Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Before you make your mind up that, "I don't like butternut squash!" read through this recipe and give this soup a try. One of the secretaries who works in our office at church said, "I grew up eating butternut squash and don't like it. My Mom made me eat it." After one bite of this soup, "MMM...this doesn't taste like squash...I like it." It really is a delicious soup and so easy to make. There are more steps than opening a can but the flavor bonus is way, way, worth the effort.

Let's talk about butternut squash before we get too far into the whole soup creation story. I have never worked with this squash before yesterday. I knew what it looked like, but I just never ate it, cooked it, or really touched it to be honest. My sweet wife wanted this soup and I told her I would make it for her, otherwise I would have made something else because I didn't think I liked butternut squash. Who knows I may not like it any other way, but in this soup. Butternut squash is classified as a winter squash and very closely related to the pumpkin. I read a really fascinating article on squash (YES I just said that...YES I'm weird) here. I think I was the most surprised by the smell of the squash. It smelled almost like cantaloupe, very sweet and fruity. I was not expecting that smell at all and was very surprised. I was also surprised at how easily it cleaned up. Scooping out the seeds and fibers and junk was not hard, much like tending to a cantaloupe. Once peeled it was easy to cut and deal with. All in all not as hard as I thought.

After reading about 7 or so recipes for butternut squash soup I came to the conclusion that it should be roasted first, then incorporated into the soup. I wanted to develop more of the sweetness and felt that roasting would do just that, it did. I also decided to puree, opting to not go with a chunky version...just didn't seem right. The other decision I made was to saute the other veggies in a skillet...then transfer them to the stock pot for the actual soup creation. Again, I wanted to develop flavor and felt that caramelizing the onion would add some smokiness to the soup and deepen the flavor. I love thinking about depth and layers of flavor, sounds so fancy.

Speaking of fancy I was watching my new favorite Food Network show and got pretty excited when she cut a pound of bacon into cubes and called them lardons! I had never heard of that work in my life and thought how much more cool that sounded than bacon bit! I always cut up the bacon I'm planning to fry for cornbread salad or lettuce salads, instead of breaking up the pieces after the slices are cooked. Pretty exciting to learn a fancy word for something--leave it to the French!

Some of the surprising elements of this soup that really helped make it stand out were the addition of apple, honey, and lime. They did not make it too sweet but leveled out the flavors and gave it a smoother and cleaner feel in the mouth. Very creamy, smooth, somewhat sweet, but savory and warm. It was comfort food in a bowl, friends. And delicious.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Step One: Butternut Prep.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment or quick release foil. The squash I chose was close to 6 pounds, when you make this recipe you will either need to find a smaller squash, or freeze the other half of the roasted squash until the craving to eat it again comes up--which it will. come up. I used a simple vegetable peeler to peel the squash easily. I did cut the tip and end off the squash and then peel, it gave me an edge and allowed the peeling blade to catch better I thought. As you can see it wasn't hard. The squash, raw, is very pale but intensifies in color as it cooks. It will darken several shades upon cooking. Kind of like a sweet potato.

If you look at the squash, you will notice that there is a "ball" end and a narrow, "neck" end. The seeds live in the ball end. After peeling the squash, I cut the neck off, it's all flesh and can be cut into cubes. The ball end, I cut in half and used a large soup spoon to scoop out all the seeds and fibers, just like dealing with a cantaloupe, and that easy. Then you can brake that down and cut into cubes. As you cube up the squash, place in a medium to large bowl. Add enough olive oil to lightly coat, no more than a tablespoon, salt and pepper (teaspoon of each) and toss to evenly coat. Pour that onto your sheet pan and make sure they are all evenly spread out. Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until a fork is easily inserted into the squash. You can freeze half for up to a month in a tightly sealed container.

The soup:

6 slices of bacon
1 large onion, diced (1 cup)
2 carrots, peeled and diced (1 cup)
2 ribs of celery, diced (1 cup)

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
3 cloves Garlic, crushed

3 lb.s Roasted butternut squash
4 cups Chicken stock (32 ounces)
Juice of two limes
1 Tablespoon honey

1/4 cup whipping cream
Salt and Pepper, to taste

In a heavy bottom pot (dutch oven) add bacon to cold pan, and turn heat to medium high. This will render more fat from the bacon and give you a crispier...ready...lardon. Cook bacon over medium heat until brown and crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate. Remove all but one tablespoon of bacon fat. Add celery, onion, and carrot, cook for 5 minutes or until the onion is clear. Add garlic and apple. Continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add squash and chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes or until veggies are tender (especially the carrot).

Process mixture in batches, in either a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to dutch oven. Add lime juice, and cream taste and adjust for seasoning. Simmer until thick, no more than 10 minutes. Garnish with the lardons.

Notes: If you happen to luck upon frozen, cubed butternut squash, you will be lucky. I couldn't find the product in five stores! As I have thought about this soup I wonder...could you use canned pumpkin. Of course the plain pureed pumpkin, not the pumpkin pie version. They are so closely related being both winter squash. I may try that and see what happens, it would certainly be a very quick time saver.


Ryan's Mommy and Daddy said...

Will, I make Ryan's baby food. Butternut squash was one of the first foods he tried. He really likes it. I've tried it too, and thought it was close to sweet potato. I think it would be delicious mashed with some honey or brown sugar and butter. :)

Hi ! I'm Cindy said...

Will, I found you from the Chickens blog.... what a wonderful blog! And I love Anne's show on food network, guess I missed the lardon term being used, but that does make it so much fancier than bacon bits!!

~ Cindy