Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup.

A long time ago I went to a restaurant and was excited to see butternut squash soup on the menu. I ordered it. Couldn't wait to taste its warm, golden, buttery smooth flavor. Lighter than pumpkin, but deeper than summer squash. A golden bowl of just right for this Goldilocks. But what they brought out resembled baby food. Literally. It looked like they had opened a can of Gerber's, dumped it in a bowl, thrown it in the microwave, then brought it to me with a "Voilà!" flourish. It tasted even worse because it tasted like.......nothing. Nothing at all. I'm not even exaggerating. It was like I was chewing hot water. Did I mention it was chewy?

It's funny how you remember foods you've eaten either because they were really good....or were really really bad. I was so angry! Kept thinking, "Are you kidding? *I* can do better than this and I don't even cook!" I couldn't believe they had deemed this mush to be "restaurant quality" - my measure for stuff that tastes pretty damn good. From that moment I was determined to go home and create a better version. I'd never even considered tackling this sort of thing before, but the horribleness of that soup propelled me forward. I was on a mission from God. And I wasn't even wearing sunglasses.

So I did. I didn't have a recipe, and these were the pre-Internet dark ages. I just winged it. I knew I'd have to roast the squash to get it soft enough to puree....these were also the days before I realized roasting almost any vegetable imparts upon it a terrific depth of flavor. I also knew most good soups start by sautéing onions in a pan. Softening them up into sweetness. I roasted the squash, sautéed the onions, pureed them together with some chicken stock, added a pinch of this, a dash of that. Finished the whole thing with 2 swirls of heavy cream to seal the deal because frankly, what doesn't taste good with a little heavy cream? My "Voilà!", my moment of truth, arrived. It tasted wonderful. I felt so VINDICATED. Little ol' me could create "restaurant quality" soup better than someone who worked in a restaurant.

Over the years I've gotten really good at topping pizzas, and creating impromptu pasta sauces, but butternut squash soup remains the only dish I can recreate consistently and well without ever consulting a recipe. I've refined it over the years, switching from onions to shallots (lighter flavor), olive oil to butter (better flavor), and heavy cream to milk (tastes just as good but less fattening). Lately I've even done variations, adding apple cider, pumpkin spice, and toasted pine nuts and/or greek yogurt. Maybe chopped sage on top. I'll always be grateful for that crappy bowl of soup that the hack calling himself a cook served me way back when. It was the boot in the ass I needed to finally learn to cook. That awful mush showed me my palate had grown, and my ambition to cook along with it.

I've had plenty of chances to experiment and refine my butternut squash soup this Autumn because frankly, we are drowning in the stuff from our Horse and Buggy CSA! We're up to our armpits in gourds. So at least one weekday afternoon a week you'll find me in my kitchen slathering olive oil on a halved orange gem. The thing I really love about this soup is that beyond being tasty and healthy, it's very filling. Serve it with a side of jalapeno-cheddar bread (my newest addiction from "The Teat") and like Frankie Beverly used to sing, it's a Golden Time of Day. Autumn sunshine in a bowl.

Butternut Squash Soup*
2 butternut squash (from Horse & Buggy!)
4 good-sized shallots (chopped)
4-5 tbsp butter
Chicken stock
Apple cider (from Horse & Buggy!)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

chopped sage
toasted pine nuts
dollop of Greek yogurt or crème fraîche
  1. Halve the squash lengthwise. Slather each half with olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 1 hour at 350 degrees, or until a knife slides in easily.
  2. Meanwhile, sauté your shallots in butter in a Dutch oven for at least 10 minutes, preferably 15. Medium-low heat until they become soft and translucent. Don't let them brown.
  3. When the squash are done, scrape the meat out of the skin and add it to the onions.
  4. Add chicken stock - just enough so that everything comes together in a chunky sort of "soup".
  5. Purée everything right in the Dutch oven using an immersion blender. If you don't have one, use a regular blender, puréeing it in batches. Add chicken stock as needed, until it becomes a silky-smooth consistency.
  6. Heat the soup over a medium-low heat, and begin to taste. At this point I like to add apple cider, salt, and freshly-ground pepper, but you might also add pumpkin pie spice, or any other spice or addition you think might add another depth of flavor. Come to think of it, chipotle powder would be nice.
  7. When you're done tasting, finish it off with 2 swirls of milk, stirring constantly until it's blended and just warmed.
  8. Taste again, adjusting salt, pepper, spices as needed.
  9. Top with any or all of these delicious ingredients: chopped sage, toasted pine nuts, a dollop of Greek yogurt or crème fraîche.
  10. Enjoy!
*Measurements are approximate. I'm not a recipe tester nor ever will be. Do what I did....play around. Experiment! Taste! Go forth and roast!


Gina@concierge4moms said...

I know that exact feeling of disappointment you are talking about! But what a great triumph to create it yourself, I love butternut squash soup and am going to make your recipe this week!

Brooklyn Belle said...

Oh. My. God.

That recipe sounds divine!! Guess what I'm making this weekend?

Libby said...

Wow, thanks guys! This is the highest form of praise :) Trust me, you won't be disappointed. This stuff is GOOD.

Joie de vivre said...

It was chewy? I have such high standards for restaurants these days because I have just your though, "I can do WAY better than this!" I love that you went home and made something way better.

Alisa said...

Mmm, Im sure making this next week!

leni Sorensen said...

Your recipe sounds good. A bit on the sweet side. I am posting my Squash, Yam, Roasted Red Sweet Pepper Soup on inthekitchenonline . It's a savory version. all good! I love Butternut squash.

Libby said...

@Leni - Sweet? Because of the apple cider? It really isn't at all, we add so much black pepper and just enough salt to give it a "salted caramel" sweetness (for want of a better word). Excited to see your soup recipe! Getting ready to tackled roasted tomato soup...we'll see how that goes....