Sometimes love is blind. In Paris, I fell for a squash called the potimarron, a compound name hinting at the vegetable’s mixed heritage and flavor: It looked a little like a pumpkin (potiron) and tasted a little like a chestnut (marron). Writers and chefs would go on about its beauty, its texture, its nuanced flavor and, on the practical side, the fact that, unlike the other French fave, le butternut (yes, really), it didn’t have to be peeled — a convenience that would make it lovable even if it weren’t tasty. I’d get excited when I’d see it in the open-air markets, and I served it endlessly, treating it like the rarity I assumed it was.
It never occurred to me that if the potimarron was a squash — and it is — then it had to be a New World fruit — and it is. When I went on and on about it to my cookbook editor, Rux Martin, she said, “Are you talking about the kuri squash? They’re as ubiquitous as zucchini here in Vermont!”
I was a bit abashed, but mostly I was thrilled: I could now serve the squash at home in the States as often as I did at home in Paris. And I do. (If I can’t find kuri, I make the soup with le butternut.)
This soup is a riff on a recipe I got at a Parisian dinner party from a friend’s sister. I couldn’t believe it was so easy. After I made it, I couldn’t believe that something so simple was so delicious. The squash is scrubbed, halved, seeded and then cut into pieces so that it can cook with its flavor mates, onion and apple, in a mix of water and milk. That’s it. Really.
The only thing in this recipe that requires care is the blending: You want to puree the soup until it resembles liquid velvet. That means you’ve got to let the blender go and go and then go a little longer.
Its color will be a stunning golden yellow, and its flavor will remind you of pumpkin and chestnuts with a hint of sweetness, thanks to the onion and apple. In France, the soup would be served with a spoonful of crème fraîche, and there’s no reason not to serve it that way here (or, if you’d like, swap the French stuff for American sour cream or even thick Greek yogurt). But these days, I’ve gone all-American, seasoning it with Old Bay. It’s a surprising addition, but it works wonderfully well.
The soup is perfect for Thanksgiving because it’s beautiful, delicious and almost fat-free, which is a nice way to start a big holiday meal. If you’d like, make it just a tad dressier by creating a little landscape in the bottom of each soup bowl. “Dress” the bowl with small pieces of apple, slivers of chestnut, a sprig of thyme or some snipped chives and, if you want to go all out, a slice of truffle.
Bring the bowls to the table, ladle over the very hot soup and smile as each of your guests in turn gets to savor the aroma of the fruit, vegetables and herbs “cooking” in the bowl. With or without that flourish, the dish is both elegant and comforting — a tough combo to pull off, but really just what we want at the hols.
Photograph by Scott Suchman. This story originally appeared in my Everyday Dorie column for the Washington Post.