Sunday, December 05, 2004

Delicata Squash Soup with Arugula Pesto

When I started thinking about what to have for dinner last night I was thinking light and simple. It being December and pretty chilly outside, soup naturally came to mind. I had a Delicata squash in the fridge that had been there for a couple of weeks, so I decided to make use of it. I wanted to include some greens in the soup and thought that the slight bitterness of arugula might contrast nicely with the sweetness of the squash. It was then that my train of thought veered off track – what was to have been a simple supper became considerably more complicated.

Somewhere in one or more of the many food magazines I have browsed over the years, I know I’ve seen pesto used as a garnish for soup, though I had never tried it myself. The idea of an arugula pesto on top of squash soup sounded really good to me. Then I got a really crazy idea – instead of using Parmesan cheese in the pesto, what if I used aged Gouda? And… instead of using pine nuts, why not use pecans? I think the only reasons I thought of using the aged Gouda were that I happened to have some on hand and I really like it. I didn’t have a clue as to whether it would “go with” arugula. In fact I started worrying about the combination enough that I decided to validate it by doing a search in Google. My search turned up several salads that included arugula, aged Gouda and pecans, so I decided it must be an acceptable combination.

I envy people that can confidently work out a recipe in their head. I suppose much of that ability must come from experience eating and preparing many different foods, but to me it’s like being able to read a sheet of music and hear the music in your head – another skill that eludes me. Anyway, I have to rely on luck as much as anything. Occasionally it works.

The pesto worked. However, my angst over the choice of nuts and cheese was unnecessary. The arugula overpowers them. I think pine nuts and Parmesan would work equally well and would taste just about the same.

I was much more laid back about the soup (probably because this was more familiar territory). I roasted the Delicata squash to accentuate its sweetness, added a sautéed onion and some roasted garlic, pureed them together in the food processor and then added chicken stock.

I topped the soup with salty crisped bits of pancetta. The mix of contrasting flavors and textures was delicious. I had a heap of dishes to do, but it was worth it! Tonight I had the leftover pesto in a pasta dish, but it’s late and that will have to be another post…

Delicata Squash Soup with Arugula Pesto

3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and cooled
About half a bunch of arugula (I weighed mine after it was cleaned and I had 90 grams or about 3 packed cups)
1/3 cup olive oil
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup grated aged Gouda (mine weighed 15 grams or about ½ ounce)

2 Delicata squash (a little under 3 pounds total)
1 onion
1 head roasted garlic
3 to 4 cups chicken stock
¼ tsp salt
1 thick slice pancetta or bacon

Make the pesto: Place the garlic cloves in the food processor and pulse a few times. Add the pecans and process until finely chopped. Add the arugula, olive oil, and salt, and process until smooth. Place the pesto in a small bowl and then stir in the cheese. (Note: I went heavy on the arugula and light on the oil and cheese, but you could easily change the amounts to suit your preferences.)

Make the soup: Cut each squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Rub a little olive oil over the cut side of each half and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place cut side down in a baking dish (I had to use 2 to fit all four pieces) and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, cut the pancetta into fine dice and cook in a non-stick frying pan over medium high heat until crisp. Remove the bits from the pan and place on paper towel to drain. Pour off the accumulated fat. Dice an onion and sauté it in the same pan. Place the onions and roasted garlic in the food processor. When the squash is done, scoop the flesh from each shell and place in food processor. Process until smooth. Pour the pureed vegetables into a 3-quart pot and add the chicken stock and salt. Cook just until heated through. Ladle the soup into bowls and top each bowl with a generous tablespoonful of pesto and a sprinkle of pancetta bits.


Reid said...

Hi Cathy,

I'm like you. I start off by thinking of something light and simple, but for some reason, it ends up being complex. The soup looks delicious and I really, really like that taste of arugula. Never thought of using it to make pesto though. How much soup did this make? I'm sure it was a considerable amount.

Anonymous said...

Wow that sounds really good and looks especially appealing to me (since there's no turkey in it :) just kidding). Anyway, I think it's awesome that you devised this on your own...that's something that's very difficult for me. Do you find that the delicata squash has a distinct flavor from other winter squashes? Is that the type that's long and cucumberish shaped?

Cathy said...

Hi Reid - thanks! I really love arugula too. I had never had it up until about 4 years ago. I had it in a salad when travelling with my brother and Chuck. Bob and I referred to the salad back then (and I still think of it now) as "the best salad I ever had". When I handle arugula now and first get a whiff of it I am transported back to that evening. Anyway, back to the topic at hand - this made about 4 servings.

Hi Alice! Thanks so much. You know, you're going to be so happy to have all those different turkey soups stashed away in your freezer a few weeks from now! You're right about which one is the delicata - it is sort of cucumber-shaped. I haven't had very many other winter squashes - mostly just acorn and butternut. I think the delicata is probably the sweetest of the three. The texture is more like acorn than butternut. Try it, you'll like it!

Reid said...

Hi Cathy,

If you like the slight bitterness that arugula offers, you should try having it with brie cheese on a toasted baguette. YUM. If you'd like, you can also add some prosciutto to the sandwich as well.

Cathy said...

Hi Reid - I'll take your word on that for now. Unfortunately, brie is one of the things on my list (of dislikes). When I get around to working on it, I will have to give your idea a try! I haven't done an update on that in a while, but I have cooked shrimp a few more times and have plans to move on to goat cheese next.

balinda boo said...

I guess I'm about four years late on trying this recipe, but I'm so glad I found it! I had all the ingredients, unlike the other squash soups which called for heavy whipping cream that I did not have.
Anyhow, I really liked this soup and it's a great seasonal soup! I would definitely make it again, and although it's somewhat time consuming, each step within itself it quite simple and it would be a difficult recipe to "screw up".
Thanks for sharing your creativity Cathy!


Cathy said...

Hi Brenda! I'm so happy you found it and enjoyed it... in fact, I'd forgotten about this soup, so receiving your comment was also a nice reminder. This is certainly the season for this sort of thing!