Nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fibers, and antioxidants are good for plants and their tissues, just as they are for humans. Within fruits, nutrients in the skin defend against environmental insults, help to maintain the flesh within, and attract those consumers which distribute seeds. The seeds themselves must be equipped with nutrients that will protect them within the soil prior to germination, and serve, post-germination, as raw materials for the growth of a hardy next-generation plant.
The winter squash, a seasonal delight, happens to be a consummate example of these principles in action. Its skin is loaded with fiber and pigments and contains many of the same nutrients as the flesh but in higher abundance. Squash seeds are rich in such minerals as magnesium, often lacking in the American diet, and are relatively abundant in fiber and protein as well as other bioactive components currently under study.
Kabocha is an Asian variation of the indigenous New World gourd cucurbita maxima. Commonly referred to as the Japanese pumpkin, this winter squash has a medium firmness, a vibrant yellow-orange or blue-green flesh, and a taste sweeter and more yam-like than other related species. It lends itself to a variety of dry and moist applications and holds its own against strong flavors, whether seasonal or exotic. In addition to their nutritional potency, the inclusion of kabocha skin and seeds in this application enhances both the color and textural contrast of the finished dish. When purchasing a squash, look for a specimen that seems heavy for its size and has mostly smooth, brightly colored skin.
Whole Kabocha Squash Bisque with Pear and Cardamom
2 medium kabocha squash, about 5 pounds of flesh, skin on, cut into 1-inch cubes
4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, peel removed, roughly chopped
2 large ripe Bartlett pears, skin on, seeds and stem removed, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
4 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
1 pint heavy cream
2-3 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
1-2 tablespoons of fresh sage, finely chopped
6-10 pods fresh cardamom, smashed (or 1 1/2-2 teaspoons of ground cardamom)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat oven to 350 F. Prepare the squash: Wash and dry the surface as you might any piece of fruit. Remove mottled or discolored areas of the squash skin with a sharp knife or a sturdy peeler before removing the stem and carving open. Scrape out, rinse, and allow seeds to dry.
Toss cleaned squash seeds in 1 tablespoon olive oil until lightly coated. Arrange on baking tray, sprinkle with sea salt, and roast for about 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Allow to cool.
Raise oven temperature to 425 F.
Cut the trimmed and seeded squash into approximately 1-inch chunks. Toss with a bit of olive oil and salt, and roast for approximately 25-30 minutes or until fork tender. Allow squash to cool while preparing the soup base.
In a medium-sized stock pot, caramelize the onion in olive oil until translucent and beginning to turn brown. Add the pear and saute for an additional 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and the roasted squash. Bring to a simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
Turn off the heat and either puree with an immersion blender or transfer to a food processor and blend in 3-4 batches, as to not overfill.
Once uniform in texture, bring the soup mixture back to a simmer and stir in heavy cream. Add spices and seasoning to taste and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes, stirring the bisque up from the bottom of the pot from time to time. For a thicker soup continue to simmer a bit longer. For a thinner soup, add a bit more chicken stock.
Serve hot in a bowl, garnished with the toasted seeds. Serves 8-10.