It was a bit of an iffy week, with some weather including rain, heat (mid-seventies in October!) and a pretty cold evening when I thought I might take the soft and comfy throws into the living for the cats and me.
Each of the days, while my friend Nancy was vacationing in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, I fed her feral cats. She had packed up eight enormous plastic bins of dry cat food and left me a quart-sized bottle for fresh water. Each early afternoon, I would change my shoes for sneakers and walk a path down a hill and into the woods, rife with poison ivy, to the little den she fashioned with one of those plastic igloos and a large green trash can set on its side to hold the food and water.
I am a city girl so for decades I thought poison ivy was a maple leaf (three points on a leaf) for three leaves, so I guess I am not allergic to the little devils though my husband knew exactly what they looked at and was very sensitive. On the other hand, I did get scraped by some twigs and wound up with a few infected sores which are fine, now.
Doug and I were never leaf-peepers. We grew up in upstate New York and together we lived in New England. We never thought it important to drive hours to Vermont or New Hampshire when we saw gorgeous colors up and down I-95 and in our own backyard. But my good friend Kirsten McKamy and her adorable partner, Charles, invited me to have lunch at his 1750 cape in Storrs, Conn.
It took about an hour from my condo on the shoreline to Storrs and I must say that the foliage was spectacular. His magnificently restored house sat in seven acres, at least two of which were mowed. The vivid green of the lawn, the enormous maples and oaks and the big pond across the road turned my quiet Sunday into quite a picture.
Even better was the food: an herb “cake,” squash soup and two desserts, Kirsten’s pear tart and my apple cake. I will serve that soup the next time I have friends for dinner. Then again, maybe sooner.
Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup with Pancetta and Sage
Yield: 8 servings (about 11 cups)
1 4-pound kabocha squash, halved and seeded
1 cup vegetable oil
20 whole fresh sage leaves plus 1 and one-half teaspoon chopped fresh sage
One-quarter pound sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 and one-half cups chicken broth
3 and one-half cups water
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Dollops of crème fraiche (optional)
Roast squash: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roast squash, cut sides down, in an oiled roasting pan in middle of oven until tender, about an hour. When cool enough to handle, scrape flesh from skin.
While the squash is roasting, heat vegetable oil in a deep small saucepan until it registered 365 degrees on a deep-felt thermometer. Fry sage leaves in 3 bathes until crisp, 3 to 5 seconds. Transfer leaves with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
Cook pancetta and make soup: Cook pancetta in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring, until brown Transfer pancetta with slotted spoon to power towels to drain.
Add olive oil to pancetta fat remaining in pot, then cook onion, stirring, until softened. Stir in garlic and chopped sage and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add squash, broth and water and simmer 20 minutes to blend flavors.
Puree soup in batches in a blender, transferring to a bowl. (Use caution when blending hot liquids.) Return soup to pot and reheat. If necessary, thin to desired consistency with water. Stir in vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve sprinkled with pancetta and fried sage leaves. If you like, dollop spoonsful onto soup.
Cooks’ note: you can make soup 3 days in advance and chill, covered.