Nov 15, 2013

Squash-ing Misconceptions

A bit of a caveat: In the act of coming down off of Halloween, and building up to Thanksgiving, I admit I've been running into a certain level of writer's block on what to post. I have several projects in progress, but nothing at any level of completion. I feel obligated to use the season to be topical, and nothing was really working for me.

I think the role of marketing, distilled down to one sentence (other than buy this!), is: “Make hard things look easy, and make easy things look hard.” One of the reasons that I tend to try to do just about everything once is so that I can judge for myself. Croissants, for example, are exactly as much work as one would expect – a fair amount. Pie crusts, however, with a little bit of science knowledge, are really easy. Sometimes the improved quality that results from making something from scratch far outweighs the time sink, like most of the candy I've made. On the other hand, sometimes the experience can be summed up as a a check box of "Ok, I've done it. Let's not do that again.”

Which leads us to soup.

In a completely unscientific judgment, I would say that after cereal, chips, and pasta, soup tends to take up the most aisle space for a specific food item in the supermarket. Sometimes it gets its own aisle, which for a food is basically winning. And honestly, soup can often be super easy and super cheap to make. It can take time, sure. But there's also a big difference between something that requires a great deal of effort or constant attention, and something that just needs a while to cook.

If you make your own stock, it will take some time. This is reason number x why I love my crock pot. I can throw in bones, cover with water, and let the crock pot leech all the lovely collagen out of the bones while I'm at work. Which really, is the difference between broth and stock. Stock is thick and rich, and permeated with gelatin. Broth, if we're being completely honest, is just "chicken water". When I get home, voila! Chicken stock that I can later freeze in ice cube trays and use for various purposes. Of course, I am not going to judge you for buying stock. Depending on the soup you make, it may make no difference whatsoever. And if a can or box of chicken stock is the deciding point between ordering a pizza or making soup? Buy the stock.

Despite my obsessive experimentation with zucchini earlier this year, I don't tend to cook with squash all that often. It's just not something that tends to fit into my repertoire. But that was one of the positives of having a CSA this year. It forced me to cook with ingredients that I wouldn't normally use, and try things that I wouldn't normally eat. So I looked around this weekend, and noticed that I still had a bunch of squash left over from the CSA. Conveniently, they're squash, and could be called "nature's canned goods". They will last a really long time, if they haven't been cut open.

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and grabbed whatever squash that I had. I think there were two delicata, one kabocha, a sugar pumpkin that I had not actually carved for Halloween, and a butternut squash (as I said, I had a BUNCH of squash). So I grabbed a roasting pan, sliced the smaller squash in half, the medium sized ones into quarters, and the pumpkin into chunks large enough to fit into pans without being unwieldy. I tossed the seeds (although toasted pumpkin seeds are both easy to make and super tasty), threw the pieces into two pans (as there was way too much for just one), sprinkled a little brown sugar over the top, threw in a couple cloves of garlic, and stuck them in the oven for somewhere around an hour while I did other things around the house. Does it sound like this was done somewhat haphazardly with little attention to detail? Good. Because that's exactly what it was. Periodically, I would check the progress, by sticking a fork in the various pieces. When everything was nice and soft, I took the pans out of the oven and let them cool on top of the stove for a bit.

Once they are were cool enough to handle, I took my ice cream scoop and each piece of squash, and just scooped it out of the skin. I figured that it would be a whole lot easier to do it this way than to carefully peel each one (which it was!). I put the meat of the squash into a large saucepan, and added some chicken stock. At this point I used my immersion blender, but you could also use a potato masher or even a wooden spoon to mix it up, and break down clumps. A little bit of salt and pumpkin pie spice (I thought the combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger worked rather well), and a little heat from the stove, and I had a large pot of creamy, homemade squash soup. It's not rocket science, and honestly, not even that much food science. But it was easy, tasty, and (before adding the spices) could be used for many different types of soup. Curried soup? Sure. Want to add cream or even sour cream to thicken it up a bit? Why not? It may be a bit slow, but it is easy.

Also, when was the last time a can of soup made your entire house smell amazing? I'm guessing never. Roast some squash for a while and you'll be able to skip the air freshener.

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