I’ve had a request so I hereby present two squash nettle soups, both made with ingredients that are out of season here at 10,000 feet in the Colorado high country.
The first—a pumpkin, nettle, and beer soup—I made in November after receiving the gift of a pumpkin on our doorstep after a friend in possession of one needed to unload the big squash so as not to leave it in his car while he flew out of town. I am certainly not one to kick a tall pumpkin fairy in the mouth.
The idea of pairing stinging nettles (Urtica sp.) with squash came to me originally from Rebecca Marshman, the youngest chef on BBC America’s Chef’s Race, whose acquaintance I made during the filming of the third episode. She made a divine nettle minestrone with nettles gathered by her teammate, Sophie Michell. To make something like it, she told me to start by sautéeing onions and garlic, then to add small chunks of pumpkin to the pan for “a beautiful color,” and to put all that into the soup along with chicken bouillon, chopped potatoes, carrots, and some kind of beans.
So my recipe borrows from Rebecca’s idea, but is a creamy soup, with Parmesan cheese and a few brewskies to boot. It is an adaptation of an adaptation of a Moosewood Cookbook recipe followed by another one from the internet. I thought the nettles would make a good substitute for chicken broth.
Pumpkin, nettles & beer soup
1 large pumpkin
5 oz Parmesan cheese
1 ¼ stick of butter
½ cup olive oil
2 cheap beers that have traveled down the Grand Canyon
4 cups of dried nettles
Clean out pumpkin; cut into chunks and steam for 20 minutes or until soft. Cool, then scrape the squash from the rind and puree it with beer—and then the cooking water or regular water if you run out of beer—to a thick but soupy consistency. Chop and sauté onions in oil and butter. Crush dried nettles (I used a meat tenderizer after doing it by hand made my fingers itchy) and separate out larger stems. Mix onions, pepper, salt, Parmesan cheese and dried nettles into pumpkin soup, cook awhile longer, and then serve with a dollop of Greek yoghurt.
Tiny acorn squash nettle soup
Fast forward to yesterday, when it just so happened we had one acorn squash on the counter—made in Mexico—that Gregg picked up from the grocery store the other week. So I had one more chance to give nettle squash soup a try, though much less squash, resulting in—you guessed it, a tiny soup.
I whipped out the tiny acorn squash nettle soup recipe with the quickness, just before heading up the mountain on snowshoes in a blizzard for an evening ride down. My friends and I trudged through thick snow to the Vista Haus up on Breckenridge in an hour and then the storm cleared, leaving us with fresh, slow tracks in 8 inches of “cream cheese,” as Eric described it.
All the while I was happy for the warm wild soup that awaited me at the bottom.
1 acorn squash
½ cup Parmesan cheese (this was a lot so go easy on the cheese if you want)
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup olive oil
Wild garlic or garlic
1 cup of the last light beer wrested from a fiancé who opens and starts drinking it “to help”
1.5 cup of dried nettles
kefir, Greek yoghurt, or sour cream
Clean out acorn squash; cut into four chunks and steam for 20 minutes or until soft. Cool, then scrape the squash from the rind and puree it with beer, cooking water, and/or regular water if your fiancé has drunk up all the beer. Chop and sauté onions and garlic in oil and butter. Crush dried nettles (I used a potato masher because I couldn’t find the meat tenderizer) and separate out larger stems. Mix onions, pepper, salt, Parmesan cheese and dried nettles into pumpkin soup, cook awhile longer, and then serve with a dollop of Greek yoghurt, home-fermented kefir (I’m in the midst of an obsession; thanks Shirl) or sour cream.
Then, I opine, there’s never a reason to waste squash seeds—so here’s what we did with those:
Spruce salt squash seeds
Squash or pumpkin seeds
Spruce tip salt
Separate seeds from orange gunk and swirl around in a bowl of water to clean without going crazy. Spread seeds in a thin layer in the toaster oven/oven at 250 degrees until dry. Add a tsp or so of olive oil; mix seeds to coat; and sprinkle with spruce tip salt or other wild salt concoction. Bake at 350 until golden brown or seeds start to pop like popcorn.
NOTE: Linda Kershaw says to use conifer needles in moderation (Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Rockies, 2000).