So my friend / media consultant / lifesaver, Alison Law, made this video of me (bottom of the page) preparing butternut squash soup. Alison put the whole clip together, cutting it down, adding music, adding a cameo by my cat Peanut, complete with his bird bib, which makes him look like Mr. Pitiful, but saves the lives of lots of little birdies.
Alison and I chose to highlight this soup recipe because it’s the one I fix most often. It’s really versatile; if you make it you can see that there’s lots of room for improvisation. It starts, as many soups do, with onions slow cooked in a flavorful fat. Borrowing from Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis’s suggestion, I start with bacon, about four slices of it, cut into 1-inch squares. The day I made this soup for the video, Whole
Paycheck Foods had some wonderful bacon from a small Georgia farm that treats its pigs right and makes about the best damn pig products you’ve ever tasted. This stuff was rolled in curry seasonings, and it was incredible. (In fact, there is a moment when I go a little nuts tasting it in the film. Reader, I was about 13 weeks pregnant when we were making this, and that bacon tasted DAMN GOOD.)
The thing is, if you’re vegetarian you can start your onions in butter. If you’re vegan, you can start them in olive oil. It all tastes good. You let the onions cook till soft and translucent, about five minutes minimum. Keep the heat low so they don’t brown; indeed, the lower and slower you cook them, the more sweet and delicious the final soup will be. When you’ve cooked them for as long as you have the patience for, add a clove or two of chopped garlic and a uniformly sliced and peeled Granny Smith apple. (Or don’t! The apple is optional–see, versatile!) Let the apple cook with the onion for about 5-10 minutes, then add the flesh of the root vegetables you have already roasted.
About those roasted vegetables: I usually roast a large butternut squash (sliced in half longwise, seeds scooped out, rubbed in olive oil, then roasted till tender at 350 degrees, which usually takes about an hour and fifteen minutes) and a large sweet potato (also rubbed in olive oil and roasted in same pan as the squash, at 350.) You can also roast any other kind of edible winter squash. If you don’t have time to roast your own veggies–no problem. Trader Joe’s sells cubes of already peeled butternut squash. You can just use a bag of that. It’s delicious.
Once you’ve added your root vegetables (either roasted or bagged from Trader Joe’s), stir everything around so all of the flavors get mixed up. Add a bay leaf, some grated nutmeg, some grinds of pepper, and about 1 to 1 and ½ teaspoons kosher salt. You’ll probably end up needing more, but if using bacon, remember it is naturally salty. Let the vegetables cook together for about 10 minutes. If using uncooked squash from Trader Joe’s, let all of the vegetables cook together for about 20 minutes, till squash has a little give when pierced with a knife.
After veggies have all cooked together, add about 4-6 cups stock, chicken or veggie, depending on whether or not you want the meal to be vegetarian. I prefer homemade stock—which is easy to make!—but store bought is absolutely fine. Let soup come to a light boil, then lower to simmer and cook another 20 minutes.
Take off stove and let cool for just a minute. Blend in batches till soup is a thick puree. (If you have a hand immersion blender–lucky you!) If you need to add more stock to thin, do it. I sometimes like to thin with a little bit of apple juice. Once blended, return the soup to the pot and taste for seasoning. Does it need more salt, more nutmeg, more pepper? If serving right away, I like to add about 1-2 T. heavy cream, but if you are going to refrigerate or freeze soup for later, don’t add dairy till you plan to heat it up to serve.
This soup is delicious poured over a wedge or triple cream cheese such as Brillat Savarin or St. Andre (also a Scott Lewis and Edna Peacock suggestion.) It is also delightful with a few pieces of crumbled bacon on top. It makes a great fall meal with a simple salad (I like arugula, apple chunks, and toasted walnuts) and it goes great with cheese biscuits.
One note on the cheese biscuit recipe I linked to: It’s delish, but I always add a little more salt to it. Like maybe 1/4 teaspoon more than what’s called for. I’m southern, see, and we like things salty.
Here’s the vid of me making soup!