Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Dog Days Are Over

Change is in the air here in New York, and as the breezes turn slightly brisk it's hard to imagine that just last week we were suffering under the brutal rays of late summer sun. The next two months make for happy cooking as the last of summer's bounty meets the goodness of fall. It's one of my favorite times of year to cook, in fact as far as overlapping seasons go, summer's slow creep into fall can't be beat. Sweet corn, zucchini and eggplant are still an overwhelming force at the farmers market, while apples, pears, and a variety of squashes roll in. Bridging the gap between seasons is never easier than with the variety of fruits and veggies available now, and my favorite way to do it is by making soup.

As much as I love squash, I've always felt that it's best in soup. And with the lingering presence of summer squash, plus the recently emerged hard squashes like delicata, acorn and spaghetti, there's no better time to make a great squash bisque that utilizes the best of both seasons. This isn't a roasted squash soup, so there's no need to turn on the oven. I just peeled and sauteed everything (including a large acorn squash) on my stove top and let it simmer away in a golden broth until all of the squash was soft and pliable. A little bit of research led me to the common combination of squash and corn in Mexican cooking, so I was able to bring a little more summer sunshine to the dish. While waiting for the squash mixture to cool slightly before blending it (I've learned the hard way NOT to skip this step) I decided to take the Mexican theme a bit further. I sauteed up a little bit of corn with a touch of olive oil and lots of salt and pepper, then wiped out the pan and dry roasted a few pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds) for a nutty touch and a bit of crunch.

I was really happy with the end result, which was a nice velvety and naturally creamy soup that was both slightly sweet and salty, with a great mouthfeel from the pop of the plump corn and the salty crunch of the pepitas (which are also blended in the soup). A dollop of sour cream on top added some decadence without being overly rich. It's important to strain a soup like this, because squash can often be made up of tough fibers that do not blend completely, and the pepitas can also often not blend completely because they're so small to begin with, giving the soup a grainy quality. A quick pass through a strainer or sieve will really make it a restaurant quality soup, so try to resist the temptation to skip this step. You can even strain it straight into your serving bowls so it doesn't feel like an extra step, or get another dish dirty. I know I'll be making this soup again, and adding a little extra heat as the colder weather draws near (chilies and curry are two options I already know I'll be toying with!). Give it a try and experiment with your own favorite flavors. 

Squash and Corn Bisque with Toasted Pepitas 
1 acorn or butternut squash, peeled and roughly cubed
1 ear of corn, husked, kernels removed and cob reserved
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
2-3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
3/4 cup shelled pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
extra virgin olive oil
black pepper

1. Sweat onions and garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat until just starting to soften (you don't want caramelization, just softening). Add coriander, cumin and paprika and cook, stirring constantly for 20 seconds. Add squash and cook for a minute longer. Add enough stock to just cover mixture, along with reserved corn cob and bring to a simmer. Cook until squash is tender and cooked through. Allow to cool.

2. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick skillet. Add corn and saute until slightly softened, but still firm and fresh. Remove to a plate or bowl and set aside. Carefully wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and reheat on low. Add pepitas and cook, tossing constantly until browned and crunchy, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and set aside.

3. Once cooled, discard the corn cob and add the squash mixture to a blender or food processor, along with all but 1/3 cup of the pepitas. Blend, adding more stock or water as necessary to thin mixture if it's too thick. Strain soup back into the pot, add corn (reserving a few tablespoons for garnish) and reheat. Serve topped with sour cream and remaining corn and pepitas. Enjoy!


1 comment:

The Food Hunter said...

Perfect weather for this today