Sunday, November 22, 2009

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

It’s finally turned cold here in northern California, and there’s nothing better to chase away the chill than a warm bowl of soup. Seeing all of those beautiful dark green and pale yellow winter gourds piled high in the produce bins inspired me to make a batch of butternut squash soup from scratch this weekend.

I modified a recipe from Michael Chiarello, one of Napa’s star chefs. When I read how he roasted the butter squash with molasses, balsamic vinegar, butter and one of his signature spice rubs, he had me, it sounded soooo good! And boy is it! This recipe is heavenly—a mouth watering combination of nutty squash flavor, rich sweetness from the molasses and just a hint of subtle spice. I cut the butter to reduce calories, but used enough to make a sinfully silken soup. I made enough to freeze; it will make a great accompaniment to leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches! 
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

2 tbls. olive oil
½ cup onion, diced
¼ cup celery, diced
¼ cup carrot, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
6 cups chicken stock or canned broth
2 cups Roasted Winter Squash recipe

Roasted Winter Squash Ingredients
3 lbs. butternut squash, ½-inch cubed (1 large squash or 2 pre-peeled halves or one large packaged cubed)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ stick butter
2 tbls. finely chopped sage leaves
2 tbls. granulated sugar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup dark molasses
2 tsp. Toasted Spice Rub

Toasted Spice Rub ingredients
1/8 cup fennel seeds
½ tbls. fennel seeds
½ tbls. peppercorns
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
1/8 cup chili powder
2 tbls. salt
2 tbls. ground cinnamon

Make Toasted Spice Rub
Toast fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns in a small, heavy pan over medium heat. When the fennel turns light brown, work quickly. Turn on the exhaust fan, add the red pepper flakes, toss continuously. Immediately turn the spice mixture out onto a plate to cool.
Put mixture into a blender or spice mill (I use an old coffee grinder to blend spice mixes) with chili powder, salt, and cinnamon and blend until spices are evenly ground. Pour into a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients.

Make Roasted Winter Squash
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat butter in a medium skillet until light brown (be carefully not to let it burn), pull the pan off the heat and immediately add the sage, sugar, vinegar, molasses and toasted spice rub (see recipe below). Mix well and let simmer over medium-low heat for 2 minutes.

Place cubed squash in single layer on a baking sheet and pour the vinegar mixture over the squash and mix well. 

Put in oven and roast for 45 minutes. Stir at least once. Set aside until cool enough to handle but still warm. Working in batches, transfer squash to a food processor and process until smooth.

Soup preparation
When squash has been roasted and pureed, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrot and sauté until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes, Stir in Roasted Winter Squash and simmer for 10 minutes. Puree soup in a blender until smooth. Return soup to pan and reheat gently. Serve warm.

Tips and Tidbits
I used a bit of creme fraiche to decorate the soup. Put the creme fraiche in a squeeze bottle and swirl around in a circle on the soup, then cut lengthwise and in the middle with a knife to make a pretty presentation. You could also use sour cream, just add a bit of sugar to take mellow it out.

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