*Sincere thanks to Jenny Lehman for this beautiful photo of the soup she made at home from this recipe.
Spring and fall in Washington easily compensate for summer’s most humid days and the city’s damp, insipid attempt at winter. One of the great joys of these seasons is their length. In New England, where I grew up, spring announces itself with a six-week flurry of daffodils, Forsythia and Rhododendron that fade as quickly as they arrive. DC’s season’s last months, lingering over spring flowers and the long change to autumn, marked by crisp leaves, bright mums and jaunty scarves and caps.
Why force it then? I’m puzzled by the appearance of pants and sweaters on the first 75 degree day in September while I’m still enjoying the end of summer in shorts and a tee. I feel the same way about food. Hearty soups are inappropriate on a warm, humid day no matter what date the calendar marks.
Presented with the year’s first Delicata squash, I wanted to serve up a soup that was light and celebrated this cultivar’s sweet, floral notes*, saving rich, sugary Hubbards and Kabocha’s for colder weather. A double stock, flavored with anise-y fennel, the season’s last tomatoes and earthy Shitakes bring out the lighter notes in Delicata. Using the seed mass beefs up the squash taste. This soup delivers so many layers of flavor, for so little work, the first bite caught me by surprise. Farm-fresh butter adds welcome richness. In a rare decision, we left out vinegar. Even rich balsamic dulled Delicata’s delicate sugars.
*”Seriously, floral notes and light sweetness? Next you’ll be telling me about lingonberry accents in my Pinot.” My parents and I actually conducted a squash tasting at home one night. That’s just how we roll.
Delicata Squash Fennel Soup
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 1-1.5 cups fennel stems and fronds
- 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 4-6 Shitake mushrooms, stems and caps
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 6 parsley stems, about 3″ each
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 4 Delicata squash, peeled, seeded and cut in 1” cubes. Seed mass reserved.
- 1-2 tbs butter
- While you chop the squash and onions, simmer the vegetable stock with fennel, tomatoes, mushrooms, herbs and bay leaves for 20-30 minutes.
- Warm oil in a 4qt soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and cook one minute until fragrant.
- Add squash and sauté 5-7 minutes.
- Strain the stock into the vegetables and cook until squash is easily pierced through with a fork or tip of a knife.
- Purée soup in a food mill or with an immersion blender. I prefer a food mill for this soup because of the smoother purée it produces.
- Season to taste with butter, salt and pepper.
I am often asked how I come up with the recipes I cook at Eastern Market and publish in this blog. They all start with inspiration – or desperation – figuring out how to feature a seasonal ingredient or use a new product from one of the great shops I work with.
Sometimes it’s easy. I’ll pull a recipe out of my head that I’ve cooked many times, like asparagus soup or zucchini pancakes. Along the way, these recipes get tweaked with new ingredients and new ideas I’ve learned elsewhere.
Other times an idea pops into my head, like last week’s Indian style peas and corn. I’ll flip through cookbooks and search the web to understand the range of ingredients, seasonings and techniques that other people have used, then pull together the ideas that sound the best and start testing the recipe, making changes until I’ve got something I’m proud to serve.
The hardest recipes, and some of my greatest satisfaction, come when I’m stumped. This past week I wanted to work with summer squash. The Saturday before I had sautéed it, tossed with a compound butter. Rather then another variation on sautéed and tossed with herbs, I wanted something really new. I began flipping through cookbooks waiting for a recipe to excite me. I found a squash goulash, 70’s style with ground beef, green peppers and sweet paprika. I removed the beef so the squash could take center stage. Red peppers kept some bitterness without the bite. Red miso and tomato paste added depth, while Spanish paprika or pimentón, brought a bit of heat. Some fresh vegetable stock gave the sauce another layer and I was ready to serve this week’s Summer Squash Goulash. My sincere thanks to Too Many Tomatoes, and my Mom who raised us on its recipes, for the inspiration.
Summer Squash Goulash
Makes 3-4 main course servings unless you eat it at 10:30 at night, in which case two of you will be fighting over the last bowl.
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 cups thinly sliced crimini mushrooms
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 2 tbs sweet paprika
- 2 tbs tomato paste
- 2 tbs red miso paste
- 2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 1.5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 2 cups summer squash thinly sliced in half rounds
- 1/4 cup chopped basil
- Sherry Vinegar
- In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook onion in olive oil until softened. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds until fragrant.
- Add mushrooms and cook until lightly browned on edges.
- Add pepper, paprika, tomato paste and miso. Cook 1-2 minutes until paprika is fragrant.
- Stir in tomatoes and cook until softened and water begins to evaporate. Add stock and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Add squash, basil. Cover and cook until squash is softened but still firm.
- Uncover and let thicken to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt, pepper and vinegar.