Tuesday, October 26, 2010

JOYS OF THE BUTTERNUT SQUASH

Glancing over the last few blog entries, I shudder to think how much ground meat my family has consumed. Y’all must think I live on a ranch with my own slaughterhouse. I’ll say it first: Take a break from the meat, already!

Perhaps this explains why I have had butternut squash soup on the brain. At the grocery store, I would gaze longingly at the squash's lovely pear-shaped form and pale orange flesh, and marvel at the convenience of those pre-cut packages. Yet I hesitated, primarily because I could not figure out the nutritional value of centering a meal on this starchy soup. Where’s the protein? The leafy green element? (As my husband and kids will tell you, I’m a big fan of the balanced meal.)

Finally, I could resist the pull no more. I bought the enticingly shrink-wrapped package of squash, and vowed not to let it spoil. Then, I dreamed up a menu of all the coziest, autumnal foods I could imagine: A bit of sliced pan-fried turkey sausage, roasted brussels sprouts, and crusty bread –all framed around this wonderful butternut squash soup.

The meal worked like a dream. For one thing, it’s nice to eat a light meal where soup is the focus. I would even recommend bagging the sausage, and sprinkling some almonds into the soup instead. It felt sort of like I was sampling appetizers at the bar of a good restaurant with a nice glass of Malbec.

Such an adult delight could not have been more perfectly time. I ate the butternut squash soup after throwing a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese. For those of you have yet to experience Chuck E's, think Vegas for kids with a cheap Disney motif –only louder. Much louder. Chuck E's is known for its shockingly bad pizza (which my children wax poetic about in their post-Chuck E's daze). Rather than gobbling a couple of slices during the mouse’s big singing show, I opted to abstain for the butternut squash soup that awaited me at home. I came incredibly close to breaking during the big finale.

Finally, I was home with sleeping kids and 365 days until the next birthday party. I turned on the playoffs, poured myself a glass of wine, and sat down to that much-loved butternut squash soup. A simple delight only a grown up could love.

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BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND CIDER SOUP

I picked this recipe up at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires. They recommend garnishing with sliced apples, which I think is too sweet. Also, I think this would work just as well with vegetable stock, rather than chicken. Finally, I’ve added a touch of salt. Canyon Ranch is not big on sodium, but frankly this soup can use some.

Ingredients:
• 1 medium shallot, minced
• 1 small clove garlic, minced (or add more if you are garlic-obsessed like me)
• 1 teaspoon, olive oil
• 3 cups peeled, seeded, and cubed butternut squash (about 1 pound)
• 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
• ¾ cups apple cider
• ¼ cup nonfat sour cream

1. In a medium saucepan over low heat, sauté shallots and garlic in olive oil, being careful not to burn.
2. Add squash and stock and cook until soft enough to blend. Pour into blender container and blend until smooth.
3. Add cider and sour cream and continue to process until well mixed.
4. Serve immediately


AMY BODIKER’S THAI CURRY SQUASH SOUP

Here’s another wonderful approach from my best friend Amy Bodiker. Trained as a professional chef and a leader in the sustainable food movement for fifteen years, Amy came up with this recipe last fall, incorporating some Thai flavors she found in her pantry. I love how she uses every ingredient to last drop. Check it out. This one is brilliant.


Ingredients:
4 cups squash puree
1 can coconut milk
1 tsp. red curry paste dissolved in 1/2 can water
Juice of one orange
Kosher salt to taste

Directions:
1. If using whole squash, roast as described above. Save the seeds and toast for garnish, directions below. When cool enough to handle, peel skins off and mash the squash in a bowl with the back of a spoon. (Alternatively, puree with a food mill or use a hand blender directly in the soup pot).

2. Add squash and one can coconut milk into soup pot. Stir to combine and set the heat to medium. The heat will help to dissolve the milk solids.

3. Scoop a teaspoon of red curry paste into the spent milk can. Add a splash of water and swirl to clean up remaining milk and stir to dissolve the curry paste. Pour curry slurry to the soup and stir to combine.

4. As the soup comes to a gentle boil, add salt to taste.

5. Off the heat, squeeze into the soup the juice of one orange. Use your hands to catch the seeds. If you’re feeling zippy, microplane some of the zest in as well.

6. Check the seasonings. Correct with more salt, juice, or even curry paste to your taste. Add more water (or stock) if a thinner consistency is desired.

7. Ladle into bowls and serve with a garnish of toasted seeds.


ROASTED SQUASH SEEDS

Amy B says: "This is messy work, requiring a strong stomach if you’re sensitive to texture. If you like nothing more to get your hands dirty -- have fun!"

1. Cut squash and scrape out centers. Put seeds and pulp aside into a bowl and set aside as you tend to the squash.

2. With your fingers, remove pulp from seeds. I do this in a sink, slapping my hands against the sides and dropping pulp directly down the drain. In my experience, this isn’t an exact science -- some seeds will be lost. The faucet comes in handy when goopy fingers loose their edge in actually removing the seeds from the pulp.

3. With clean hands, place seeds on a foil covered sheet pan. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt.

4. Place pan in low oven and toast seeds until nutty brown and thoroughly dry.

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