Butternut Squash Soup

When our family garden produced a mountain of winter squash, my mother added mop wigs, kerchief ties, nail polish–painted faces to the big Hubbards and gave them away for Christmas presents. That year of the great harvest should have filled me with squash for life, but I’m still on the lookout for any edible gourds that arrive with October apples.

The butternut is now my go-to choice for sweet, meaty flesh that blends with many flavors. I cube and roast it with onions, peppers, Mexican cinnamon and olive oil; grill it in the shell and anoint it with pesto; braise it with tomatoes, garlic and a bit of bacon; simmer it in risotto; or, best of all, puree it in soup.

Over the years, I’ve tried dozens of winter squash soups, but I always come back to this one. The simple squash is lifted with Indian spices and mellowed with a bit of cream and butter. It takes to the zip of extra chili, but is equally welcome with just the warmth of ginger. It keeps for several days, freezes well and should be a part of every autumn. It may seem like an ordeal to peel and dice a winter squash, but squash cooked in the spicy broth reaps a generous flavor advantage over baked squash added precooked to soup base. Why not pick up a squash, sharpen your chef’s knife and get cracking!

Butternut Squash Soup

1 1/4 lbs. peeled, cubed squash, a generous quart (2 lbs. whole butternut squash)

1 oz. butter (2 tablespoons)

2 ½-inch by 3-inch shards Ceylon cinnamon, canela or 1/2 inch stick

cinnamon

6 oz. onion, peeled and sliced (1 medium onion) (1 1/2 cups)

3 oz. carrot, peeled and sliced (1 medium carrot)

3 oz. celery, sliced (2 ribs)

2-3 whole cloves garlic, smashed

¼ teaspoon chopped fresh red chili, or pinch crushed red pepper (optional)

1 oz. fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated (2 tablespoons)

½ teaspoon garam masala (optional)

¼ teaspoon turmeric

12 fl. oz. chicken stock, or vegetable stock (1 1/2 cups)

20 fl. oz. water (2 1/2 cups)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)

4 fl. oz. cream, whole milk, or unsweetened coconut milk (1/2 cup)

freshly grated nutmeg

Note: garam masala is an Indian spice mixture that adds depth of flavor, but may be omitted. Or you may substitute a tiny pinch each of clove and ground cardamom plus a little extra grated nutmeg.

1. To prepare squash, cut off ends, slice into 1-inch circles. Scoop out seeds, peel off rind with paring knife, and cut squash into large cubes. Set aside.

2. Heat butter in large soup pot, add cinnamon, then toss in sliced onions, carrot, celery, chili and garlic. Cover with butter wrappers and sweat vegetables over gentle heat 10-20 minutes or until carrots are limp and tender, but not brown.

3. Add grated ginger (use microplane or Asian ginger grater), garam masala, turmeric, and stir until fragrant. Mix in prepared squash; add chicken stock, water, salt, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer steadily until squash and carrots are very tender, 15-20 minutes.

4. Cool slightly, fish out cinnamon sticks, and add cream. Puree soup 3-4 cups at a time in blender and use small ladle to swirl soup through strainer to remove celery strings and chili seeds. Correct seasonings, adding salt, pepper, sugar and freshly grated nutmeg to taste. Thin to desired consistency with water, stock or milk. Makes 2 quarts.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at Amazon.com    http://amzn.to/9lOnZv

 

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