Archive for December 9th, 2009

the first snow

Snow always makes me feel like a little kid. Especially the first big snowstorm of each year. Memories of waking up to see the window sill coated white. Lying in bed, awaiting that early morning call from the phone chain letting my parents know that school was canceled. Sledding with friends in the park that was just next to my house. And of course, hot cocoa when we returned home, noses and hands chapped despite gloves and scarves. Then ready to head out for more.

This year’s first snowfall was a bit of a letdown. Less than an inch but still sticking to the grass and sufficiently cold to cause traffic issues on black ice. Nonetheless, I slept in, bundled up in blankets and quilts, and had a nice indoor Sunday. And I realized that I could fight it no longer — soup season was officially here.

So, my inaugural soup this Winter (oh, even writing the word seems like an admission of the season despite a couple more weeks before the calendar agrees) is a spicy butternut squash one. No sweet squash here — I always prefer main course types to be savory. And this one has a kick of spice that hits you nicely, keeping your cheeks and tongue warm long after the soup has reached your belly.

Here’s to soup season and many cozy nights.

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

Adapted from Simple to Spectacular by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman. What I love about the cookbook is that it presents a limited number of dishes, each with five variations ranging in difficulty as the title suggests. This particular recipe is second in the butternut squash soup repertoire. It calls for roasting the squash twice – once on the stovetop and once in the oven. When pressed for time, I have skipped the stovetop roasting with only a small drop in the richness of squash flavor. And don’t forget to roast the seeds — they taste a little bit like popcorn.

– 2 T extra virgin olive oil

– 2-3 cloves minced garlic

– 2 medium or 3 small butternut squash (original recipe calls for 2 lb of squash, but I never pay attention to weight)

– 1/2 – 1 t red pepper flakes (to taste)

– 1 t thyme

–  4 C broth (vegetable, chicken, etc)

– Parmesan (optional)

– salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Prepare the squash. Peel, seed, and cut the squash into 1-inch chunks. I would really encourage you to wash the seeds off and roast them.

Pan-roast. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in large skillet that will fit at least 6C of liquid — I have often done this directly in a large ovenproof pot. Add garlic, squash, red pepper flakes, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook the squash, stirring every few minutes until squash starts to brown. This takes 10-15 minutes.

Oven-roast. Put the skillet in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, checking and shaking 2-3 times.

Back to the stove-top. Take the skillet out and put it back on the stove-top over medium  heat. Add the stock. Cook another 15-20 minutes until the squash is very tender. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. If it is too thick, add some water.

Serve with some grated Parmesan or roasted squash seeds.

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