Thursday, October 1, 2009

believe in butternut squash

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Butternut squash is one of those things that I feel like even if you think you don’t like it, I’ll bet that you will, you just haven’t had it the right way. I know because until recent years, I was pretty much positive that I did NOT like butternut squash, or any squash or squash-related vegetables. Then something changes, either you grow up and get better taste in food or you give it one more try and the right kind of cooking method, or the right amount of saltiness changes your mind. This is the way I feel about almost all of the vegetables I love now that I hated for most of my life. When prepared just right, they’ll make you into a believer.

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So anyways, when I think of fall cuisine my mind gets all sorts of butternut squashy. And I have been thinking extensively about all things fall cuisine lately. Call it an end-of-summer coping mechanism. On the down side, I have to retire my flip flops and once again fade into a nearly translucent shade of pale BUT on the other hand there’s soups and pies to be made and eaten and those ridiculously ah-doorbell baby white punkins at the grocery store again (do you know by the way that the technical name for those is “munchkins”? Come on! If they were any cuter I’d punch them!) You ever wonder if baby punkins and apple cider donuts are god’s pacifiers to ease us into the long dark winter months? Like “here, quit your fussing, eat this donut.” I dunno about you, but a distraction of the fresh baked donut kind works on this lady every time.

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This Sunday afternoon I had a hankering for something light but snuggly. Does that make sense? It was a raining sideways and I wanted something savory and warm BUT something healthy, since I ate my weight in chips and onion dip while playing Balderdash the night before. A nice fall supper was in order.

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Plus when I got to the grocery store guess who called out to me? Look at this guy. He actually ASKED me to take him home! How could I refuse his giant chin? A clearer look:

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So butternut squash soup it was and now I’m here to share. This has got to be one of the easiest soup recipes going. Actually, I want to take this opportunity to share my opinion that soup may possibly be the best thing about fall/winter cooking. It’s cheap, easy and delicious and you always have a truckload of leftovers. I’m thinking about starting a sub-segment on here exclusively dedicated to soups. We’ll call it “Nuts about Soup: A Soup to Nuts Guide to Cooking Soup” (too much?) or I could just call it “Soupy Dickens” I’m open to suggestions, either way.

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One butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced into (approx.) 1” cubes
Two Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced into (approx.) 1” cubes
Two shallots, thinly sliced
Two small cloves garlic, chopped
One large container (or about 32 ounces) chicken (or veggie) stock
Splash half and half
Salt and peps
Olive oil
1 teaspoon butter

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium to med-high heat. Drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add shallots and sauté until translucent, stirring often. Add garlic and butter, let butter melt and garlic turn golden, but do not burn the garlic! Add diced squash and potatoes and stir everything together. Pour in chicken stock. Turn heat up to medium-high and bring to a healthy simmer. Cook until the vegetables are fork tender (I let mine cook for about 40 minutes, periodically testing my veggies. You want them very tender, since you will be blending them. Plus it makes all the flavors much tastier, the more they meld together).

Now you’re going to want to blend everything together. The best thing about using starchy veggies like butternut squash and potaters is that when blended they make a deliciously creamy soup, without adding say a roux or a truckload of heavy cream or any other diet destroyers. You can do this one of two ways: the first is to remove your soup from heat and then carefully, in batches, puree in your blender. Don’t use a food processor because they can’t handle huge volumes of liquid. The second, and my preferred way, is to turn the heat off of the soup and use an immersion blender to puree the vegetables. You have to be thorough and hit all the sections of soup and take care not to just swish your blender about all willy nilly. Seriously though, BE CAREFUL! Or you may (as I did) end up with teensy squirts of searing hot soup on your delicate neck meat. Once your soup is pureed to your desired consistency, add salt and pepper to taste. I used homemade chicken stock, which tastes more chicken-y but less salty so I added a good dose of salt to this. Then, to finish I swirled in just a tiny bit of half and half. Ladled the soup into some cute bowls my Ma bought me and topped each bowl with a parmesan sage crouton.


Sliced ciabatta bread
Shaved parmesan cheese
Dried sage

Since parmesan and sage pair naturally with butternut squash, I thought it might be nice to make a oversized, cheesy crouton to garnish the soup. This soup would also pair well with any kind of grilled cheese sandwich, but letsbeserious, what wouldn’t pair with a grilled cheese sandwich on a rainy Sunday? So I fired up my broiler and toasted a thick slice of ciabatta bread. When side one was done, I toasted the second side and then topped it with some shaved parmesan and just a little sprinkle of dried sage. Popped it back under the broiler until the cheese melted and then topped each bowl of soup with one of the croutons. These were so tasty and they happen to work nicely as makeshift edible spoons for the first half of your bowl of soup. For the second half you may use a traditional spoon or you may cut off another hunk of bread and get down like that. Heck, I know I did.

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