Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hearty Soup of Roasted Butternut Squash, Apples, and Caramelized Onions (w.optional tasty extras)

First let me give you a brief account of the squash I used for this soup. It is what we call 'accidental squash'. Two large butternut squash were the sole produce from our garden this summer and we didn't even intentionally plant it. The seeds sprouted from squash seeds that wound up in the compost which Stu did not wait to ripen (or whatever you call it). I had started several flats of various seeds in March but somehow they never got put out and eventually they died. So sad. We did have cherry tomatoes from plants that self-sowed but the gate keeping our dogs out of the garden broke and my Aussie kept helping herself to ripe tomatoes before we ever got a chance. So if it wasn't for our accidental squash we would have had no home grown food this summer.

On to the soup. I hate peeling and chopping butternut squash so my laziness is partly what inspired this soup. Also, my love for roasted vegetables.

I wanted as little fuss with the peel as possible so I roasted the squash by cutting it in half vertically, and then cut those halves in half horizontally. I did the second cut because my squash was particularly big. It is generally not necessary. Salt and pepper the squash and lay them, flesh-side down, on an oiled baking sheet. It is wise to first place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment down for easy clean-up. I was not wise and had a sticky burnt mess.

I wanted some roasted garlic but I did not want to deal with squeezing sticky roasted garlic out of its skin so I peeled and smashed a few cloves and placed them in the cavities of the squash before inverting them onto the sheet. This roasted the garlic nicely while creating a protective layer against burning. I like to think it added extra flavor to the squash as well.

We went apple picking on Sunday so we have a bountiful supply. I decided roasted apples would be a delicious addition to a soup. I quartered the apples and cut out the core and seeds and placed them face-up on the sheet. I was afraid too much sugar would be released and they would become very messy if I placed them face down. This was good thinking but I should have gone the added mile of using foil.

As an afterthought, I cut deep crosshatched slices in the skin side of the solid pieces of squash for faster cooking. Once again, I wouldn't do this for the average sized squash. I placed the baking sheet in a 425 degree oven and set the time for 20 minutes. This was the time I estimated for the apples.

The apples were definitely done at 20 minutes. Some pieces roasted to the point of falling out of the peel. I set them aside in a bowl, tested the squash, and set the timer for another 20 minutes.

While the squash and apples were roasting, I made a quick stock by placing large chunks of carrot, celery, and onion in a sauce pan with water and letting it simmer. If I had fresh herbs of any kind (parsley, rosemary, thyme) I would have added some but I wasn't too concerned as I was expecting plenty of flavor from the roasted squash, apples, and garlic. If you have about a quart of store-bought stock in the pantry, or keep a supply of your own handy, you can skip this step and move onto the caramelized onions.

 To prepare the onions, cut a large onion in half, and then cut into thin slices. With the heat set to medium, add about 2-3 tbs of olive oil to the pot in which you intend to cook the soup. When the oil is hot, add the onions. You want the heat high enough to eventually brown the onions but no so high that they burn. They should slowly give up their juices (sweating) and then begin to brown. This takes about 10-15 minutes. You should only stir them once or twice.

  If you are wise, you will have planned ahead to allow time for the squash to cool before scraping the flesh into a bowl. I had a hungry husband to feed and had gotten a late start, so I burnt my fingers. At any rate, this is the next step; scrape the squash from the peel into a bowl and add the apples (peels and all), and garlic. If a teeny bit of skin from the squash gets into the bowl, don't worry too much as it will be pureed into the soup.

Turn the heat off on the onions and add the squash, the apples, and the garlic to the pot. Add the stock (drained if you are making it from scratch). Add 1 tsp of cinnamon, a generous grating of nutmeg (or about 1/4 tsp), 1/2 tsp of ginger, and  1 1/2 tsp dried sage. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until creamy and smooth and no chunks or peels remain. If you must do this in a food processor or blender, it would be safest to puree the squash and apples with only part of the stock and add the rest of the stock to the pureed mixture in the pot and stir well. Once the soup is pureed, taste for salt. I added 3 tsp without tasting and found this to be a bit too much.

Turn the heat back on and gently bring the soup just to the point of a boil. It is not necessary to actually cook it further. You just want to bring the ingredients to an even heat. You can thin the soup with more stock, water, or do what I did and add about 1 cup of almond milk (or any other non-dairy milk). I also crumbled in a bit of leftover over Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo I had in the 'fridge.

For garnish and delicious crunch, I toasted some pumpkin seeds (aka 'pepitas) right before serving.

This is  a soup that could be seasoned in a few ways. Try curry or chili powder. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a generous handful of chopped cilantro. Enrichen it with a tablespoon or two of peanut butter or other nut butter. Toss in a can of chick peas or kidney beans. You get the picture.

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