Another winter storm, another day off school. And so it goes. It was 80 degrees on Saturday before it dropped to below freezing yesterday morning. First the skies started spitting sleet, and then we got squalls of alternating heavy sleet and hail that made a lot of noise bouncing around outside. We even got treated to some thunder sleet/hail. In all, we got enough accumulation to cover the grass outside. Of course the roads are all one sheet of ice. Since yesterday afternoon, we have not heard any traffic on the roads, save for regular intervals of emergency sirens as they respond to accidents. It is very quiet and very cold, the temperature dipping down to 15 degrees last night - a 60 degree swing from Saturday. Our weather lately has been crazy, warm enough for shorts on the weekends and cold enough for wool during the week. It's a wonder we are not all sick.
Thankfully I got all our shopping and errands done on Saturday, so yesterday I was in the kitchen cooking and baking all day. On a cold day when you have the time and nowhere to be, this bean and squash soup really hits the spot. Kabocha squash takes some time to prepare, but it is so worth it. Its texture is a cross between pumpkin and sweet potato and its flavor is sweeter than both. It tastes fabulous roasted all by itself but it is also great in any number of dishes, including curries, pilafs and soups. Besides roasted plain as "fries", this soup is my favorite way to feature kabocha squash. Serve this soup with Tomato Rosemary Muffins or French Bread for a hearty meal.
White Bean Soup with Kabocha Squash
1 pound dried white beans, soaked in cold water overnight
1 kabocha squash, 2 - 3 pounds
6 - 8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp. pepper
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. dried parsley or 1/4 cup fresh parsley
1 tbsp. lemon juice, if desired
After soaking the dried beans overnight, drain and rinse. Place in a large pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, simmer 10 minutes. Drain and rinse again. Return to the pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, skimming foam from the top as needed. Turn down heat to a simmer and cook about 1 1/2 hours or until the beans are tender. Drain and set aside.
While the beans are cooking, prepare the squash. The way I like to do it is to cut the squash into four pieces, leaving the middle part with the seeds intact, like you'd cut an apple around its core. Then place each of the squash pieces flat side down and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. Then slice out the seeds and gunk from each slice with a knife (peeling the inside) and then turn your knife to peeling the skin off the outer part.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place each squash piece flat on a baking sheet. Brush squash with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Turn squash pieces over and repeat. Bake about 20 minutes or until the squash slices start to brown on the bottom. Turn the slices over and continue baking until fork tender. Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle.
While the squash is cooking, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium - low heat in a dutch oven. Add the onion, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften. Turn down the heat to low and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, a couple of minutes more. Add 6 cups of chicken or vegetable broth and bring to a simmer.
Puree about half the cooked beans with a cup or so of chicken or vegetable broth in a blender until smooth. Add the pureed beans to the pot. Add the remaining beans and enough broth to thicken the soup to your desired consistency. Bring to a simmer. Chop the cooked squash and add to the soup. Simmer 10 minutes more. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding lemon juice if desired. Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf and stir in the parsley. Serve hot.