Monday, October 17, 2011

Winter Squash Soup

You don’t need me for a winter squash soup recipe. If you have a device that gives you access to the Information Superhighway (I think it’s safe to assume you do if you’re reading this), you can find yourself a perfectly good one. Some are made with peeled and cubed squash, some with roasted squash puree, still others of the quick-and-easy variety start with canned pumpkin or store-bought frozen squash puree. They vary in seasonings from curry to Southwestern and can be loaded with cream or very low-calorie, based on a meat broth or vegan.

For the most part, no matter what you start with or how you like your spices, most of these recipes will give you a thick and creamy (regardless of whether they actually contain any dairy) pureed soup. That’s the standard. And since there’s more than one way to get there, I decided I like to take the easy way. That means roasting a squash until it’s soft and scooping the flesh out of the hard skin. No squash peeling. No squash chopping.

Currently, my favorite form of pureed winter squash soup contains whatever type of winter squash I have on hand (most recently, that was a Red Kuri squash, which looks like a darker orange, flat-ish pumpkin), a good dose of cumin and chili powder, a few spoonsful of prepared salsa and some black beans. The result is a little chunky and a bit more rustic than the elegant, velvety smooth soups out there, but a big bowl of it accompanied by a hunk of cornbread (or other bread) makes a nice meal.

I’ve been roasting whole squash by first piercing its skin all over, and partially baking the whole thing until it’s soft enough to cut into easily. Once it is cool enough to handle (this method does take some time, but it’s largely waiting time), I cut it open, scoop out the seeds and roast it again until it is soft and the skin can be removed from the flesh (or vice versa). The cooked squash flesh can then be simmered in the soup, frozen to be used later, or blitzed in a food processor to be used as desired.

Really, squash soup is flexible in a lot of ways, and you could cook your squash however you want to. You could also leave out all the Southwestern ingredients and replace them with Italian herbs or curry powder or whatever flavors you like. It should be pretty easy to start treating all those creamy squash soup recipes like variations on a theme. The whole world of squash soup will be at your fingertips. You’ll never be without squash soup in whatever flavor you heart desires.

Of course, if you’re like me, you’ll get pretty sick of squash really soon and start looking for Christmas cookie recipes instead.

Roasted Squash Soup with Black Beans and Salsa
You could make this recipe vegan by using vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth.

A 2-2 ½ pound winter squash, such as butternut, Red Kuri, Hubbard, pumpkin, etc.
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large or 2 small carrots, chopped
1 large celery ribs, chopped
1 teaspoon coarse salt (or to taste)
2 large or 3 smaller garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
4 cups chicken broth (I used reduced-sodium)
1 (15-ounce) can black beans (about 1 ½ cup)
½ cup prepared salsa as hot or mild as you like (I used medium)
garnishes such as crumbled tortilla chips, sour cream and additional salsa

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Pierce the skin of the squash all over with a knife. Place the squash on a pan or in a baking dish. Roast for 30 minutes at 400 F. Remove from the oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.

2. Cut the squash in half (the skin and flesh should be tender enough to cut easily), and scoop out the seeds and seed membranes. Return the cut squash to the baking pan or dish and continue to roast at 400 F until the flesh is very soft, about 30 to 45 minutes.

3. Remove the squash from the oven. Cool until easy to handle. Remove the squash flesh from the skin. Set the flesh aside until needed in the soup. (This can be done up to a few days ahead. Refrigerate if making ahead.)

4. In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring frequently for about 8 minutes or until beginning to brown.

5. Add the garlic, cumin and chili powder. Cook and stir 1 minute more.

6. Add the roasted squash and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

7. Remove the soup from the heat. Cool slightly. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender. Return to medium-low heat.

8. Stir in the black beans and salsa. Heat through. Garnish as desired and serve.

Makes about 8-10 servings.

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