Of all the produce of summer, nothing is as deeply entwined with memories of my childhood, mother, and grandmother, as yellow crookneck squash. Until my mother started growing green zucchini in the sixties, yellow crooknecks were the only summer squash we knew.
Perhaps one reason they’re so memorable for me is because most of the garden’s bounty was cooked only one or, at best, two ways. Not squash. We had them steamed whole, sliced and stewed with bacon and onions, creamed, rolled in cornmeal and fried, layered into cheesy, crumb-topped casseroles, and – MaMa’s specialty – stuffed with a savory filling of their own pulp mixed with crumbs and green onions and baked until golden.
The one thing we never had was squash soup – until, that is, my grandmother went out west on a bus tour. MaMa didn’t look the part, but she was a world-class adventuress who loved to travel more than anything. It really didn’t matter where she was going, so long as “going” was the operative word.
Whenever the women’s club announced a trip, she was packed and in the front seat of the bus faster than flies on watermelon. We never minded her trips because she always came home with great stories and terrific new recipes, like this creamy, delicate yet full-flavored squash soup from Texas.
By then, I was in college, so it wasn’t part of my childhood. Yet whenever I make it, it takes me back to those lazy summer vacations spent in my grandmother’s kitchen, when, no matter how hot it got, she could always make cooking an adventure.
Yellow Summer Squash Soup With Sage And Thyme
1 pound yellow crookneck squash
1 medium leek
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced thin
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup homemade Chicken Broth or ½ canned broth mixed with ½ cup water
1 Bouquet Garni made with a sprig each of thyme, parsley and sage
Salt and white pepper in a peppermill
2 cups half and half
¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
4 - 5 fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced, or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Scrub the squash under cold running water, trim the blossom and stem ends, and slice crosswise into ½-inch-thick rounds. Split the leek lengthwise and wash it well under running water to remove the dirt from between the leaves. Remove and reserve the green tops and slice the white part.
Put the sliced leek, onion, and butter in a 4-quart pot over medium heat. Sauté until softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the squash and toss until hot. Add the broth, bouquet garni, a pinch or so of salt, and liberal grinding of white pepper. Raise the heat to medium high, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Remove and discard the bouquet garni. Take up and reserve a cup of solids. Puree the remainder with a hand blender, food processor, or blender. Return it to the pot. Thinly slice the inner pale leek greens. Roughly chop the reserved solids and add them with the leek greens to the puree. Bring back to a simmer over medium heat and simmer until greens are tender, about 5 minutes. The soup can be made ahead: pour it into a bowl set in a basin of ice water and stir until cold; cover and refrigerate.
To serve hot, heat it gently over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, then add the half and half and heat it through. Taste and correct the seasonings. Ladle the soup into heated soup plates. Garnish with a drizzle of cream and a sprinkling of the fresh sage or chives.
To serve it cold, after chilling add the half and half, then taste and correct the seasonings. Garnish as you would the hot soup, or whip the cream until it forms soft peaks, put a dollop on each serving, and sprinkle with the chopped herbs and white pepper.
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Damon Lee Fowler is a culinary historian and author of six cookbooks, including Classical Southern Cooking, Damon Lee Fowler’s New Southern Baking, and The Savannah Cookbook. His work has also appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Relish. He lives, eats, and writes about it in Savannah, Georgia, and can be reached through his own cyber-turf at www.damonleefowler.com.
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