We Californians can be rather smug about our unseasonably warm weather when it seems the rest of the country is just breaking out the heavy coats and scarves, bracing themselves for chillier temperatures. As a native, I long to experience ALL four seasons…though truth be told I’d probably wimp out under six feet of snow, unlike my friends in Maine who simply trudge through the mountain of white stuff like it’s no big deal. It’s the middle of October, for crying out loud, and most days it’s still 70-80 degrees in the Bay Area! Despite the Halloween decorations, I’m not totally convinced it’s autumn–so on Sunday mornings I head to the Farmer’s Market in search of those familiar seasonal markers, like persimmons (still in the meh stage), apples (getting better), pomegranates (so so), pumpkins, and my favorite, butternut squash. Sure, you can probably find butternut squash year round in California (hell, you can find strawberries year round too), but I don’t crave it at other times of year like I do in the fall and winter. Perhaps it’s because what I crave are warm, comforting classics like butternut squash ravioli with browned butter and sage or butternut squash risotto, topped with glorious curls of shaved Parmesan. My all-time favorite is a big steaming bowl of creamy butternut squash soup, which is what I made the other night for dinner–warm weather be damned!
I’ve been using the same base recipe for decades, adapting it for butternut squash whenever the craving hits me. The original recipe, courtesy of my friend Sarah, was for a creamy pumpkin soup, lightly spiced with curry powder. At first I made it straight up with no alterations, using canned pumpkin puree and low sodium chicken broth, per instructions. But soon I found myself tinkering with it–sauteing the vegetables and fresh herbs in half butter, half olive oil, deglazing the pot with hard cider, and then of course, substituting canned pumpkin puree with fresh butternut squash. I like to use homemade chicken stock/broth whenever possible, though the store bought variety is perfectly fine (such as Trader Joe’s Organic Low Sodium Chicken Broth). This time around, I had the carcass (and a little meat) leftover from that roast chicken I bought at Costco to make my mini chicken pot pies (The Lou’s) for last week’s Mermaids post, so I simply put that into a stock pot (along with a little chopped carrot, celery and onion) covered it with cold water and simmered on low for about an hour, skimming off the foam, and straining out the bones, meat and vegetables. Oh, a word of advice, if you have an immersion or hand blender, dig it out! It will make the whole process of blending the soup so much easier…and not to mention enjoyment of the soup that much quicker.
Creamy Butternut Squash Soup
1 Small Yellow Onion, chopped
2 Celery Stalks, chopped
1 Medium Tart Apple (Granny Smith or Pink Lady), peeled, seeded, diced
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 Sprig Fresh Sage
2 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
2 Tbsp. Butter
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 cup Hard Apple Cider or Dry White Wine
4 cups Butternut Squash, 1″ chunks (about 1 medium squash, peeled & seeded)
1 tsp. Curry Powder
pinch Ground Nutmeg
6 cups Homemade or Low Sodium Chicken Broth
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
1 cup Half & Half
In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat the butter and oil on medium heat. Saute the onions, celery, apple, and garlic with the herbs until onions are translucent, seasoning with salt and pepper, then deglaze the pot with the cider/wine. Add the butternut squash, curry powder, nutmeg and chicken broth. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer. Cover the pot and continue simmering until the squash is soft and tender. about 15-20 mins. Remove the sage and thyme, then stir in the Half & Half. Bring the soup back to just a simmer, then remove from the heat. With an immersion or hand blender, puree the soup until smooth. Season with more salt and pepper as needed. *If using a blender, puree the soup in batches.