Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Homemade Soups. Take Four: Butternut Squash

The first time I really tasted the simple treasure of butternut squash soup was at Gabrielle’s Restaurant at the Richmond Hill Inn, in Asheville, North Carolina. My mother and I were visiting to see if I wanted to intern in Asheville as part of the culinary degree program with Johnson & Wales University. We decided to treat ourselves to an elegant dinner at this mountaintop 1890’s Victorian mansion. The aroma of the soup grabbed me instantly and I was hooked. Apple wood smoked bacon and sage were gently woven into the sweet squash and the velvety texture enveloped me. I asked for any secret ingredients that could give its' addictive quality away, but I walked away empty handed.

When I choose to make my version, the experience is just as powerful as my tasting of it at Gabrielle’s. I start by roasted the split squash after they’ve been sprinkled with spices, dabbed with a generous pad of butter and wrapped in foil. Once in the oven, the sweet nutty aroma increases as the butter melts into the flesh of the squash. Meanwhile, I dice up a few slabs of bacon and sauté the cured meat in my stockpot. It will add a salty smoky component to the final product. Next come the onions and as they hit the pot, they release an exquisite crackle. In a simple exchange, a layer of sugary sweetness surrounds the bacon, while a smoky flavor lathers the onions.

The squash is perfectly tender as I pull them from the oven and tear them open like a birthday gift. Leaning over, I receive a brief facial as I breathe in the bouquet of nutmeg, butter, and cinnamon. I scoop out the orange colored flesh and add it to my stockpot of bacon and onions. I add my personal secret ingredients and once everything is combined, its time to puree. In the food processor, the pieces of my puzzle swirl and whip together. The orange darkens to a rustier tint, as steam billows out the top like a smokestack and specs of bacon appear and disappear as the tornado continues.

I add some chicken stock to my soup’s base until the consistency reaches that of Cream of Wheat. I taste the soup. It’s a bit sweet and a bit smoky, but missing a little punch. I reach for the dried sage and sprinkle some into the pot. The subtly mint flavored herb infuses the soup and intensifies while simmering. Bitter sage is the perfect contrast to the sweet squash. The grand finale is a generous addition of heavy cream and the soup transforms into a luxurious treat.

In addition to the beautiful foliage and changes in temperature, fall brings an arsenal of culinary comforts. It’s an opportunity to expand and develop skills as a cook, be a little creative and share discoveries with friends and family. This recipe is simple to make and comforting beyond belief.

Make a large batch and freeze some for later in the winter. Again, the amount listed are estimates.

Butternut Squash Soup. Yield: 4-6 Servings
5 ½ pounds, butternut squash (about 2 medium sized)
4 TB, butter
1 teaspoon, cinnamon
Sprinkle of nutmeg
Sprinkle of cloves
3 slices, diced bacon
1 ½ cups, diced onions
3 cups, chicken stock
1 TB, dried sage
½ cup, heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste

Method of Preparation:1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Split the squash lengthwise in half and scoop out the seeds and pulp.
3. Sprinkle each half with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Place 1 TB of butter in each cavity.
4. Wrap each half in aluminum foil, place on a baking sheet, and place in the oven. Remove when tender, about 1 ½ hours.
5. Meanwhile, in a 5-6 quart pot, sauté the bacon on med-hi heat until half way cooked. Add onions and sauté until onions are translucent. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Unwrap squash and scoop out flesh. Add it to the bacon and onion mixture. Stir to combine.
7. Puree mixture in food processor (in batches, if necessary). Add mixture back to pot and bring to simmer. Add chicken stock and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with dried sage.
8. Let soup simmer 10-15 minutes to combine flavors.
9. Stir in heavy cream and serve.


Deborah Dowd said...

I love butternut squash and I can't wait to give this soup a try!

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