend soup in a blender or food processor until completely smooth and creamy. Add salt & pepper to taste.
Top with creme fraiche and candied squash seeds.
The warm kabocha squash salad starts out the same way as the soup. The squash is peeled, sliced, tossed in olive oil and salt, pepper and some thyme leaves, then roasted until tender and lightly caramelized.
Toss 1/2 cup pecans in olive oil and salt. Spread on baking sheet and toast at 375 until they smell nutty, about 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together a vinaigrette of 2 T sherry vinegar, 2 T olive oil and 1/4 t salt.
Cut 1/3 lb bacon into squares and fry just until browned and crisp. Add 1/4 cup sliced shallots and toss to coat and cook slightly. Take off the heat and add the vinaigrette to warm it. Add salt & pepper to taste. Use this to dress the roasted squash.
Sprinkle on chopped nuts and shavings of a good hard cheese, like pecorino or manchego.
Serve with bitter greens like rustic arugula.