Monday, October 18, 2010

Soup’s On

I suppose you know autumn has officially arrived when it seems everyone has a cold. I had just about convinced myself that I was invincible and would not succumb, but then on Saturday night I had the tell-tale scratchy throat and runny nose. Fortunately, I have a very minor cold, the kind that does leave me sounding like I’m very sick so I’m getting a good amount of sympathy, but where the most intense symptom is soup-craving.

I know you won’t find “soup craving” in any medical tomes on the symptoms of the common cold, but you will find soup in just about every culture as a way to alleviate the symptoms. I guess all these years of treating a cold with Chicken Noodle Soup has just led my body to immediately crave the cure. Since I love soup, I’m actually a bit happy to have an excuse to eat a lot of it for the next few days. So far I’ve tried a new vegan version of my favorite butternut squash soup, a cup of kale and white bean soup from the market, and miso soup.

All were wonderful and hit the spot. But truth be told, I only really made the butternut squash soup; the miso soup was from a box, to which I added some enoki mushrooms, firm silken tofu, and spinach leaves. It was very good and felt very cleansing and healthful, so I recommend it if you, too, are suffering from a cold and don’t feel like doing much of anything.

But if you’re a bit hungrier and want something more substantial, then it is butternut squash soup you want. You may not know you want it, but trust me, you do. At least I do, and I make it all the time. There was a period last year, after our little squash plant went crazy and we had a big basket of butternuts in the pantry, when I was making soup weekly and eating the leftovers for lunch several days a week. It got to the point that my husband requested I not make it for awhile. He likes to come home and eat my leftovers when he works nights, and it turns out that weeks on end of butternut squash soup got to be a bit much for him.

So you may want to just start with making this once, then again in a few weeks if it’s a hit, and then go from there. Maybe you’ll become as obsessive as I am, or maybe it’ll be a once a year type of dish for you. Either way, you’ll want it in your repertoire.

The version here is a super-garlicky one, but since the garlic is roasted it has a nice, soft, sweet flavor. I roasted whole cloves along with the peeled and cubed butternut squash, all tossed with olive oil and salt and pepper. The smell was divine, and I couldn’t help but snack on a few bites straight from the oven. In fact, if you were feeling lazy, at this point you could nix the soup and just eat the roasted squash. Or even better, double the garlic and roast two squashes: one for soup and one for a side dish, one for now and one for later. Why, oh why, didn’t I think of this when I was making it? Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to do this again next weekend. Sorry honey, butternut soup’s for dinner…again.

Garlicky Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

What I hate worst about most butternut squash soup recipes is that they call for an exact amount of squash, and who actually sits there weighing vegetables and converting that to the number of cups it will yield while they’re in the middle of grocery shopping? Not me. I’ve purposefully left this a bit vague for you so you can use whatever size squash you have on hand. When you are picking squash, choose one that is heavy for it’s size; it will be the sweetest and most flavorful. If you only have itty bitty ones to choose from, then maybe grab two or three so you can make a decent amount of soup. The other ingredients will need to adjust based on how much squash you have, but I promise it is a forgiving cooking method and will still taste great.

1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (my squash was about 3 pounds and yielded about 9 cups, cubed)
1 head of garlic, whole cloves, peeled
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon fresh sages leaves, or more to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided, more as needed
¾ cup white wine
3-4 cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste (I used 10-12 grates)
Green scallion rings for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Toss squash and garlic cloves with 2 tablespoons of oil and a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. If there is not enough oil to coat, add a bit more. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and roast until the squash is tender, turning once or twice so it doesn’t burn, about 45 minutes to an hour. A little browning of the squash is fine and adds wonderful flavor.

When the squash is almost done or is finished, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, sage, a few grates of fresh nutmeg, and a pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté until it is translucent. Add the wine and increase heat so the wine begins to reduce. When it is reduced by half, stir in the squash and garlic, and cover with vegetable stock, about 2-3 cups. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes until the squash starts to fall apart.

Using an immersion blender or working in batches in a regular blender, puree until smooth. Return to pan, and add more stock as needed to thin the soup to desired consistency. Taste, and re-season with salt and pepper as needed. Garnish with green scallion rings, and serve with a piece of whole grain toast and a green salad.

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