Monday, November 7, 2011

Finally "Soup Weather"!

One of my favorite fall soup recipes is one I saw in an issue of Sunset Magazine many years ago. It was a recipe from Deborah Madison (of Chez Panisse and Greens fame), one of my favorite cookbook authors. She embodies much of what inspires me: vegetarian cooking, the Slow Food movement, and eating locally, organically, humanely raised food. The recipe was preceded by an article about different types of squash and as I read the recipe I knew I had to make it. 
Before I continue, let me tell you this: when it comes to many recipes, I usually cut quantities in half, because there are only two of us at home and I don't like leftovers for too many days. But when it comes to this soup, I make the whole recipe.  I never tire of it.

We liked the soup so well I offered to bring it to Thanksgiving dinner one year. Everyone there liked it, too. The following year I brought something else and everyone asked where the soup was!

As you can tell, this thing has become an annual tradition. I make it every Fall because the soup exemplifies this time of year: hearty, earthy, squashy. It can be modified in many ways: by changing up the type of squash used, by adding cream if you choose, or by varying the type of stock added. But no matter how it’s modified, it’s still a fantastic soup. I prefer it without the cream and exactly the way it’s listed in the recipe below because in all the years I’ve made it, I like this way best.

One ingredient that should not be changed out is the sage.  This herb and squash are good friends and totally belong together. The drizzle of the extra virgin olive oil at the end, right before you serve it, is also important, believe it or not, because the fat adds a mouth-feel that puts the soup over the top. I like it better than cream.
Butternut Squash

Squash can be a bit labor-intensive to prepare because some are tough-skinned and hard to get a knife through, while some may be large and hard to hold on to, which is why I like butternut (which can be easily peeled).  

Kabocha Squash
Though acorn squash is small and easy to cut in half without the use of a jack-hammer, it is not one of the more flavorful varieties and it's a little watery. I recommend going the extra mile and using 1-2 pumpkin varieties in addition to the butternut and maybe only a little bit of acorn. Kabocha is perhaps my favorite because it lends the soup lovely color and a deep, rich flavor.

It’s going to be another rainy weekend where I live, and for some of you, snowy. A friend of mine in Idaho got snow the other day and the East Coast has already been hit with it. If you are looking for something comforting to make this weekend to stay warm, get yourself some squash and sage and make this soup. Hopefully it will become an annual favorite of yours as well.

Winter Squash Soup with Sage

2 1/2 to 3 lbs. winter squash
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for the squash
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
12 whole sage leaves, plus 2 Tbsp. chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
chopped leaves from 4 thyme sprigs or 1/4 tsp dried
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt and freshly milled pepper
2 qts. water or stock
1/2 cup Fontina, pecorino or ricotta salata cheese, diced into small cubes

Preheat oven to 375F. Halve the squashes and scoop out seeds, brush surfaces with oil, stuff cavities with garlic, and place them cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake until tender when pressed with a finger, about 30-40 minutes, depending on size.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the oil and then drop in the whole sage leaves and fry until speckled and dark, about 1 minute. Set the leaves aside on a paper towel and transfer the oil to a wide soup pot. Add the onions, chopped sage, thyme and parsley and cook over medium heat until the onions have begun to brown around the edges, 12-15 min. Scoop the squash flesh into the pot along with any juices that have accumulated in the pan. Peel the garlic and add it to the pot along with the salt and water or stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes. If the soup becomes too thick, simply add more water/stock to thin it out. Taste for salt.

Depending on the type of squash you've used, the soup will be either smooth or rough. Puree or pass it through a food mill if you want a more refined soup. Ladle into bowls and distribute the cheese over the top. Garnish each bowl with the fried sage leaves, add pepper, and serve.

Courtesy: Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

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