So let’s talk about gourds…whether you know it or not, cukes, pumpkins* and squash, along with melons are all part of the same botanical family. Yes, really – I don’t make this shit up! If you are in doubt as to whether something is in the gourd family, cut it open. If it has a hollow space filled with fibrous membranes and seeds, chances are it’s a gourd. That includes the funky, bumpy, inedible kinds used for decoration this time of year. Inedible “woody” gourds had often been dried, and hollowed out for use as water dippers, scoops of every description and canisters. Of course the soft fleshed gourds were consumed in several preparations. The thing about gourds is that they grow almost anywhere, including the desert with proper irrigation! If you have ever planted zucchini, you know that they are prolific multipliers and can feed a family easily. So think about how early settlers, trying to feed their families in uncertain climates felt about having such a generous provider among their planted crops. In addition to growing plentifully, many squash are excellent sources of vitamins A and C so they helped keep the settlers healthy, plus the tough skinned gourds (pumpkins, butternut, acorn, etc.) store well and can keep for a long time in a root cellar providing nutrition in the barren winter.
Our Native American ancestors have been working with squash for centuries and we settlers received not only the bounty of their wisdom for our own pleasure and health but for the world as well once people started sailing back to where they came from. Squash and many members of the gourd family are indigenous to the Americas. That is not to say that other cultures haven’t their own gourds to work with. The Chinese have been making vessels, both useful and decorative by having bottle gourds grow in a “frame” to specifically shape them for use as boxes, vases etc. for centuries as well.
Many thanks to Steelcase Furniture for having me speak at their Conference last week! I was asked, as part of their team building conference here in Vegas, to do a live cooking demo at The Springs Preserve focusing on Fall produce. I was thrilled to be part of their conference and hope everyone enjoyed Vegas while they were here. As promised the recipe for the soup is below and I encourage you to make it and enjoy it. Contact me with any questions.
*On All Hallow’s Eve the most famous member of the gourd family has its big coming out party as Jack-o-Lanterns. The origins of this however began with the lowly turnip in the British Isles when turnips, because pumpkins had not made it to Europe yet, were carved hollow and little lights were placed inside to ward off evil spirits.
Curried Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Caramelized Apples
Butternut squash (each average sized squash is 1 ½ – 2 lbs and will make enough soup for 4 – 6 people as a main dish with salad and bread)
Kosher Salt (and pepper if desired)
Chicken or Vegetable stock – homemade or low sodium is best (2 -3 Cups per squash)
Madras style Curry powder of choice – about 1 Tbsp per squash
Pinch of Cayenne pepper – optional
Heavy Cream – optional
Granny Smith Apples – 1 large one will make enough garnish for 1 squash
Clarified butter (aka Drawn butter)
Sugar – you can use Demerara, Brown, Raw or regular granulated
- This recipe is easy to make VEGAN – just use veg stock and omit the cream or use almond or unsweetened coconut cream to taste
- Make the apples while the squash is roasting. The caramelization process takes about the same amount of time as the roasting.
- The apples and soup can be made a day or two ahead and stored in the fridge. Reheat the soup and sprinkle with the chilled apples or bring apples to room temp.
- This recipe can also be made with acorn squash or pumpkin.
Preheat oven to 400
Slice off the stem end of the squash so you have a flat end. Place the flat end on the cutting board so it is bottom up. Using a SHARP knife carefully cut the squash lengthwise in half. Scoop out the seeds.
Brush or spray a baking sheet and squash with olive oil. Sprinkle squash with kosher salt & ppepper and place cut side down on the baking sheet.
Roast in oven until fork tender – about 30 minutes. Check it at 20 then again at 25. Over cooking the squash into supreme tenderness is preferable to undercooking it.
Meanwhile – core and finely dice the apples. I use a mandolin to slice into julienne strips and then cut the strips into dice. Your fine dice should be about 1/8 – 1/4 of an inch.
Heat a skillet – I use stainless – on medium heat. Add butter to pan and make sure it completely coats the bottom (for 1 apple use about 3 – 4Tbsp of butter). Add apples to the skillet, stirring to coat. Sprinkle with sugar. Use the same amount of sugar as you used butter. Stir to coat again. Turn the flame to LOW and cook, stirring frequently until apples start to become golden in color. Once that happens REALLY keep an eye on them, they will start to brown quickly. Continue cooking, stirring frequently until the apples start to resemble bacon bits. When they are a dark golden brown, remove from heat to a paper towel to drain and cool. Blot excess butter and toss the pieces so they don’t stick together. Once you can handle them, remove to an airtight container for storage.
Remove squash from oven. Allow to cool slightly so you can handle the squash with a dish towel. Scoop out the flesh from the skins being careful not to catch any of the skin. It’s easy to do because everything has been softened up.
Place cooked squash, in batches, in blender with a bit of either chicken or vegetable stock, just enough that the squash moves easily with the blades. You don’t want it too thin. You can always add more stock, but you can’t take it out. Puree until smooth. (You can also do this with a hand held stick blender right in a pot). Heat soup in a saucepan, adding additional stock if needed to thin out the soup to desired texture. If you run out of stock you can use water. Add curry powder and cayenne pepper. Allow to simmer 30 minutes to let flavors meld. DO NOT turn your back on the simmering soup! It can and will stick to the bottom very easily AND it becomes a VOLCANO of soup if it starts to boil, spraying everything in sight with soup! I learned this the hard way…
Stir in heavy cream or half & half for extra richness. Season with salt & ground pepper to taste.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with the apples right before serving.
Made a day ahead, the flavors will intensify, so be judicious with the seasonings.