Summer squash begins

My weekend revolved around thunderstorms.

Much-needed rain rolled through Chapel Hill in waves, sometimes accompanied by flashes of lightning and booming thunder. Occasionally it rained when the sun was shining. The air was heavy with moisture, steam sometimes rose from the pavement, and I tried desperately to gauge whether the dog and I could make it through the neighborhood without getting drenched in an unexpected shower. Eyes cast skyward, I kept our jaunts short and tried to remember the umbrella.

More time indoors meant there was no escaping household chores (laundry! vacuuming!); I enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Poole's Diner with the always effervescent Caroline (more on that later); and there was plenty of opportunity to ponder the summer squash that arrived in last week's CSA box. I'm worried that lots of squash mid-May means an onslaught come July and August, but I put a positive spin on it, beginning with one of my favorites summer staples — a curried yellow squash soup. Prepare yourself for a plethora of squash recipes if my concerns are well-founded.

Bluebird Meadows (the farm that supplies my weekly box-o-produce) plants several varieties of summer squash — crookneck, lemon zephyr and pattypan all made it into the soup pot. Pattypan are the pretty flying saucer-shaped squash you're more likely to find at a farmers' market than a typical grocery. I think they're more flavorful than other varieties, and if you find baby pattypan, you can leave them whole and delight dinner guests. Is it wrong to describe them as cute? Lemon zephyrs are straight and narrow with green tipped ends; crooknecks earn their name honestly.

Despite the ants (who are dwindling in number but still present), I ventured into the kitchen, put my favorite soup pot on a burner, and began chopping.

A few tips for this soup: as always, use the freshest produce you can find; vegetable stock would be an ideal substitute for water, but chicken stock would be too heavy and take over, so please avoid; grind your spices in a spice grinder or coffee mill set aside only for spices; salt throughout the cooking process — I'm a big believer in pulling out layers of flavor, so season and taste as you go.

I'm off to enjoy soup and salad for supper while watching the much-hyped LOST finale — a series that started strong and has ended in a muddled mess, but I have to see it through to the end. I adore Terry O'Quinn.

Spiced Summer Squash Soup
Serves 4 - 6

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
about 1 1/2 pounds yellow summer squash (pattypan, lemon zephyr, crookneck)
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
5 cardamom pods, husked — use only the seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
5 1/2 cups of water or vegetable stock
kosher salt to taste
1/2 cup cream
 a pinch of parsley and cilantro leaves, finely chopped, to garnish

Heat the butter over medium low flame. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 4-5 minutes.

Grind the dried spices in a spice mill or coffee mill until fine.

Add minced ginger, chopped yellow summer squash, ground spices, turmeric and cayenne to the soup pot and stir. Cook for another 5-10 minutes over medium heat, covered. Add water or vegetable stock and simmer for roughly 20 minutes. Season to taste, puree in a blender (standing or immersion) and add cream. Garnish with parsley and/or cilantro to serve.

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