It was sheer serendipity that we were in Amsterdam for Queen’s Day on April 30th. What a way to kick-off our week-long bike/barge tour of the Netherlands! Queen’s Day commemorates the (former) Queen’s birthday and is the most widely celebrated national holiday and, with a carnival-like atmosphere, the biggest street party in Amsterdam – much like Mardi Gras or New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
We were in good form at a club in the Liedseplein on Queen’s Night and the next day walking along with crowds of revelers meandering through the city-wide street market. Fortunately for us, we boarded our barge on Queen’s Day and the harbor was within walking distance to city centre where festivities were in full swing. Amsterdam attracts more than 700,000 visitors from all over Europe to join in the fun and, if you’re not already in the city on Queen’s Night, you’ll have to hoof it as streets are closed and trains and public transportation run on a special schedule on Queen’s Day.
Our carousing ended early and we were safely back on board the barge to be “fitted” for our bikes by late afternoon.
We met the crew: our skipper Else, who would safely navigate the many canals and locks; first mate Peter, who would later surprise us with an amazing magic show; cook extraordinaire Ellen, who had us applauding as she announced “for dinner tonight”; and the lucky man who was to be responsible for our crazy group for a week, Piet
On our first night on the barge, Ellen served up a “Queen’s Day” Pumpkin Soup that won the instant approval of all the women. I didn’t waste any time telling her that I have a food blog and would love to feature her smiling face and one of her recipes. Throughout the week, she impressed us with her delicious, flavorful soups and entrees, colorful salads full of fresh veggies , and smashing desserts. But in the end, I came back to the special Queen’s Day soup. Cooking for 25 guests and crew, she doesn’t really use recipes, but graciously jotted down the ingredients and basic instructions.
One thing that I discovered when I took the L’atelier des Chefs cooking class in Paris, is that Europeans refer to squash as “pumpkin”. This is actually a squash soup, although I don’t know what kind of squash she used. I decided to use kabocha squash because it has a rich, nutty flavor and a taste between pumpkin and sweet potato. I also roasted the squash to bring out its rich flavor and adapted the recipe to serve 6-8 instead of 25 Oh, and I always like a little heat so added some chili spice along with pungent coriander.
Queen’s Day Pumpkin Soup
1 large Kabocha squash (about 2½ lbs.)
6 carrots (about 1 lb.), chopped
½ cup olive oil, divided use
1 tablespoon Melissa’s organic chili blend or similar
1 quart low-sodium vegetable broth
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 cup white wine
1-2 cups cream
Garnish: Sliced raw almonds and crumbled feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut the squash in quarters, use a spoon to scoop out the seed and stringy stuff. Combine olive oil and spice blend. Brush flesh of the squash with olive oil mixture. Place on rimmed cookie sheet and bake for about 45 minutes until flesh is easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven. Cool and, using a large spoon, scrape flesh away from the skin. Coarsely chop.
While squash is roasting, heat ¼ cup of olive oil in a large saucepan or stock pot over medium heat. Saute the carrots for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chopped onions and saute for another 3 minutes until onion is softened. Stir in the garlic, saute for another 1-2 minutes. Mix in the squash and coriander.
Add the wine and vegetable broth. Turn heat up to med-high and bring to a boil. Lower heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes to meld the flavors. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Spoon soup into a blender and puree. Add salt and pepper to taste. Soup can be prepared to this point 1 day in advance. (I divided the soup and froze half for next week.)
Return to saucepan, reheat, and stir in cream. Serve immediately. Garnish with sliced almonds and crumbled feta cheese (optional).
Thank you, Ellen! If you’re ever in the Netherlands and require the services of a talented and lovely personal chef, contact Ellen through her website.