We finally nailed this one. This was a recipe we bookmarked two years ago, after being amazed by this entry on La Tartine Gourmande, an endless source of inspiration. This soup is a favourite late lunch/early dinner on cold Sunday afternoons, but somehow our variations always fell short of what we wanted this soup to be. Not enough clams, too much coconut milk, and most often, a disappointing curry flavour.
But Rob is a squash maniac, and David is crazy about clams, so we were determined to own this soup. (Rob brought 22 squashes home from the market last week, which seemed like a good excuse to get this right once and for all.)
After three bites of our last incarnation of this soup, we went back over every detail of preparation. This was the fragrant bowl of golden velvet that had haunted our imaginations. Bite after bite was met with nod after nod. This is the best soup we’ve ever made. If you don’t already have a curry powder you really love, I can promise that investing time in making one you do will pay incredible returns. Our own blend, outlined below, is a great place to start.
curried squash soup with clams and coconut milk
adapted from a recipe by La Tartine Gourmande
1 medium butternut squash, about 3 pounds
2 142 g cans of clams and their juice, separated
3 tbsp. butter
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp. curry powder (see recipe below)
5 C chicken stock
1 C coconut milk
2 dozen fresh, small hardshell clams
3 tbsp. lime juice
½ C chopped cilantro
salt and pepper
a baguette and olive oil for croutons
Peel and seed the squash, then chop it into rough 1-inch cubes. Strain the juice from the canned clams into a small bowl. If there is any sand in the clam juice, strain it through some cheesecloth or a coffee filter.
In a heavy soup pot with a lid, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When the foam has subsided, add the chopped onion and chopped squash, stirring to coat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, salt lightly, and put a lid on the pot. Sweat the vegetables for 10-12 minutes.
Remove the lid from the pot and add the chopped garlic and the curry powder. Raise the heat to medium-high, and stir slowly for a few minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the squash is starting to take on some colour. Be careful not to scorch the garlic.
Add the clam juice and chicken stock to the pot, and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 12-15 minutes, or until the squash is soft enough to mash easily against the side of the pot with the back of a wooden spoon.
In the meantime, prepare the croutons. Cut 12 half-inch slices from a baguette, brush them with olive oil on one side, sprinkle them with coarse salt, and toast them under the broiler. Keep them warm as you finish the soup.
When the squash is completely cooked, add the coconut milk to the soup, and remove the pot from the heat. Using a stick blender, blend the soup until completely smooth.
Return the soup to high heat, add the fresh clams, and cover the pot. When the soup seems to be boiling again, remove the lid and stir. If most of the clams are not open, put the lid back on and check again every minute or so. Once the fresh clams are just cooked, remove the pot from the heat, add the canned clams, lime juice, several grinds of pepper, and stir to combine. Check the seasoning carefully – the salt/lime juice balance is important. Garnish each bowl with chopped cilantro, and serve.
St. Cuthbert curry powder
NOTES: Makes about 1 cup of powder. We use ground chile de árbol because we know and like the quality of its heat. You may prefer to use whole dried chiles, or another powdered chile instead. Go with what you know. Fenugreek is not a commonly known spice to most North American cooks, but it’s really worth seeking out. It adds distinctive, butterscotch warmth. We have an Indian-Canadian next-door neighbour whose kitchen and company are hugely inspiring; this blend is named after the street where we both live.
5 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
3 tbsp. whole cumin seeds
1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
1 tsp. whole cloves
1 tbsp. fenugreek seeds
12 green cardamom pods
1 tbsp. whole black peppercorns
1 tbsp. whole white peppercorns
2 tsp. dry mustard powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
3 tbsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. ground chile de árbol
Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. (Cast iron is ideal.) Add the whole spices, and shake the pan to combine. Toast the spices, shaking the pan every 20 or 30 seconds to prevent scorching. This may take between 4 and 10 minutes, depending on the pan and the heat. Watch the coriander seeds: when they are jiggling slightly and have turned a shade darker, it’s time to stop. Pour the spices into a medium-sized bowl. Mix in the powdered spices, and let the mixture cool for a few minutes before grinding to a fine powder in a spice mill or mortar and pestle. Keeps for several months in a tightly sealed jar.