Just about a year ago, I thought I was going to go crazy. Sometime in the middle of winter, after months of heavy snowfall, I woke up to find another 24 inches of white and an empty fridge. I ate potatoes and kale for two days before I could get out and find something else to eat, which happened to be a squirrel—no joke. So, this winter, you’d think I’d be happy about the mild weather. But now that we’re into March, the drab, seemingly endless melancholy of winter is really wearing on me. Once again I am sick to death of potatoes and kale. I dream of asparagus. But the reality is, we’re just not there yet.
Luckily, there is an age-old cure to the winter blues: soup. And there is an abundant winter vegetable that, when treated with a little inventiveness, is fresh and welcome every time: squash. Bonus: squash is cheap. I picked up a three-pounder for about three bucks.
The beauty of the time that we live in now is variety. Many of my old cookbooks have recipes for pumpkin soup, but they never even mention the existence of the now ubiquitous butternut or the very common (and silky when cooked) kobucha or acorn. This gang is interchangeable when pureed into soup, so find one that moves you and buy three pounds of it. The soup is simple and easy to make, and I like to add a little intrigue and balance the sweetness of the squash with a quick-pickled squash salad that I serve on top. It works, too. In about half an hour you’ll have a soul-healing (sanity-restoring) bowl of comfort that just might get you through to asparagus season.
Winter Squash Soup With Quick-Pickled Squash
For the soup:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 (3-pound) winter squash such as kobucha, butternut, or pumpkin
1 quart chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
2 tablespoons light brown sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/3 cup heavy cream
For the quick pickles:
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
Make the soup: Peel and seed squash, then cut into 2-inch chunks, reserving about 1/4 pound for the quick pickles.
Heat butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat until hot. Stir in leeks and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are translucent, about 6 minutes. Stir in squash, stock, water, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cook soup, uncovered, until squash is very tender, about 25 minutes.
Transfer soup to a blender and puree in batches with cream. Season with sugar (if using), salt, and pepper to taste.
Make the quick pickles: Slice reserved squash as thinly as possible with a slicer or sharp knife. Heat vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Pour vinegar mixture over squash in a bowl and let stand 15 minutes. Drain squash then toss with oil, cilantro, and pepper flakes. Serve soup topped with quick pickles.