Friday, February 22, 2008

Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup

Kabocha squash (also known as Japanese pumpkin) has been on my mind for a while. (The Wednesday Chef loves it for its nearly fiber-less flesh and delicious flavor.) My neighborhood market had several on display recently so I picked one up and brought it home for a test-drive.

True confessions - the butternut squash has always been my favorite – it is equally delicious chunked and roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper and fennel or as a pie filling standing in for the more obvious pumpkin or sweet potato.

A close understudy to the butternut squash, the flesh of the Kabocha is firmer and drier and a bit less sweet. For my maiden voyage I decided to give this squash the “chunked and roasted” treatment as an accompaniment to my earlier post on Pork Chops with Tarragon Cream. The results were satisfying, but to me the texture was too dry and I yearned for the sweetness of the butternut.

The next morning I stared into the fridge at the container of leftovers and pondered. After peeling, scooping, slicing and roasting the night before, I was invested – this squash needed salvation. Referring again to my mental list of favorite squash preparations, I decided that the best course of action was to make soup.

So in the pot they went - roasted squash and onions and chicken broth. After the floating bits of orange and brown began to simmer I pureed the lot with an emersion blender, added salt and pepper and then sprinkled on bits of fried pancetta and a swirl of cream – voila! – delicious, ultra creamy Kabocha soup.

Donna Deane's Pork Chops with Tarragon Cream

There are certain staple foods that I always have on hand for those nights that I need something foolproof and fast from freezer to fork. Pork tenderloin is one of my favorites – it defrosts in a flash and cooks up tender and buttery soft, no knife in sight.

My favorite preparation is to clean off the silver skin, slice it against the grain into half (or three-quarter) inch medallions, sauté in a hot pan with sage and thyme and finish with a vermouth and cream pan sauce. Literally 30 minutes from start to finish.

This recipe from Donna Deane appeared in the LA Times in December, 2000 as one of the Top 10 Recipes of the year. Always happy to find a variation of a favorite, I picked up some fresh tarragon at the market and substituted tenderloin for the bone-in chops that the recipe calls for.

To round out the plate, I roasted some chunks of Kabocha squash with quartered onions, olive oil, salt and pepper. The resulting dish was delicious and as speedy to prepare as my old standby.

Donna Deane’s Pork Chops with Tarragon Cream
Los Angeles Times – December 27, 2000

4 center-cut pork loin chops with bone
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup unsalted chicken broth
½ cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon

Season pork loin chops with salt and pepper. Heat butter and oil in large heavy skillet until hot. Add pork chops and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn and brown second side, about 5 minutes. Remove chops from pan and cover with foil to keep warm.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Add garlic and cook, stirring, about one minute. Stir in chicken broth, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Stir in whipping cream. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until sauce begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.

Return chops to skillet. Cover and simmer over low heat until chops are light pink in the center, about 5 minutes. Stir tarragon into sauce during last few minutes of cooking.