Snowy Days and Hot Soup
Snow can be magical anywhere, but because it’s rarest in Paris, I think it’s most special. Early one morning, when the snow had just started (and wouldn’t last long), I walked over to the Marche Saint-Germain, the covered market, to bring a batch of chocolate-chip cookies to Twiggy Saunders, who, with her husband, Michel, and his mother, tends the cheese stand and decided to take a round-about walk back home, circling the Luxembourg Gardens on the way. It was there that I came upon this woman (above), mittened and booted, backpack over her shoulders, stopping in front of the Senate to practice the standing tree, a yoga pose in which balance is key. Having stood for a moment on one foot, then the other, she brought her hands together in the symbol of prayer, hefted her backpack to a more comfortable spot and marched off.
I, too, marched off, to finish my circuit and to marvel at the quietness of the empty petanque fields. Petanque is a kind of lawn bowling and the courts in the park are generally filled with men — there aren’t many women who play this — who usually look as though they came straight from central casting. When the weather’s cool, these racks are heavy with coats and sweaters carelessly hung.
The last thing to catch my eye on my way home was this pooch on the side of the historic Cafe Tournon
I did a triple-take before I realized that the pup was a prop. The water bowl’s real, as is the welcome — dogs almost always get the royal treatment in Parisian cafes.
I got home and after thawing out, put up a pot of soup for lunch.
The soup’s made with leeks, potimarron, a squash, and equal parts milk and water. Potimarron is a compound noun made up by the name for pumpkin, potiron, and that for chestnut, marron, and, happily and deliciously, the potimaron tastes of both. Even better, it’s a squash with a hard shell that doesn’t have to be removed when you cook it.
It took me longer than I’d like to admit to discover that potimarron has an American relative: Red Kuri Squash. If you can’t find this squash, you can use another squash or even pumpkin, but you’ll have to peel it and you’ll miss out on the chestnut flavor. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from adding a handful of cooked chestnuts to the mix. (I use dry-packed bottled chestnuts all the time.)
I don’t really have a recipe for this soup — but you don’t really need one. Just scrub the shell of a smallish red kuri squash, split it, scrap out the seeds and strings, and cut it into chunks. Clean 2 or 3 leeks, cut off the dark green parts (save them for making stock) and slice the leeks crosswise. Cover the squash and leeks with milk and water (3 cups of each should do it), season with salt and pepper and bubble away until the squash is tender enough to mash with the back of a spoon. Puree the soup and slurp away.
Make this soup once and I think you’ll not only be hooked, you’ll want to play around with it. Try adding an apple to the pot or topping the soup with grated cheese, a spoonful of creme fraiche or a little raft of toasted country bread spread with blue cheese.
I love this soup — and I hope you will, too. If you play around with the recipe — and I bet you will — let me know what you do.
PS: It’s snowing again in New York. Looks like I’ll have to brave the elements to forage for squash — at least I know the soup will be worth it.