Fall is in full swing and every farmers' market and stand is displaying its harvest of squashes. Americans were introduced to winter squashes by native Indians. Pilgrims and early colonists realized how easy they were to grow and how adaptable they were in many recipes.
Acorn, pumpkin, butternut, and Hubbard squashes have a hard, thick rind. The rind protects the squash and keeps it from spoiling for long periods, but makes the job of peeling it a challenge if you want to remove the rind before you cook the squash.
"Make an initial cut to create a flat, stable surface that makes it easier and safer to cut up the squash," recommends Culinary Institute of America Chef Scott Swartz.
"Cut through a butternut squash at the point where the neck meets the rounded body. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and any filaments in the center of the squash. Then, set your squash, flat side down, on a work surface and use a chef's knife to cut away the skin."
Pumpkins are also plentiful this time of year. They are like the mascots of autumn. "Dressed" in orange-toned uniforms of varying shapes and sizes, their arrival to stores, farm stands, and front porches inspires the spirit of the season year after year. From pumpkin carving to pie baking, this popular gourd encourages creativity in the kitchen.
Chef Swartz suggests using pumpkins to serve his Butternut Squash Soup. Use smaller pumpkins for individual plated servings, or dress up a party buffet by placing the soup in one big pumpkin for guests to serve themselves.
Prepare the pumpkins by washing them with warm soapy water, rinsing them thoroughly, and patting them dry. Carve out the top to make a lid and remove the seeds from the inside. You can also carve away some of the flesh inside the pumpkin so it can hold more liquid.
The following recipe has been adapted from The Culinary Institute of America's The New Book of Soups (2009, Lebhar Friedman), which is available at bookstores nationwide or at www.ciaprochef.com/fbi/books.html.
To watch CIA's Chef Scott Swartz demonstrate how to prepare Butternut Squash & Apple Soup, visit www.ciachef.edu/ButternutSquashSoup.
Butternut Squash & Apple Soup
Makes 8 servings
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cups diced onion
cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery root
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
3 cups cubed butternut squash
1 cup sliced tart apple
teaspoon salt, or as needed
teaspoon ground white pepper, or as needed
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup crème fraîche for garnish (optional)
8 small pumpkins (about a pound each) or one large pumpkin
Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, ginger, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender and translucent, 5 to 6 minutes.
Add the broth, squash, and apple. Bring the broth to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until the squash is tender enough to mash easily with a fork, about 20 minutes.
While the soup is cooking, wash the pumpkins with mild soapy water, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry. Carve a lid off the tops and remove the seeds from inside.
Purée the soup using a hand-held blender directly in the pot, with a sieve or a food mill, or in a countertop blender food processor. Return it to the soup pot if necessary. Return the soup to a simmer over medium-low heat.
Season the soup as needed with salt, pepper, and orange zest.
You can serve the soup in heated bowls topped with a dollop of crème fraîche if desired.
Or, to serve the soup in pumpkins, place each pumpkin onto a plate and fill them with soup topped with a dollop of crème fraîche if desired. If serving the soup in one large pumpkin, place the lid back on top to keep the soup warm. You can also offer the crème fraîche in a separate bowl on the buffet.
Nutrition Analysis per 8-ounce serving without crème fraîche: 80 calories, 2g protein, 17g carbohydrate, 1g fat, 250mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol, 3g dietary fiber.