Saturday, February 09, 2008

Golden Winter Soup

I have rather vehement opinions about most vegetables. Maybe it’s a vegetarian thing. After all, I would be hard-pressed to have virtually anything to eat if I weren’t at least a little adventurous in the produce section. But when it comes to how I actually feel about individual vegetables or even herbs for that matter, I’m not one to be all wishy-washy. As a general rule, I love them or hate them.

Turnips and fennel get most of my hate mail, but they belong to a very small minority. I swoon over fresh beets, and I get positively misty-eyed over asparagus. I can’t get enough basil and flat-leaf parsley in my life, and I’ve never met a green I didn’t like. I’ll eat zucchini and summer squash until I pop, and I’m sure most people would agree that you can’t go wrong with anything potato. Oh, and cauliflower and broccoli and Brussels sprouts, yum, yum, yum.

But, and here comes Embarassing Admission Number 97, there are still vegetables that I’m not well-acquainted with. I have an uneasy relationship with radicchio, but I haven’t given up that we will find common ground eventually. Eggplants have caused me some consternation, but I still have hope there as well. And I’m still trying to find a local source for broccoli rabe as it is something I’ve never even had the pleasure of meeting (and I’m a little cranky on this since I really needed some for a recipe I wanted to try tonight).

When it comes to the dizzying variety of squashes out there though, I get a bit flummoxed. I’ve got a myriad of delicious recipes for yellow crook-neck squash, but then there is acorn squash, butternut squash, delicata squash, kabocha squash, spaghetti squash, turban squash – oh, you get the idea. I stumble across these at the farmer’s markets and the supermarket and I just stand there with my head cocked to the side like a dork. I mean, sure, I’ve read about many of these different varieties, but I have zero intuitive knowledge when it comes to these things. And I can’t just pick one of them up and bring it home and then do an internet search for an appropriate recipe to go with that night’s menu. Because remember, I’m the only vegetarian in the house. And The Carnivore has been known to openly mock me when I serve something that strikes him as a little too hippie.

I walk a fine line here.

But I will not be bested by a gourd. And it was with that in mind that I felt urged on by forces stronger than me when, within the span of two days, I came across both a delicious sounding recipe for butternut squash in Cooking Light and handy instructions for peeling and cutting them in Bon Appetit. It’s as if all the stars were aligned just so…

Alright, so I felt the teeniest bit of trepidation. After all, I was planning to serve a squash soup to The Carnivore for an entrée, and I didn’t have the slightest experience with what butternut squash even tasted like, but I’ve been feeling rather snarky lately anyhow, what with being cooped up in the house with small children all winter, and I was craving, even lusting, for a little challenge to wake up the senses.

And soup just made sense for yesterday’s dinner anyway. The Carnivore had no idea how late he would be working, Little Miss Piggy has been fussier than usual lately, and The Big Boy has a bit of a cold, so clearly I wasn’t going to be able to pull together a fancy meal in which timing would be critical. I needed something that I could tinker with ahead of time a little, and then be able to keep warm for as long as necessary without compromising texture or flavor.

So I gave it a shot. The recipe was featured on the cover of the January/February issue of Cooking Light and it just looked divine. And, oh my stars, it did not disappoint. This was the most luscious, the most creamy, yet still light and delicate soup I’ve had in ages. You could taste all the flavors in each glorious slurp, and the butternut squash added such an interesting sweet note without being cloying at all, if you know what I mean. Even The Carnivore groaned happily over it, and The Big Boy greedily took a few spoonfuls before he, like all nearly-four-year-olds forgot what he was doing and ran off in a different direction. As for me, well, I woke up craving the leftovers for breakfast.

Such a winner, this soup – I can’t recommend it enough. I didn’t change a thing in the original recipe (other than substituting vegetable broth for chicken broth, of course), serving it with Gruyere toast, as recommended, and a salad of mixed greens with a quick, homemade vinaigrette.

GOLDEN WINTER SOUP (from Cooking Light, serves 5 or 6 as a main course)
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 5 cups (roughly 1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash, about 1 1/2 lbs, seeds scooped out and discarded
  • 2 cups (roughly 1/2-inch) cubed peeled russet potatoes, about 12 oz
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 2 cups sliced leeks, about 2 medium leeks (white and light green parts only)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 3 Tbs chopped chives
  • Baguette or French bread, sliced on the diagonal
  • 3 oz shredded Gruyere cheese (eh - I actually doubled this, I think - I really love cheese)
  1. Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  2. Add squash, potato, salt and pepper to pan. Saute for 3 minutes.
  3. Add leek; saute 1 minute.
  4. Stir in broth; bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is tender, stirring occasionally.
  6. Puree the soup, either using an immersion blender in the pan, or whirring 1/2 the soup at a time in a regular blender (removing the center piece of the lid and covering with a towel to let steam escape without splattering the entire kitchen). I chose to only slightly blend the soup, as I prefer a little bit of chunky texture - to do this, I put all of it through the blender in a couple of batches, but I only pulsed it a few times so that each piece of vegetable was broken up, but was not completely pulverized.
  7. Return soup to pan; stir in half-and-half. Keep warm over very low heat.
  8. Arrange bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet; sprinkle with cheese. Broil bread for a minute or two, until edges are golden and cheese is melted.
  9. Top each serving of soup with a little chopped chives.


Unknown said...

I love butternut squash. I tend to just roast it in the oven (cut it in half, drizzle with a little olive oil, S&P and let it go. The only problem is that it rarely makes it to the table as it smells so divine that I end up finding a spoon right and digging in!!
It also makes a delicious ravioli. I end up dressing it with browned butter or olive oil and parmesan. It's one of those meals that I dream about too...
I saw the soup on the cover of CL and actually looked at the recipe... I'm glad to hear that it does turn out and will look forward to trying it in the future.

OH! And btw, my M used to cook spaghetti squash all the time and serve it with marinara. For years I didn't know that and it wasn't until I asked her about that really good pasta that she told me.

Anonymous said...

There isn't a squash alive that I don't love. Roast them and top with butter and brown sugar, and it's wonderful.

I cook spaghetti squash by roasting it and then taking a fork and scraping out the strands. Then I toss the strands with olive oil, salt and pepper, put the strands in a ramekin, top with spaghetti sauce and grated hard cheese of some sort (usually asiago) and put them under the broiler for a while.

However, butternut squash soup is truly my favorite soup to make. This is my version:

1-2 tbsp butter (I don't really measure this, just a blob of butter to cook the onions in).
2 cups chopped sweet onion
2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 6 cups)
6 cups vegetable broth (or vegetarian 'chicken' broth-I don't know if you have such a thing in your part of the world, but I do!)
3 pears, peeled and sliced (usually Bartlett, but not Asian pears, they are too soft and bland).
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon curry powder

1. Melt butter in a Dutch oven and cook onions until softened. Add squash and broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until squash is tender. Add pears, cayenne and curry, simmer for 10 minutes until pear has softened.

2. In your blender or food processor, puree the soup in small batches until smooth, return to pot and add cream, warming on burner until hot enough to serve.

makons said...

Yum squash.
I'm an occasional reader and I thought of you when I read this article in the NY Times today.

Sarah Beam said...

Oh Makons, I saw that article too and it cracked me up. I especially don't get the people who can't tolerate differences in others. Can't we all just get along?