Sunday, October 17, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup

When I lived in Australia, I was introduced to eating pumpkin - and not just in pie form.  The standard "meat and three veg" dinner seemed to involve lamb, cauliflower (with or without amazing, gooey, calorie laden white cream/cheese sauce), roast pumpkin and something else.
But then.  I had dinner at a friend's house and his mum made pumpkin soup.  Sweet Great Pumpkin that stuff was good.  I have spent the rest of my autumns trying to recreate a version that can hold a candle to hers.  It is a constant struggle.
I have since branched out to butternut squash soup as well, and have amassed quite the collection - most with notes scribbled all over them as I try to tweak and change and manipulate and get the perfect balance of fall spice flavors and savory - I hate when they're too sweet.  Food Network offers up several options to choose from, and tweak to our hearts content.  I like the curry versions, I love the idea of crispy fried shallots too, but oof with the sweet (cinnamon whipped cream?!  Is it pie or soup?)
This recipe is INTENSE and features way more steps than I've ever tried, and I already know that I'll be cutting back on some of the sweet ingredients, and subbing in fat free half and half and stuff to healthify it. . . but then adding crispy shallots and crusty bread with butter instead of marscapone and pumpkin seeds to undo my good work.

For the soup:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (1/4-inch) diced onion
  • 1/4 cup (1/4-inch) diced celery
  • 1/4 cup (1/4-inch) diced carrot
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Sea salt, preferably gray salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • About 4 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground toasted coriander, optional
  • 1 1/2 cups Roasted Winter Squash recipe
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half, optional

To serve:

  • 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese, optional
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds, optional


Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and cinnamon stick and saute until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the chicken stock and the coriander, if using, and bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes. Stir in the squash until smooth, then simmer gently to let the flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick.
Puree the soup in a blender until smooth. (The soup can be made ahead to this point, cooled, covered, and refrigerated for several days or frozen for about 1 month. It will thicken as it cools and may need thinning with stock or water when reheating.)
Return the soup to the pan and reheat gently. Add the half-and-half, if using. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Keep warm until service.

To serve:

Ladle the soup into serving bowls. Garnish evenly, with the cheese and pumpkin seeds, if desired.

Roasted Winter Squash:

  • About 3 pounds butternut squash (preferably 1 large squash)
  • Gray salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dark unsulfured molasses
  • 2 teaspoons Toasted Spice Rub, recipe follows
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler. Halve lengthwise, discard the seeds, then cut into 1-inch dice. Place in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter ceases to foam and has turned a light brown, pull the pan off the heat and immediately add the sage, sugar, vinegar (stand back so as not to get splattered), molasses and toasted spice rub. Mix well and let simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 2 minutes to meld the flavors.
Pour the vinegar mixture over the squash and toss well, then transfer to a heavy rimmed baking sheet or baking dish large enough to hold the squash in a single layer. Place in the oven and roast, tossing at least once, until very tender and caramelized, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside until cool enough to handle but still warm, so the liquids are runny.
Working in batches, if necessary, transfer the warm squash and all the cooking liquids to a food processor and process until smooth. Use immediately, refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.
Serving suggestions: Serve the puree on its own as a side dish for roast chicken, turkey, or pork; stir into polenta just before the end of cooking; use as a stuffing for ravioli; make into a soup; or use to flavor pastina. Or omit the sage, season with ground cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg to taste, and use as a substitute for canned pumpkin in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe.
Variation for Smoky Butternut Squash: Cook the prepared squash on a baking sheet in a covered grill with soaked chips to give a slightly smoky taste. Substitute in any of the recipes that call for roasted squash. If cooking kabocha, acorn, or other difficult-to-peel squash, cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and rub the insides and cut edges with the vinegar/molasses mixture. Place on a baking sheet, cut sides up, and roast at 400 degrees F until tender. Scoop out and puree.
Yield: about 2 cups puree

Toasted Spice Rub:

  • 1/4 cup fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup (1-ounce) pure California chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
Toast the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns in a small, heavy pan over medium heat. When the fennel turns light brown, work quickly. Turn on the exhaust fan, add the red pepper flakes, and toss, toss, toss, always under the fan. Immediately turn the spice mixture out onto a plate to cool.
Put mixture into a blender with the chili powder, salt, and cinnamon and blend until the spices are evenly ground. If you have a small spice mill or a coffee grinder dedicated to grinding spices, grind only the fennel, coriander, pepper, and chili flakes. Pour into a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients. Keep the spice mix in a glass jar in a cool, dry place, or freeze.
Chef's notes: Toasting freshens spices, releases their oils, and makes them more fragrant, as well as adding a new dimension of flavor.
Taste your chili powder before adding and, if spicy and hot, cut back the amount. California chilies are almost sweet, not hot.
Yield: about 1 cup

This one looks easier and references the magic word: bourbon.
 Butternut Squash and Bourbon Bisque
1 to 2 butternut squash (about 4 pounds total)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced leeks
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup bourbon
1/2 cup dry sherry
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
5 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup evaporated skim milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
With a sharp knife, prick the squash in several places to allow steam to escape while it cooks
(otherwise it could burst). Place the squash in a baking dish lined with foil and roast for about 90 minutes, until the squash is soft when you push on it. Let cool for 30 minutes, so it=s easier to handle, then peel, seed, and remove strings. Cut the roasted squash into 1/2-inch pieces, or scoop meat out with a spoon.
In a heavy soup kettle, heat the olive oil and add the onions. Cook until light golden brown and add the leeks and cumin. Cook for 2 minutes and add the garlic and ginger. When the garlic is fragrant, add the maple syrup, soy sauce, bourbon, sherry and nutmeg. Add the squash and stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook gently for 15 minutes.
Using an immersion blender (or a regular blender), puree the soup until very smooth. Add the evaporated milk, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes; do not bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir until thickened, about 5 minutes. Serve in soup plates.
If you like, garnish this soup with garlic and Parmesan cheese croutons and a dollop of non fat sour cream.

I recommend cheese crisps versus croutons. 

1 comment:

Quinn said...

I just made mu pumpkin bisque yesterday! It's totally fall.