Smile Politely

Market Watch: The Proverbial Pumpkin

The Market at the Square has really slimmed down on vendors lately but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hopping with activity. Our favorite farmers are now well into fall harvest with loads of incredible produce, including a wide array of winter squash, cauliflowers, turnips, broccolis, fennel, apples and more. The pumpkins and gourds are showing up and I’m telling you this is the time of year to start cooking — a lot. It is fairly simple to transform pumpkins and squash into amazing dishes, from satisfying gratins to sumptuous soups and desserts. Any type of pumpkin or winter squash will make great soup if paired with the right flavor combinations and I have a few suggestions you may not have experienced.

Click the jump to read Chef Alisa’s recipe recommendations.

Silky Coconut Pumpkin Soup

from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

3 to 4 shallots, unpeeled
1 1/2 pounds of pumpkin or butternut squash
2 cups canned coconut milk
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup loosely packed coriander leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
Black pepper
1/4 cup minced scallion

In a heavy skillet or on a charcoal or gas grill, dry-roast or grill the shallots, turning occasionally until softened and blackened. Peel, cut the shallots lengthwise in half, and set aside. Peel the pumpkin and clean off any seeds. Cut into small 1/2-inch cubes. You should have 4 1/2 to 5 cups cubed pumpkin. Place the coconut milk, broth, pumpkin cubes, shallots, and coriander leaves in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the salt and simmer over medium heat until the pumpkin is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the fish sauce and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Taste for salt and add a little more fish sauce if you wish. (The soup can be served immediately, but has even more flavor if left to stand for up to an hour. Reheat just before serving.) Serve from a large soup bowl or in individual bowls. Grind black pepper over generously, and, if you wish, garnish with a sprinkling of minced scallion greens. Leftovers freeze very well.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Melted Blue Cheese by Shawn McClain of Custom House Chicago — Food and Wine Magazine

6 pounds butternut squash, split lengthwise and seeded
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
4 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 apples (Brae burn, Fuji, or Gala), peeled, cored, and sliced thinly
3 cups apple cider
1 gallon vegetable stock
1/2 pound blue cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons green (hulled) pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 350¡F.

Place squash cut side down on rimmed one-inch-deep sheet pan. Add 2 cups water and roast until squash is very tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, drain off any remaining water, and let cool.
Meanwhile, in heavy, 12-quart pot over moderate heat, melt butter. Add onions, garlic, celery, 3 tablespoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and sauté until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add apples and sauté until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add apple cider and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until liquid is reduced by half.

When squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and add to soup. Add stock and remaining tablespoon salt, raise heat to high, and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until all vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.

In double boiler over medium heat, heat cheese and heavy cream, stirring occasionally, until melted, about 10 minutes. Keep warm.

In dry, heavy, 9- to 10-inch cast iron skillet over moderate heat, toast pumpkin seeds, stirring constantly, until puffed and golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl.

Working in batches, purée soup in blender until very smooth, then return to pot. Set over moderate heat and return to simmer.

To serve, ladle hot soup into bowls, drizzle with blue cheese mixture, and sprinkle with toasted pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately.

*In other Market news, the WILL tent will have The Afternoon Magazine’s Celeste Quinn this Saturday, so stop by to put a face to her familiar voice and say hello. The weather is going to be gorgeous and Market at the Square and Urbana’s Public Arts Program are co-sponsoring a mask-making workshop headed up by local artist Lori Caterini. The activities will run all morning, suitable for all ages and completely free, so don’t miss out.

*The Eastern Illinois Foodbank will also be at the market every Saturday from now through November 1st collecting non-perishable donations for their annual Food for Families drive, so there will be plenty of opportunity to share the wealth, so to speak.

*And finally, Smile Politely will be out at the Market once again, spreading the good word about the magazine. Feel free to stop by and say hello.

The Market at the Square runs every Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon, rain or shine now through November 8th. It is located in the parking lot of Urbana Square Mall on the corners of Vine and Illinois Streets.

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