I had to get one of my wisdom teeth pulled the week of Thanksgiving. For two days before that, my mouth was in indescribable pain. Eating was fraught with complications, unless it was during a window of about one hour when my painkiller was cranking at its best. After the surgery, it wasn’t all roses, either. But in the process of catering to my particular eating restrictions, I came up with the best-ever method of making a creamy, pureed squash soup. The “silver” lining is actually sunny orange.
Actually, I’ve wanted to revisit squash soup for a while. It seems we’re always spiking it with stuff like curry powder or coconut milk, tossing apples, chorizo or honey in it, that we don’t get to experience the pure essence of squash enough. Or enjoy squash enough at all? I found it surprising that the Northeast eats more squash on Thanksgiving than other regions according to one recent poll, since this native plant seems so intertwined with the holiday lore. Perhaps most people just eat squash in the form of pumpkin pie.
In any case, I wanted to make a simple squash soup this time, extracting as much flavor from just the squash itself. Usually, I would roast big halves of them cut side-down on a baking sheet still in their skins, which effectively steams the flesh through while gently browning the bottom. But I remembered how often the gooey, brown stuff (aka the good stuff, the flavor we’re trying to extract) would get stuck or burnt on the pan, wasting away. And, how it’s a chore to scrape the (often still-hot) squash’s flesh from the skins afterward.
So I decided to roast / steam the squash not in their skins, but in a big Dutch oven. Along with them, some onions and several whole garlic cloves. With the oven closed tight for the first 40 minutes or so, and opened to evaporate and brown the bottom a little for the last twenty, this thoroughly softened the vegetables while keeping all the flavor in the same pot that you’re going to make the soup in.
From there it’s just broth, a little simmering, pureeing, and seasoning. It’s a pretty hands-off soup, which is helpful when you’re making a lot of things at once (like on Thanksgiving). You could also go with any type of squash for it, like acorn, spaghetti, delicata, kabocha, etc. I just find butternut squashes easy to peel thanks to their smooth sides, and easy to chop thanks to that big tube part on top.
Here are a few optional tips to spruce it up even further:
-Make it extra savory with your own homemade chicken (or leftover turkey?) stock and use some schmaltz or duck fat to saute the vegetables in instead of olive oil.
-Stir in milk, cream, yogurt, coconut milk or sour cream to enrich it at the end.
-Add a drizzle of said yogurt or sour cream, along with a drizzle of spicy honey such as Mike’s Hot Honey to top off your bowl.
-Now drink it out of a straw. Just kidding! That’s only for the woebegone tooth-challenged like myself.
One-Pot Squash Soup
(makes 4-6 servings)
Note: This recipe requires a nice, big, heavy pot with a lid, such as a Dutch oven, and a blender, immersion blender, food processor or food mill.
1 medium-sized squash of 3-4 pounds whole
1 large onion
6 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or swap in some chicken or duck fat!)
2 teaspoons tomato paste
4-6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
optional: 1 cup whole milk, half-and-half, plain yogurt, or coconut milk
optional: fresh herbs for garnish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Trim the stub off the top of the squash and cut off the top half just before the bulb begins. Place the squash on a flat side and cut downward against the sides to trim off the skin, turning as necessary. Chop the squash into pieces no bigger than 2″. Carefully the bulb part in half, and scrape out all the seeds and stringy bits with a spoon. Carefully cut away the skin from the sides and chop into pieces no bigger than 2″. Cut the onion into rings and peel the garlic cloves.
Place all the vegetables in a large, heavy pot with a lid such as a Dutch oven and stir with the olive oil and a couple pinches of salt and pepper. Heat over high flame for a few minutes until fragrant and slightly softened, and stir. Cover the pot and place in the oven. Let cook for 35-40 minutes, or until the squash pieces are thoroughly softened. Open the lid and continue cooking another 15-20 minutes or until the bottom looks a bit caramelized and the liquids have mostly evaporated.
Place the pot on the stove and heat over medium-high. Stir in the tomato paste, then add all the stock. Bring to a boil, stirring to release any browned stuff at the bottom. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Next, use an immersion blender to thoroughly blend the soup (it’ll take a few minutes). Or, carefully transfer the soup to a blender or food processor to puree it (preferably after it’s cooled down quite a bit).
Stir in the optional milk or cream, season again to taste, and serve.
(for 4-6 servings)
3 lb squash: $4.00
1 onion: $0.25
6 cloves garlic: $0.25
4 cups vegetable stock: $3.00
2 teaspoons tomato paste: $0.20
salt, pepper, 2 Tb olive oil: $0.20
Three brownie points: It’s about as close to pure, mashed squash as soups can come. It’s diluted only with stock — which is a healthful tonic in its own especially if homemade — and has virtually no fats although you can add more in the form of cream. With orange-fleshed winter squashes such as butternut, you’re getting lots of antioxidants and beta-carotene, along with a good dose of several other vitamins and minerals. Good for your immune system this winter.
Eight maple leaves: It’s a smoothie of winter vegetables, in season locally now and for the next few months. Here’s a tip – Thanksgiving is a great time to make vegetable stock from all the butt-ends and scraps of veggies that you’re preparing. Gather up those carrot and celery tips and onion skins to make a vegetable stock now, and use the roasted turkey carcass to make turkey stock a few days later.