*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 1/2 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 4 quart 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.