One of the first things I taught myself to cook in my twenties was a winter squash soup. It took so few ingredients and so little time to make a thing of substance and sustenance.
Butter, onion, squash or pumpkin, water or stock, a little cream–and then I could season it to fit my mood.
Cayenne. Curry. Herbs. It was dinner then lunch and by the time I heated it up again it was thick enough to spread on a piece of toast.
When it came time to entertain friends, I could always count on squash soup to be ready well in advance and to please nearly everyone so long as there was plenty of crusty bread and wine.
Squash soup never let me down.
The Ultimate Purée Tool
Well, there was one thing.
In the old days, making a smooth soup meant transferring everything into a blender. Then, you guarding your life while you turned it on to prevent the hot liquid from spraying out like a geyser.
After watching one student in cooking school get a soup shower one day, poor thing, I learned to place a dish towel over the blender cover and turn it on with a few quick bursts before letting the machine run on its own.
Now, unless I’m going for a perfectly silken smooth soup, the immersion blender comes to the rescue. I don’t even take the pot from the stove (off the heat)–though it makes me wish for a cordless version.
Bonus Roasted Flavors
While you can make good squash soup with canned or homemade pumpkin purée or even cubed raw squash simmered in broth. But I always find the flavor a little wanting. To get the best depth of flavor, I go for roasted.
It’s a little more work to peel a small butternut, kabocha or sugar pie pumpkin, seed it and cut it up for roasting but there’s a big payoff down the road.
In general, squash has a very mild flavor on its own. But add some seasoning (salt and fresh rosemary, for instance) and the high heat of the oven and the flavors practically bloom.
Roasted squash has lots of uses, including:
- In tossed salads like this fall panzanella
- In pasta dishes, like roasted pumpkin, sage and brown butter penne
- As a side dish, either on its own or in combination with carrots, parsnips or sweet potatoes
Roasting brings any squash out of its shell for soup, salad and sides.
For this soup, you can make it as chunky or smooth as you like. And because you can make it well in advance, it won’t compete with any of the other preparations for your holiday meal.
Roasted Squash Soup with Rosemary and Bay
This full-flavored creamy soup is equally good with roasted butternut squash, kabocha, sugar pie pumpkin or any other winter squash variety. Serve it as a holiday appetizer or as part of a warming weekday supper.
To roast the pumpkin:
- 1 small squash, such as butternut or sugar pie pumpkin 4 to 6 pounds
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
To make the soup:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
Using a large chefs knife, trim the top and bottom of the squash, removing as little of the flesh as possible. Peel the squash using a sharp-bladed vegetable peeler to remove all of the skin. Cut the squash in half from stem to root and scrape out the seeds, reserving them for garnish, if desired. Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes to make about 5 cups total.
Toss the squash cubes with the olive oil, rosemary and salt and arrange in a single layer on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Roast at 400 degrees F until the squash is tender and browned in spots, 25-30 minutes.
[The squash can be prepared 1-2 days in advance and refrigerated until ready to make the soup.]
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, just until the onion turns translucent. Add the squash and stir to combine.
Add the stock, salt, pepper, bay leaf and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot. Or, transfer the soup to a blender and puree.
Stir in the cream and bring back to a simmer. Taste for seasoning before serving.
Substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth for a vegetarian version.