Outside, it's very evident that we live near the Olympic rain forest. The yard is a series of small lakes which I shall start naming soon, the cats are in a foul mood, a flood watch is in effect through tomorrow night and I think I see the beginnings of algae forming between my toes. The only happy ones are the ducks. They think it's marvelous! On a day and night such as this, all I want is comfort food. Today, that meant tackling the enormous hubbard squash from the garden. The thing weighed 14 lbs.! I gave a third of it away, used a third and still have a 5.2 lb. piece left. And more squashies still on the vine.
Big 'un, eh? Hubbards do tend toward the large, but it's only the two of us. So, out came the long Santoku knife and I went to work! I'd been mulling a recipe in my mind since last night. Of course, I wanted to use my own home-cured pancetta. The stuff is freaking delicious! I'm thrilled at the depth of flavor and how easy it is to make. It really only requires patience. That's a bit difficult for me, but I managed it by making two big slabs at once, so now I can start a new cure before I'm all out. Anyway, back to the soup. I cut about a 6 lb. piece of it into manageable slices, peeled and cut it into big chunks. Into an oiled baking pan they went. I painted the tops with more olive oil, sprinkled on coarse sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper and into the oven for roasting, to intensify the flavor of the squash.
Pretty, huh? The house smelled very autumn-y. I like that word. It's cozier sounding than autumnal. But, I digress. I fried the pancetta, more than I needed to, since I always snitch a fair amount of it. A crowd of dogs and cats was gathering in the kitchen as it crisped. Sorry, guys. No sharing of this stuff! Yes, I actually do say no to them sometimes! And on I went, forgetting the dumping rain outside. Soon, there was hot, sweet, earthy soup to soothe my soul.
HUBBARD SQUASH SOUP WITH PANCETTA
Squash sizes vary a lot, and if you can find one of a 3 lb. size, you can halve this recipe and serve 4-6 people.
Feel free to substitute other squash varieties of a similar texture. The amount of chicken broth is variable, depending upon how thick or thin you like your soup. Nice served with crusty bread or toasts.
A 5-6 lb. Hubbard squash
Olive oil - about 1/2 c. total
2 large cloves garlic, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 t. red chili flakes
4 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped and rubbed
4 oz. pancetta, diced
6-8 c. chicken broth, preferably homemade
Approx. 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Black pepper, freshly ground
Heat oven to 375 F. Cut squash into thick slices, seed and peel. Cut squash into large chunks - about 2 x 3 inches. Place chunks in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan which has been oiled with 3 T. extra virgin olive oil. Brush squash pieces with olive oil, sprinkle coarse sea salt over them and grind a generous amount of black pepper over all. Roast, uncovered, for 45 minutes, turning halfway through.
Meanwhile, in a large stockpot, heat 3 T. olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onions, garlic and chili flakes and sauté until translucent. Add thyme leaves, remove from heat and let stand until squash is done roasting. When squash is tender and browned in places, remove from oven and add to onion mixture. Add 6 cups of the chicken broth to the pot, cover and bring to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes, until squash is very soft. Remove from heat. While soup is simmering, fry pancetta pieces in 2 T. olive oil until crispy and set aside. Using a stick blender, blend squash soup until smooth. At this point, you can decide if you need to thin the soup more or not. Add more chicken broth, as you prefer. Once blended, stir in the crispy pancetta. Allow to stand at least 20 minutes for flavors to blend before serving. Top with parsley, a bit of shredded parmesan or croutons, as desired.