Butternut Squash Soup

Giving a recipe for butternut squash soup feels something like giving a recipe for sliced tomatoes. I’ve provided the amounts I used to make this soup, below, which may well be the best of a long, long history of butternut squash soups, but you should know that I based the amounts largely on what I had: If I’d had three yellow onions, I might have used all three. Had I only two large carrots—or none—that’s what the recipe would say. If I didn’t have the good fortune of sweet potatoes rolling around in my refrigerator drawer, I would have made the soup without the potatoes (though the do give it a wonderful velvety texture, and a deep flavor you only get from things pulled from the ground. Had I not also the good fortune of two different neighbors, one whose front yard is landscaped with creeping thyme, the other with a rosemary bush large as a hedge, I may have skipped one or both of those, too. You get the idea. Don’t you?

1 butternut squash (or hubbard, acorn, cheese pumpkin)
1 (or 2 or 3) sweet potatoes (I used garnet, but use whatever you have or want)
Olive oil (nothing fancy)
2 big yellow onions (white would be fine and red would probably work too), chopped
1 bunch of carrots, tops removed, chopped
1 sprig of rosemary and/or a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 arbol chile
2 quarts vegetable or chicken broth
1 lemon, halved
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Cut the squash in half. This is no small task as you know if you have ever tried to slice through a butternut squash. the best way I know to do it is to take a big knife you don’t care that much about, plunge it kung-fu style into the squash, then, using the knife handle, pick the squash up (it’s now like a giant lollipop) and bang it on the counter so the knife goes further in. Keep doing this until you’ve created enough of a crevice so you can pry the thing open, and do. Scoop the insides out like seeds from a cantaloupe and discard.

Put the squash face-down on a baking sheet and put it and the sweet potatoes (did you know that sweet potatoes aren’t really a potato?) in the oven. Remove the sweet potatoes when they’re soft to the squeeze; remove the squash when it’s soft. Today my sweet potatoes were such different sizes that I took each one out separately, as they were done. I wondered: Is it possible to overcook a sweet potato? I will get an answer to that question.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a big soup pot. Add the onion, rosemary, thyme, and chile and saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the onions are soft. Add the carrots and saute another 10 minutes until they are soft. The time doesn’t matter, I just put it there because somewhere, somebody would think: soft? 10 minutes? An hour? What exactly does it mean that an onion is soft? The goal here is: soft, sweet vegetables without any color. If the pan is too dry and you are burning the vegetables, add a splash of water or stock. The idea is to buy time. Cooking time that is.

When the squash and potatoes are done, add them to the pot—not the skin. Throw that in the trash or eat it with butter and salt. Or hand it to your dog. Add the stock and cook everything together for 10 minutes just to feel like you’re doing something, and like something is happening with the soup. Remove the herbs and chile. Repeat: REMOVE THE HERBS AND CHILE. Puree the soup with a stick (immersion) blender if you have one. If you don’t, puree it in batches in a blender or food processor and resolve to buy a stick blender before you make a pureed soup again.

Add a squeeze of lemon juice and salt to taste. If this soup is not the most delicious fall soup you have ever tasted, rich in rust-colored flavor, it probably needs more salt. I’m going to guess you know how to serve and eat soup so I am not going to explain. In the late, late fall, I served it with a plate of sliced tomatoes, the last heirlooms of the year from Chino Farms and as good as if it were August. Unless you live south of the equator or have a thing for tomatoes that taste like geraniums, I don’t recommend you eat this soup with tomatoes until next fall, during that short window when tomatoes are in season and it’s cool enough that you’re craving silky soup like this one. If you want to make the soup look like the sort of thing you’d find in a restaurant with stuff on top, there’s a recipe in Twist of the Wrist for b’nut squash soup topped with sauteed spinach and farro–and knowing Nancy, there must be bacon in there, too.

Good night. And good eats.

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