Saturday, November 9, 2013

Soup is On! Butternut Squash Soup with Yogurt, Honey and Toasted Nuts

It is getting brisk here in Madison (but I am still not convinced it is merging on winter….Wisconsin, you can do better than this!). The leaves are almost all turned, and fallen to the ground. And the very last outdoor farmers market on the square is this weekend…sadness! Last weekend, like a mad squirrel preparing for winter, I gathered several pounds of apples and many squash. I plan to do the same this weekend.

I did manage to get my hands on a beautiful butternut squash a few weeks back, and I had been dreaming of the butternut squash soup I would make with it, on request by a wonderful friend of mine. I wish I could make this for you, and send it via FedEx in a thermos, but I just don't think it would do the recipe justice!

I remember the very first time I had butternut squash soup: my mom, aunt, sister, cousin and I had traveled to Milwaukee to see a gallery opening for a cousin. We stopped for lunch at a french place call La Coquette. The soup was a deep yellow-orange color, robust, and silky smooth. It was topped with a drizzle of maple syrup, and toasted pepitas. It was wonderful, and I believe my squash-loving-transformation began at that moment. I have since then been back a few times, and the food is still excellent. If you're ever in Milwaukee, I recommend you stop in.

The recipe is simple, and comes together quite easily. The end product is pureed, so you do not need to worry about pretty slicing-and-dicing. In regards to cooking the squash, you have two options: you can either roast your squash ahead of time or the day-of, you will just need an additional 45 minutes. Or, you can peel and cube the squash, and simmer in stock. I have made both versions, and I prefer the roasting as it gives better flavors, in my opinion.

I have made many modifications over the past few years to suit my taste, but this is pretty much what I follow each time. I love that the ingredients are all stars of late summer and fall produce: squash, sweet potato, apple, pear, carrot, garlic. The addition of a sweet potato helps thicken the soup, and I love the color and flavor it lends. The milk is the key ingredient for a silky-smooth soup. If you want to be indulgent, you can use whole milk or even half-and-half.

A word on the variety of squash: I find that butternut is the easiest to peel and cube if going that route. However, if you are roasting and scooping out the flesh, practically any autumn variety of sweet, non-stringy squash will work. I have used acorn in the past, and suspect that buttercup, kobocha, and carnival would be equally delicious. Drizzle the soup with yogurt or sour cream spiked with maple syrup or honey, and a sprinkle of toasted nuts or pepitas (pumpkin seeds) for tangy-crunchy contrast.

And lastly, about the spices: suit to your tastes, and do not use sub-par spices. Seek out the highest quality (I truly love Penzey's spices!). The spices used in this soup can be used for many other fall and winter recipes, so invest in the best you can find.

Bon Appetite!

Butternut Squash Soup
Makes enough soup for 6 generous servings

1 large butternut squash, enough for about 4-6 cups of roasted flesh or cubed squash
1 small onion, sweet if you can find it; several shallots are even better
3 cloves garlic
2 small carrots
1 small to medium sweet potato, peeled
1 ripe pear, or 1 small apple, peeled and cored
4 tablespoons olive oil, butter or a combination
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sweet curry powder
1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon hungarian paprika, or, smoked paprika if you can find it
1 to 3 heaping teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon dried ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 bay leaf
2-3 cups vegetable stock (you may cheat, and use pre-made here, or even a high-quality powder stock base, as I often do)
1 1/2 cups milk (anything but skim, please)
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
salt and pepper
For topping:
Generous handful or two of toasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped
Yogurt or sour Cream mixed with honey or maple syrup to taste

Sharp knife
Cutting board
Aluminum foil
Peeler or sharp paring knife
Baking pan or sheet
A large pot, or a cast iron dutch or french oven if you have it
Wooden Spoon
Blender or Immersion Blender
Measuring Spoons
Small pan (optional, for toasting nuts if not using aluminum foil in an oven)

If you are roasting the squash, you can do this a few days ahead of time, or you can add on 1 hour to the total cook time of the soup. Pre-heat your oven to 425F. Cut the butternut squash in half, right where the round end and the neck meet. You will have two pieces, of which you will now cut in half the long way. You will have two pieces (of the neck), and two pieces (of the bulb). Scoop out the seeds of the bulb halves. Alternatively, if using acorn, cranial or buttercup: slice in half the long ways, scoop out seeds. Place the squash on a baking pan or sheet lined with aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and a light sprinkling of salt, and work into squash with your fingers. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, watching so it does not over-brown. The squash is done when a fork is easily pierced into the flesh. Remove from oven, and cool. Scoop out the flesh and set aside.

Roasted squash, scooped from the skins. Doesn't look that appealing, but tastes amazing in the soup!
If you are steaming or simmering the squash, you can do this the same day, and it will take about 20 to 30 minutes to the cook time. However, this method involves peeling the squash, a step I find to be a massive pain in the ass when it comes to any other type of squash besides butternut-so use butternut for this method! Peel the squash, and slice it in half as specified in the above roasting method. Scoop out the seeds of the bulb end, then slice and dice the squash into 1/2" to 1" cubes (doesn't have to be perfect-the smaller the pieces, the faster they will cook). Simmer in stock until fork tender, and drain.

Heat on medium large soup pot or cast iron French or Dutch oven, and drizzle in olive oil ot coat the bottom. Roughly chop the onion, carrots, sweet potato and pear or apple. Smash the garlic cloves with the back of a chef's knife, and peel.

Throw it all into the warmed oil, and cook on medium until the onions take on some brown color, and the garlic is tender. If sticking occurs, add a small amount of stock to de-glaze, using a wooden spoon to scrape any brown bits from the pan. At this point, add all of the spices and the and heat until just fragrant.

I love how the turmeric stains just about anything it touches!
The Spices!

Add the squash, stock and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer on medium heat, then turn down to medium-low, cover, and cook until tender. This will take about 20 minutes. Check about half-way, you may need to add additional stock.

In the meantime, assemble your blender or immersion blender. Mix the yogurt or sour cream with honey or maple syrup, and toast the nuts in a 350F oven on a piece of aluminum foil until slightly brown and fragrant. When you are done, you can re-use the foil, or wrap up any remaining nuts. Alternatively, toast the nuts in a dry pan on medium heat on the stovetop, stirring the nuts so they do not burn.
Toasted pecans, and yogurt with honey.
After 20 minutes, check the contents of the pot by piercing various pieces with a fork: the soup is ready to be pureed if all the components are fork-tender. Remove the pot from the heat, remove the bay leaf (don't discard-you'll add it back after blending) and add the milk. If using a blender, transfer the contents in batches with a coffee mug; the soup will all not fit into one blended vessel, so it may take a few minutes of transferring and blending to get a completely smooth soup. Alternatively, if using an immersion blender, careful blend the soup until smooth. Taste for seasoning, and add about 1 tablespoon of honey or maple syrup for extra sweetness if desired; add the bay leaf back to the pot, and return to a simmer over low heat. If you find the soup is too thick, you may add additional stock and/or milk.
The soup, all ready-to-eat! 
Serve the soup in bowls, drizzled with the spiked yogurt or sour cream, and toasted nuts. If you're looking to beef-up the meal, serve with a slice of crusty bread, and sautéed spinach with garlic and red pepper flakes. The soup re-heats beautifully, with the addition of some milk or stock to help think if it has thickened upon refrigeration.

The soup, with sautéed garlic-spicy spinach.

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