There’s squash soup, and then there’s squash soup without milk or cream. You could say I’m making an exaggeration by placing such a disparity between the two sister soups, but then I’ve never had a dairy-less version of squash soup until I made it at home. That is, if you don’t count the “butter” inherent in the squash’s name.
All too needlessly, it seems that Cream of X Vegetable soup is a way of coddling the eater towards an otherwise unappealing portion of X Vegetable, by smothering it in a comforting layer of fat. But if you’re like me, and have grown to appreciate this vegetable for what it is, then why not let it shine its brightest and fullest, without weakening its color with milk? Yes, we’ve reached this threshold, and let’s be proud of it and rejoice.
So we concentrate the butternut squash, first by roasting it for quite long, until sticky and caramelized at the surface. Then, to smooth out its consistency so that it’s not plain butternut mash but a lappable soup, let’s add the concentrated juices of other vegetables we love, too, in liquid form (aka vegetable stock), and to heighten its natural sweetness, just a touch of local bees’ honey. And that’s all this soup really is. A concentrated blend of your favorite juices (not unlike the stuff in a can you helped your mom to “make” orange juice out of as a kid — that might be a fun project, though, making condensed cans of frozen squash soup), and honey. And, some crisped seeds from the squash itself — it’s amazing how one squash produces just about as many seeds to flesh as you’ll need to garnish a soupful of it (and now, if only there were some good uses for its rather unpalatable, leathery skin).
Most soups involve a vast assortment of ingredients, procedures and long simmers. This one just depends on the flavor of some really good roasted butternut. Thankfully, we aren’t far away from them, even in the unlikeliest time of year and region for fresh produce. New York State’s Red Jacket Orchards has been selling butternut squash all winter for 75 cents a pound, and last time I checked the nearest grocery store, it was twice that much for its bulk. Then, making this soup as opposed to more laborious ones is so much faster, and about a cupful will give you all the Vitamin A you’ll need for a day. And none of your fats in its stead. So keep on squashing them.
roasted seeds (left), and the soon-to-be squash soup
Finally, this recipe is part of a four-course meal I’d devised for Valentine’s Day, for Time Out New York’s The Feed blog. Though Valentine’s Day may be totally yesterday’s food news (and I hope most of you spent it over good food and not cookie dough and Ben & Jerry’s, all my single ladies out there), as long as squashes still reign for seasonal eats, I hope you can enjoy its nutritional as well as aphrodisiac powers this winter through. Yes, butternut squash and honey are both identified as some of those mood-enhancing foods. Eat at your own risk, or benefit.
Honey Butternut Squash Soup
(makes about 4 servings)
2 lbs butternut squash (1 medium squash)
3 cups vegetable stock (preferably homemade)
4 tbsps honey
2 tbsps olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Halve squash lengthwise and scoop out seeds and pulp. Rinse seeds and pat dry completely. Coat in one tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt and spread evenly on a baking sheet. Toast until seeds are just darkened.
Place squash cut side down in a separate tray coated with oil and roast about 30 minutes until tender. Cool and scoop the flesh from the skin. Puree in a food processor or with a hand blender in a pot until smooth. Thin the soup with stock and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add honey and stir until dissolved. Garnish with toasted seeds.
(for 4 servings)
2 lbs butternut squash (at $0.75/lb): $1.50
3 cups homemade vegetable stock: $1.00
4 tablespoons honey (at $8/jar): $1.75
salt, pepper, olive oil: $0.30
Two brownie points: More of a puree than a soup, this one’s mostly squash, and squash is squashed with vitamins and nutrients. Aside from Vitamin A (which its bright orange color belies), it has Vitamin C, potassium, fiber, B-vitamins and even omega-3 fatty acids, and is suggested to help fight cancer. All those nutrients come with it natural sugars which amount to calories, and a dab of honey furthers these both. But with fats left to the wayside, you can pat your back.
Eight brownie points: This was a simple feat, making such a simple dish so local and seasonal. It’s mostly squash, which was grown without pesticides at an upstate farm and sold nearby in NYC’s Greenmarket. The honey happened to hail from the same places.