There are a few soups that I have made so many times, I can cook them with my eyes closed. Minestrone, for example, a jumble of fridge and freezer veg, flavored with a Parmesan rind, as comforting and soothing as cuddling under a cashmere blanket on a sofa. Or a smooth, silky purée of carrots and fennel, as pleasing to children, for whom I top it with crunchy croutons, as it is to adults, whose portions I dollop with crème fraîche and sprinkle with sumac. Then there's stick-to-your-ribs potato soup (check My Berlin Kitchen for the recipe) or lentil soup, studded with smoked ham, that I make when I have to produce a sturdy dinner, but I'm low on energy and grasping at straws.
I've been making these soups for twenty years now, and in the case of minestrone and potato or lentil soup, I've been eating them for forty years. As much as I am addicted to trying new recipes, reading new food writers' work and discovering new cultures through cookbooks, it is a tonic to know that, at the tips of my fingers, at the bottom of my subconscious, these one-pot meals await me and will really never let me down.
In recent years, I discovered a few soups that I fell in love with immediately, but none that I've made so frequently that it can be added to my little Rolodex of eyes-closed soups. Until this pumpkin and rice soup from Rachel Roddy strolled into my life, that is. Since first discovering it in the fall, I've made it so often that I no longer need the recipe, which I believe may be a record (for my frequently distracted and slightly enfeebled brain). It's as simple as they come, built on the classic soffritto, bulked out with cubed squash, thickened with silky grains of risotto rice, and given rich flavoring from Parmesan.
Whilst making it again and again, I adapted it to my needs, using Hokkaido squash rather than butternut, so that you can skip the peeling step and shorten the cooking time (plus, I find Hokkaido to be the sweetest, creamiest squash, the one that is easiest to love), and adding a Parmesan rind to amplify the savory flavor and give the cook a delectably chewy little treat. If not watched carefully at the end, the soup can quickly turn into a sort of soupy risotto, which is not a bad thing, per se. But if you're hoping for a slightly looser soup, be sure to add more water or stock at the end.
And here's the highest praise I've got: when I make this soup, my children run into the kitchen, telling me how good it smells. I smile because it smells like my mother's house, like Italy, like home. It tastes like it too.
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A small lump of butter
A glug of olive oil, plus more for serving
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stick celery, diced
Salt and black pepper
About 1/3 of a small Hokkaido squash (approx. 400g), cubed
1 liter/4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, or water
180g/1 cup arborio or vialone nano rice
1 piece of Parmesan rind
Hot red pepper flakes (optional)
1. In a large pot, heat the butter, olive oil, onion, carrot, celery and a pinch of salt, frying gently until the vegetables start to become translucent.
2. Add the squash and stir for a minute, then add the rice and stir well. Add the stock and the Parmesan rind, bring to a boil, then reduce, cover and let simmer for about 17 minutes. The squash should be soft and the rice should be cooked. You may need to add more stock or water. Taste for seasoning.
3. Serve, topping with grated Parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil and/or hot red pepper flakes.