It's usually about this time of year that the squashes burst on the scene at the local market produce section. Each year, I circle them hesitantly, admiring their audacious shapes, sizes, textures, and hues. Maybe it's just my imagination, but it seems the last couple of years have brought a greater variety of these late season beauties to the mainstream vendors. Like gourds, which themselves are a study in riotous diversity, I've never been quite sure what I'd actually DO with a winter squash if I actually bought one. But I do know they can be eaten. And that gourds CAN'T (or shouldn't). And that one of my personal goals in any food preparation featuring a curcubit (Geshundheit...) is to avoid any verbal proclamations, upon tasting, along the lines of "Ewwww, Squash!"
My family's tastes are progressing. Some vegetables are easier to acclimate to than others. Blue Hubbard squash is the most recent experiment I foisted, er, tested on my willing subjects (read "family"). They gathered, they sampled, they adored. (Well, they asked for seconds at least.)
Last year I experimented on a small scale and discovered some of what I've been missing. My jaded palate had never experienced much beyond the basic yellow crooknecks of summer, and of course the indomitable zucchini. The winter squashes are purportedly great "keepers," and the ones I've seen all have fairly hard shells, similar to pumpkins, which I'm sure are in the same category, or close. I started selecting a few different winter squashes from the display in order to sample them over time and satisfy my curiosity.
I think I started with a Butternut and a Delicata, and halved, scooped out, and baked each in a baking dish covered with foil. I found out it's hard to mess one up...they bake beautifully and can be eaten As Is, or with the addition of a simple sprinkle of spice, pat of butter, or brush of sweetener such as honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup. My taste buds needed to catch up with my adult mindset, which has been slow to adapt to change from the familiar. As so many types of vegetables are yet unfamiliar to me, I now taste with a more open mind.
One of the nicest introductions to the infinite varieties awaiting tasting, and growing, was the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalogue. Their catalogue blows my mind. I shudder to think of how big our first garden will be when we finally get some acreage...I've tried narrowing down my wish list of the selections they offer, and the eventual list is so long it could feed a small developing nation. Their winter squash selections alone number 80....EIGHTY! I have to do breathing exercises and dash cold water in my face to snap me out of the Seed Catalogue Trance my husband has become all too familiar with, and quietly repeat my mantra "but I don't NEED two pages of winter squashes" a few times to return to my present reality. (Until the next time I open and turn the pages..."melons, wow look at all the melon varieties...!")
Blue Hubbard squash has been on my To Try list for a while, and I just baked some yesterday for the first time. They are likely the variety pictured above, at least that's what the one I bought looked like...(clicking on the picture will direct you to the equally-addicting Seeds of Change site.) I halved one, scooped and cleaned it out, placed it rind-down in a baking pan along with some raw chunked potatoes, carrots, onions, and handful of raw garlic cloves. I splashed a couple tablespoons of white wine and a half cup of water into the bottom of the pan, and topped it all off with a few grinds of salt and pepper. I tucked some of the onion chunks and cloves of garlic into the indentations of the squash, covered the whole thing tightly with a couple layers of aluminum foil, and baked at 350 till done. I usually double the amounts of things I bake, and this was no exception, so two baking dishes of the above were baked at the same time.
We sampled them when cooked fork-tender...it's easy to leave them in the oven and do other things while they cook. I ran errands and arrived back in time for my husband's getting ready to go to work. We stopped and ate together, and the baked vegetables were the perfect meal.
We've both been feeling a bit under the weather, though, and some sort of virus seems to be making the rounds. To ward off the common cold, I decided to take the baked root vegetables in the other baking dish and to incorporate them into some sort of soup. I'm not always so great at improvisation and making my own creations, but this one in a sense made itself. Whenever anyone in my household begins to feel like they might be getting sick, it's my instinct to make some version of homemade chicken soup. That's where tonight's soup began. The only reason I'm posting it here is so I'll remember it for next time...it's one of the best soups I've had in a while. Oh happy coincidence! :)
Here's how I made it...it's so easy and the texture is really nice.
Harvest Chicken Soup (or call it what you like)
1 small blue hubbard squash, (no bigger than a baby's head) halved, seeds and strings removed
1 lg onion, chunked
8-10 cloves of garlic
2 lg carrots, peeled
4 med potatoes, chunked
2 T white wine
a bit of water, just a few tablespoons
Arranged all the above in a baking dish with the squash rind-side down. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Tuck some of the onion and garlic into the scooped out hollows of the squash. Bake covered tightly with foil till fork tender, 1 1/2-2 hrs. Set aside to cool, saving any remaining liquid in the bottom of pan.
In a separate soup pot, place 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts and just enough water to cover. Add some of the cooked onion and garlic you already baked (above). Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a slow simmer. Simmer, covered, till meat is cooked tender, checking water and adding a little if it gets too low.
Once the meat is tender, remove from souppot to cool. Into the liquid left in the souppot, add the liquid from the cooled baked vegetables (above).
Then add 6 additional cups chicken broth (1 lg can) to the souppot.
With a teaspoon, scoop the Hubbard squash pulp into the souppot, and discard rind. With a pulsing action, process together, right in the pot, the squash and liquid with a stick blender (the handheld sort used to make smoothies) till very smooth. One at a time add the rest of the other baked vegetables, blending till smooth. (You can remove the potato skins before blending if you prefer.) At this point, the soup will resemble a golden smooth slightly thick liquid, but not too thick.
Take the cooked chicken breasts and cut into chunks, sized to your preference (I like mine cut small), then add to the soup. Stir this soup over low heat till thoroughly hot, but don't let it boil down...keep the lid on and just on a low simmer.
I don't know what exactly about this soup hit the spot, but it's absolutely delicious and packed with nutrition. The texture is appealing, moreso to me than if the vegetables had not been pureed. The golden hue is a true saffron color, and there are no artificial or processed ingredients in the whole thing. It doesn't taste overtly "squashy" or exotic, yet there is something very "hearth-and-home" feeling about it, and it would be perfect paired with either homebaked bread fresh out of the oven, or hot buttered southern cornbread (not sweet cornbread made with sugar...ick!) It's mild but so flavorful that I didn't add any additional salt or spices, and my whole family loved it.
So Blue Hubbard squash is definately a keeper, if for no other reason than to recreate this soup another time :)