Warm, comforting soup is the French antidote to everything – winter’s chill, low spirits, oncoming cold or fever, taxes, strikes, you name it.
My household is no exception. And yesterday, with the wind whipping over the ears of the gargoyles on the church across the street, the specter of taxis blocking roads, air traffic controllers keeping planes on the ground, and the sncf (train system) threatening to stop traffic, soup was clearly the best revenge.
I had one last potimarron (they disappear quickly from the market stands) and it was the perfect choice for soup. Potimarron, called kuri, hokkaido, or baby hubbard, was developed by the Japanese on the island of Hokkaido, has become a global favorite, and rightly so. It’s flavor is a lilting combination of nutty pumpkin and sweet, smooth chestnut, it is quick cooking and it doesn’t need to be peeled. What could be better?
The toughest thing about preparing potimarron, whose French name comes from the word potiron (pumpkin) and marron (chestnut) is that first cut; it’s a solid vegetable that resists, and wants to roll right away from you. You’ve got to master it, or it will master you.
So, before doing any cutting, slice off the bottom to create a flat surface, preventing it from rolling away. Second, use a large knife blade and lean on it until it breaks the surface and goes right through. Once you’ve cut it apart, it is smooth sailing. Alternatively, you can use a cleaver and exercise your eye-hand coordination.
Once you’ve cut into it, use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and string. Cut it into chunks, put it in a pan with salt and star anise, cover it by at least 2-inches with water , which you bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat so the water is simmering, cover the pan and wait about 30 minutes. By then, the squash will be soft through. Remove the star anise, puree the mixture and voila! You’ve got one of the best soups known to humankind.
Here is a formal recipe. Bon Appetit!
Potimarron (Kuri) Soup
Soupe au Potimarron
This is the simplest possible version of this soup and, to my mind, the best. However, you can vary it in one million ways. I might suggest sautéing a diced onion before adding the squash and water; drizzling it with pumpkin oil right before serving, or setting a piece of sautéed foie gras on top. You can add bacon at the last minute too, or minced parsley.
1-1/2 pounds (750g) kuri squash, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 mounded teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 star anise
Sea salt and freshly ground black peppe
- Place the squash into a medium-sized saucepan and cover it by 3-inches (7.5 cm) of filtered water. Add the sea salt and the star anise and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, cover and cook until the squash is tender through, about 25 minutes
- Remove the star anise, purée the soup, then season it to taste with salt and pepper.
- Divide the soup among six soup bowls. Sprinkle with fleur de sel before serving, if desired.