On those cold, blustery nights the best thing I can think of is a warm mug of soup, a gooey grilled cheese and my great first lines throw blanket. The weather lately makes me appreciate the comforts I forego when it is warm and sunny outside. This weekend begged for a crock of butternut squash soup so to the Farmer’s Market I went. I poked around the stands downtown, which by the way was bustling with our local Fall Festival, looking for the perfect squash. There were beautiful butternut squash everywhere I turned. I picked out a few beauties to purchase, a plump Vidalia onion, a crisp granny smith apple that smelled like a sweet tart, and some fresh sage. I love the farmer’s market, all that fresh locally grown produce in one place, with the most knowledgeable people, the growers, to guide you. There is something more fulfilling about buying from a local grower than the grocery store. There is a connection you instantly feel as the produce leaves their hands and falls into yours. The look in their eyes that says “I have shown this love and now it is your turn to help it be something more” surrounds you as you accept their offerings.
This week we also decided to take a little detour for lunch. We ducked into On the Rise and hit the jackpot. Their sandwiches were delicious (I will be reviewing this place soon), but it was the loaf of bread I bought that was the star. They had Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion bread for sale. Well I could not pass that up! The lovely lady behind the counter sliced it up as visions of grilled cheeses danced in my head. I just knew this would be the finishing touch to my soup.
I toted my wares home and got out my Caribbean Blue Le Creuset stock pot that we got as a wedding gift and began in on the food prep. Let me let you in on a little secret, or at least it was a secret to me up until a few years ago. Did you know that butternut squash peel is some of the most acidic stuff around? The first time I tried making this soup, I started peeling those suckers and looked down at my hands, the squash was exfoliating my hands at an alarming rate. I tried to wash it off, no good. I tried to moisturize, no luck either. I was not to be deterred though so I just sucked it up and continued my prep work. It took me weeks to recover from that incident and now I don’t even think about peeling butternut squash without heavy duty gloves. This time I went ahead and roasted the squash first. I figured the pulp would be easy to scoop out once it was cooked. Also, let me just say that anybody that does not sob like a baby when they cut Vidalia onions is a stronger person than I. Hey let’s face it though, you always get a little mileage out of it, if they think you really suffered over making dinner. The recipe below is for a large stockpot of Butternut Squash Soup that will help carry a family through a couple of busy weeknight meals. Enjoy!
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
lg. Vidalia onion, sliced
3 good-sized butternut squash, halved and deseeded
1 granny smith apple
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tbsp. real maple syrup (I like grade A fancy)
8 cups chicken stock (or veggie if you want to keep this vegetarian)
1 pt. heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
10 slices of good bacon for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and foil line a large baking sheet. Cut butternut squash in half and deseed. Place flesh side down on prepared pan and bake until skin is soft enough to pierce with fork- approximately one hour.
After squash has been in about 30 minutes, melt butter in stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onions, apple and garlic and saute until they begin to soften. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, maple syrup and sage to mix and continue cooking until fragrant. About this time the squash should be ready. Pull it out of the oven when it is fork-tender and allow to cool slightly. Scoop squash flesh out and add to pot. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and break out the immersion blender. This is a tool I eschewed wrongly for years. I always thought, do it the old-fashioned way and blend with a blender. But, I was wrong. My husband bought me an immersion blender despite my protests and I am glad. Now I just plug that puppy in and blend away. No covers flying off because the mixture is too hot for the blender or crazy cleanup after it has spewed everywhere and burned me in the process. I just pop it in the reduced temperature pot and blend away. Bliss!
Once the soup is a creamy texture, it is time for the cream and the final seasoning. You can make this without cream but I think it gives it a nice finish. Salt and Pepper and you are done except frying up a few strips of bacon for a tasty garnish. Sticking with the Fall theme, I went with Applewood Smoked Bacon. The bread from On the Rise made beautiful grilled cheese, though extremely large. I used Vermont white cheddar but any good melting cheese will do.
The perfect comfort food on a cold almost winter evening!