Suzy Crofton of Crofton on Wells (535 N Wells St, 312-755-1790) is a big fan of squash, and as squash fans are prone to do, she uses the gourd to make a rich, comforting soup. Adding endive confit and a spiced crème fraîche yanks the dish away from the edges of cliché.
Red kuri squash soup with Belgian endive confit, brioche croutons and shagbark hickory–cinnamon crème fraîche
For the soup
2 red kuri squashes
1 onion, sliced
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
¼ cup buttermilk
¼ cup heavy cream
For the confit
¼ slab bacon cut into ¼-inch-by-¾-inch pieces (lardons)
1 head Belgium endive, trimmed, halved and sliced into ¼-inch pieces
For the croutons
2 slices brioche
¹/8 cup olive oil or rendered duck fat
For the crème fraîche
½ cup crème fraîche
¹/8 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tbsps shagbark hickory syrup (or maple syrup if you prefer)
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1. Make the soup: Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Cut the squash in half horizontally, scoop out the seeds and place cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake the squash until completely tender, about an hour. Let cool slightly, then spoon out the orange flesh into a bowl and set aside. In a medium-size saucepan, sweat the onion in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add squash and cover with stock (using approximately two cups). Bring to a boil and let simmer for ten minutes. Remove from heat and puree in a blender (or use an immersion blender). At this point, you can chill the base or finish it for serving. To finish, bring the cream and buttermilk to a boil in a separate pan and whisk it into the soup base. Thin the soup with some stock and bring to boil, whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. Make the confit: Cook the lardons in a little butter until the fat is rendered and they get crispy. Remove from the pan, reserving the drippings. Place endive in pan, turn the heat to low and cook slowly until the endive is tender. Remove any excess fat and add the bacon. Keep warm until ready to use.
3. Make the croutons: Trim the crusts from the brioche slices and cut into ¼-by-¼-inch cubes. Toast until golden brown on a sheet pan in a 350-degree oven. Place oil in a frying pan and bring to medium heat. Place croutons in pan and toss back and forth until all the oil is absorbed. Drain on a paper towel.
4. Make the crème fraîche: Whisk ingredients together and chill until ready to use. If the crème has solidified, stir with a spoon before swirling onto soup.
5. Plate the soup: Warm four soup plates. Place confit in center of bowl. Sprinkle croutons around the confit. Ladle soup into the bowls. Garnish with a generous dollop or swirl of the crème fraîche and some snipped chives. Serves 4.