I've been a little hard on the patty pan squash, and for that I apologize.
About a year ago, I posted a recipe for Roasted Patty Pan Squash and Herbed Chickpeas, and wrote, "avoid patty pans that are larger than the palm of your hand: they will likely be watery and bland."
I do stand by my statement that young and small patty pan squashes have more flavor, better texture, and undoubtedly more kawaii appeal than their bigger brothers, but that's not to say the latter should be forsaken. Especially when you find one such specimen in your weekly vegetable basket, white and smooth as china.
Inspired by a string of chilly late summer days, I decided to make soup with it, a simple one, made with shallots and chicken stock in under thirty minutes. And to boost the flavor and tie it back to the season -- fall, I'm not ready for you yet -- I made pesto.
It's a classic sort of pesto with basil and pine nuts, but instead of parmesan or pecorino I used ricotta salata, a pressed, dried and salted ricotta I've been playing with lately: it's not a very meltable cheese, but I like its tang and milkiness, and it fares well in salads or in this soup condiment.
Because I love interactive dishes -- especially soups, which can be a bit one-dimensional otherwise -- I served the pesto in a jar at the table, for us to scoop into our bowls, stir, and watch the cream-white soup fleck with green. Add a hunk of fresh-baked pain au levain, and you've officially achieved dinner bliss.
Pattypan Squash Soup with Pesto
For the soup:
- 2 shallots
- 1 pattypan squash, about 23 cm (9") in diameter
- 1 liter (1 quart) chicken or vegetable stock, homemade if you have it
- salt, pepper
- olive oil
For the pesto*:
- 50 grams (about 2 1/2 cups) basil leaves
- 50 grams (1 3/4 ounces) ricotta salata (or parmesan, or pecorino)
- 25 grams (3/4 ounce) pine nuts, toasted
- salt, pepper
- olive oil
Serves 4 to 6.
Peel and mince the shallots. Remove the stem end and bottom button of the pattypan squash (no need to peel it). Quarter it, and cut it in chunks then slices. Put the stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
In a medium pot, heat a drizzle of olive oil. Add the shallots and a sprinkle of salt, and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, until softened, stirring regularly to avoid coloring.
Add the pattypan squash, sprinkle with salt, and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the simmering stock, plus any boiling water necessary to completely cover the vegetables. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes, or until the squash is very soft.
While the soup is simmering, prepare the pesto. In a blender or food processor (you can also work by hand in a mortar if you prefer), combine the basil, cheese and pine nuts. Add a good pinch of salt, some pepper, and a generous drizzle of olive oil, and pulse until smooth. Add more olive oil if necessary for the pesto to come together.
Remove the soup from the heat, put on an apron, and whizz the soup with a stick blender (or in batches in a regular blender) until completely smooth.
Serve hot, but not too hot, sprinkled with freshly ground pepper, with pesto on the side for each diner to add a spoonful to his bowl.
* The recipe makes more pesto than you'll need for this soup; I doubt that will be a problem.
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