butternut squash soup with apple cider and chipotle spice
october 31, 2012
Butternut squash is one of those foods with an intoxicating aroma and a flavor that is another thing entirely. This is not to say the taste disappoints, but one is deceived by the clean, clear scent of a freshly cut butternut into believing it will deliver the same punch to the palate. Other pleasantly deceptive foods are popcorn, fresh coffee grounds, cucumber and steak charred just right on the grill. The scent of these fills me with longing, nostalgia….
I can never quite put my finger on it, but I cannot complain, either. Deception is forgiven once I set aside first impressions and concentrate on the flavors at hand. The scent of fresh coffee makes me giddy, and the cup that follows tastes just fine. Better than fine – great. And so it goes with butternut squash. Raw, it is creamy-crunchy, like a less assertive carrot. Cooked, it evokes mellow comfort and makes one think of earthy stews and braises. Autumn personified. If you read the previous post for “fall harvest salad”, you’ll see that I champion the use of raw butternut. Julienned, cubed, grated or cut in papery rounds, it’s perfect for vinaigrettes both tart and sweet, and it’s lovely on the plate.
Today’s soup incorporates fresh local apple cider and a hint of smoky heat from ground chipotle pepper. There is always a place in cooking for canned chipotle peppers in adobo, but the use of ground spice in this case makes for a uniformly creamy soup with no surprise bits of pepper seed or skin. You can purchase precut squash, or use frozen in a pinch, but this time of year belongs to butternut and its cousins, so it makes more sense to buy the whole squash. I like to use a Y-shaped peeler to shave off skin after the stem end is cut. I find that this peeler hugs the curves of the bulbous end as well.
Pureed soups are a breeze to make if you use an immersion blender. Normally I am not fond of kitchen gadgetry. I love multipurpose, utilitarian tools that are not necessarily stylish or colorful. The idea of using common household items in culinary craft fills me with a sense of pride in thrifty use of the mundane. Need molds to shape tulipe cookies or parmesan frico? Use an overturned egg carton. Want to make a pattern on an English cucumber for pretty canape slices? The tines of a dinner fork will do nicely. One of my all-time favorite kitchen tools, the microplane grater, is really just a modified woodworking rasp. The immersion blender, also known as a stick blender, allows you to puree hot soups in a cooking vessel without the messy splatter associated with trips to the blender or food processor. Practice makes perfect, and it may take a few tries to gauge the proper depth of the blender head in a pot of hot liquid. These marvelous devices usually come with a beaker which I find extremely useful in making creamy salad dressings and sauces.
|butternut squash from Deer Run Farm at Lakeside Farmer’s Market in Richmond Va|
As with most soups and stews, the flavor of this butternut cider soup will improve the next day. It appears by request each autumn on the menus of The Good Eats Company personal chef service. It can be made up to four days in advance, and garnished with a bit of dairy – sour cream as shown, creme fraiche, whipped cream or yogurt – especially helpful if you turn up the heat and add chipotle spice to your heart’s content.
Butternut Squash Soup with Apple Cider and Chipotle Spice
makes 5 cups, 6 servings
2 T unsalted butter or coconut oil for vegan version
1 cup chopped sweet onion
5 cups butternut squash (about 1.5 pounds), cut in 1 inch pieces
2 cups fresh apple cider
2 cups good quality vegetable stock
scant 1/8 t ground red chipotle (I like Penzey’s)
fine sea salt
finely ground white pepper
optional garnishes : sour cream, chives
- In heavy 2 quart saucepan, melt butter and add onion with pinches of sea salt and white pepper, cooking over medium low heat until soft and translucent, 7-10 minutes.
- Add squash, cider, stock and chipotle.
- Bring to boil and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until squash pierces tender with knife, about 30-40 minutes.
- Off heat, puree in pan with immersion blender, stirring carefully between bursts to catch all solids.
- Adjust seasoning to taste and serve immediately, or cool thoroughly before storing in refrigerator (best way to do this is to pour soup into shallow baking dish).
makes 5 cups, 6 servings