In the year of COVID, in the summer (and now fall) of fires, I am clinging to cooking and reading to keep my balance. Among my to-read books, I recently chose a novel by the late Swedish author Henning Mankell (without Kurt Wallander2 as protagonist): The Man from Beijing.1 The book opens with a horrific mass murder in a remote Swedish village. Judge Birgitta Roslin, who is connected to some of the victims, gets involved the case, whose roots go back in time and space to the construction of the Pacific Railroad, which relied on the labor of, among others, Chinese workers. The novel travels also to Canton, Beijing, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Copenhagen and London.
The plot kept me interested until the end, yet I admit I missed Wallander, following his meticulous investigation and reasoning process to reach the solution. Roslin is not an investigator, yet she ends up discovering what happened, partly thanks to her determination, partly to chance. Mankell is not shy in criticizing his country and worries about its future. In The Man from Beijing such worries take a more international tone.
Tromboncino squash3 is a favorite summer squash (in Italian tromboncino literally means small trombone, the musical instrument). I get excited when I see it displayed on a table at the farmers' market or, as was the case earlier this year, at a farm stand4. Its long, curvy shape is eye-catching and its dense flesh and delicate, pleasant flavor make it a winner. Although it is harvested early and consumed as a summer squash, tromboncino squash does not belong to the Cucurbita pepo species like zucchini and other summer squashes, but rather to Cucurbita moschata, like butternut squash. Like its more famous relative, zucchetta has seeds only in the lower part of its body: the long neck is seedless.
- 1 1/4 pound / 20 ounces / 570 grams tromboncino squash
- 2 tablespoons / 30 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 10 ounces / 280 grams sweet onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1/2 teaspoon Ras el Hanout (spice mix)5
- 1/2 teaspoon Marrakech Moroccan mix5: substitute either or both mixes with spices of choice, but do not skip
- 1 cup / 240 ml chicken broth or stock, or vegetable broth [in which case the soup is vegan], possibly homemade
- 2 cups / 475 ml water, plus more as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
- freshly grated cheese of choice, to taste
Heat the oven to 375 F / 190 C.
Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
Cut the tromboncino squash into 1/2-inch / 1.25 cm thick slices and distribute them on a single layer on the lined baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, turning the slices halfway through. Take the baking sheet out of the oven, let the squash slices cool slightly then transfer into a bowl.
Warm up the olive oil in a soup pot on medium heat. Add the onion and stir, turn down the heat and cook on low heat until the onion is soft, stirring often. Add the garlic, stir and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle the spices on the onion and stir, add the tromboncino squash slices to the pot, pour the broth and water and stir.
Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat so the soup bubbles gently. Cook until you can smash the squash easily with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the salt, stir, turn off heat and let the soup rest for at least 15 minutes, then purée with an immersion blender. Add more water, as needed, to make the soup reach the desired consistency. Taste and adjust salt to your taste.
When ready to eat, heat the soup, ladle it in bowls and sprinkle some cheese on top. Serve immediately.
Roasting the squash adds depth of flavor to this soup and the spices make it shine. I usually don't stop after the first bowl.
1 The novel's page on the publisher's website
2 My earlier Novel Food post featuring Kurt Wallander
3 Wikipedia entry on Tromboncino squash and an earlier post on this blog with another recipe for tromboncino squash and tomatoes
4 Sarvinski Family Farm (The Corn Crib)
5 The spice mixes I use: Ras el Hanout contains nutmeg, sea salt, black pepper, ginger, cardamom, mace, Chinese cinnamon, ground allspice, turmeric, saffron; Marrakech Moroccan mix contains cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, mace, white pepper, galangal, black and green cardamom, ginger, anise, allspice, rose petals, cloves, lavender, orris root, cayenne.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the zuppa di zucchetta audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
This is my contribution to the 40th edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I started 13 years ago and that I continue to host.
FTC disclosure: I have received the table linen free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.