In celebration of soup season
Around the time when the air loses its intensity of summer heat and you begin to smell that crisp note of autumn in the air, soup season begins. There is, of course, no “official” start to soup season. Its really whenever you’re ready to dust off the stock pot and fill the kitchen with the aromas of simmering goodness. And it’s a season that sticks with us right up until the first tentacles of summer heat sneak through the windows and we break out the boxes of shorts and tank tops. In other words, soup season is that extended period from early autumn to late spring that allows you to simplify your cooking to a single pot filled with comfort and warmth. It’s a good season. And one of the recipes we deem an essential for soup season is a good butternut squash soup.
The blank canvas of soups
Why is butternut squash soup an essential recipe to have in your arsenal? Because it is one of those soups that is truly a blank canvas. You can start with a vegetarian base, (or use chicken stock if you prefer). Then you can serve it any number of ways. Chef Annette Tomei, whose butternut soup recipe is our favorite, likes to serve it straight up. Butternut is a hearty vegetable and here it’s combine with just enough heavy cream to give it a velvety texture and weight on the tongue. The aromas and flavors are given a hint of complexity with the addition of aphrodisiac spices cinnamon and nutmeg. The result is something hearty and it can work as the main course of a simple meal, served with a heel of good quality, crusty bread slathered in European butter.
However, if you want to make your butternut squash soup into a more substantial meal, you can stir in some black beans, roasted, shredded chicken or pork or even some plump, sautéed shrimp. You can also dress it up with dozens of garnishes. Sprinkle the top with roasted pumpkin seeds, a drizzle of crème fraîche or parsley oil or both, a sprinkle of chevre or toasted black sesame, or, if your taste runs toward the exotic, some coconut chips. Fresh herbs also work to give the soup some colorful flair. Use any herbs you have on hand from chives to cilantro to lavender flowers. Whatever your flavor preference or your mood, this is a soup you can serve repeatedly throughout the entirety of soup season and never have it the same way twice.
This velvety, rich soup can be made in a variety of variation. Add your favorite protein, fresh herb or crunchy topping to change it up to suit your mood.
- 1 butternut squash approximately 2 lbs, halved lengthwise, seeded
- 1/2 cup onion small diced
- 1 leek white and light green only, washed and sliced thin
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 Tbsp golden brown sugar
- 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cups more or less chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 cup heavy cream
- salt and pepper
- garnish of your choice, including black beans, pumpkin seeds, chopped chives, creme fraiche, etc, optional
Preheat oven to 375°F. Place squash, cut side down, on an oiled baking sheet. Bake until squash is very soft, 45 - 50 minutes. Allow squash to cool slightly then scoop out the flesh, discarding the skin.
While squash is roasting, heat the butter and oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Sweat the diced onion until translucent. Add brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Cook over low heat until brown sugar is melted.
Add squash, chicken stock, and cream. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 20 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick.
Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender (make sure the lid is vented to prevent steam explosion). Return soup to a pot. Bring to simmer, season with salt and pepper. Thin with stock if necessary. Portion into bowls and add your preferred garnish. Serve hot.
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