At Palena in Cleveland Park, chef Frank Ruta serves this soup garnished with a single scallop that has been pan-roasted with a thin slice of prosciutto, some shiitake mushroom caps and pieces of roasted kabocha squash.
Kabocha is a winter squash that is showing up in greater numbers at area farmers markets. Its flesh is sweet and deeply flavored.
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 medium onion, cut into very thin slices (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups)
- Flesh from 1 or 2 small (or 1/2 medium) kabocha squash (1 pound), seeded and cut into chunks (2 1/2 cups)
- 2 ounces (3 good-size) shiitake mushrooms, stemmed (may substitute matsutakes, chanterelles or a combination of those mushrooms)
- Scant 2 cups water
- About 3 tablespoons carnaroli or arborio rice
- 1 smoked ham hock or small hambone
- 1 tablespoon salt
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven (or other ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid) over medium heat. Add the onions and stir to coat. Cook uncovered for 35 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is slightly caramelized and completely dry.
Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.
Add the squash, mushrooms, water, rice, ham hock or hambone and salt. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt. Then cover and transfer to the oven; if the pot is fairly large, place a piece of parchment paper loosely over the surface of the mixture. Slow-roast for 1 1/2 to 2 hours; the squash, mushrooms and rice should be quite tender.
Transfer to the stove top (off the heat). Discard the bone; if some of its meat falls into the soup, that's okay. Use an immersion (stick) blender to puree until very smooth, or use a blender or food processor (work in batches; remove the center knob of the blender lid to allow steam to escape and place a clean dish towel over the opening).
Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Divide among individual bowls; serve warm.
VARIATIONS: For a more complex flavor, substitute a meat stock or broth for the water; reduce the salt in the recipe as needed. For garnish ideas, see the headnote.
From Frank Ruta, chef-owner of Palena in Cleveland Park.
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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