CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Buttercup Vegetable Soup

Squash has been around quite a while, dating back 10,000 years to Mexico and Central America. Along with beans and corn — collectively known as the “Three Sisters” — squash has long been the center of Native American agriculture and culinary traditions. (The name squash comes from the Native American word askutasquash, which means uncooked or eaten raw.)

It didn’t take European settlers of this country very long to pick up on what the indigenous peoples of North America had known for years. Squash are easy to grow and can be quite tasty.

I would be remiss to neglect saying that a lot of people turn up their noses at the mention of squash. But for the love of me, I can’t understand why.

One reason the squash they’ve eaten might not taste that great is that it wasn’t ripe. It’s been proven that squash, particularly if grown in short-season climates, actually get better after a few months of storage. It all has to do with the starch in squash turning into sugar. (Like peaches in a paper bag, squash continue to ripen as enzymes convert its starch into sugar.)

And not only do their flavor and texture improve, squash actually become more nutritious. Most notably, the concentration of colorful pigments known as carotenoids — which help fight inflammation— can more than double after harvest.

While butternut squash appears to be the favorite winter squash of most, my favorite is the buttercup. Like all varieties of winter squash, buttercup squash is rich in vitamins A and C, potassium, B vitamins and numerous minerals. Its deep orange color signals a high content of beta-carotene, a nutrient with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Generally, we cook our cut-in-half buttercups (seeds removed) face-down atop a piece of tinfoil on a cookie sheet, scoop out the insides when they are done and add a little butter before serving. Like most winter squash, buttercups will last three to six months stored at room temperature in a dry and cool (50 to 55 degrees). The past couple of years, I’ve cooked several squash a month or so after picking and freeze them in vacuum-sealed bags.

Like many other cooks, I’ve also taken to using squash in some of my homemade soups, which are a weekly standard in our house (soup de la semaine).

The following recipe is an example. Not only does the addition of the squash make the soup more nutritious, the ensuing broth is nearly out of this world.

Bon apetitit!

Buttercup Vegetable Soup
8 cups chicken or pheasant broth
2 cups cooked chicken or pheasant, cut into bite-size pieces
3 cups cooked buttercup squash
2 pounds tomatoes or 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
2 cups frozen peas
2 cups green beans or 15-ounce can
½ cup pearled barley
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup grated zucchini (optional)
2 cups diced carrots
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Place all the ingredients in a pot and cook for about 2 hours.

Leave a Reply