For cold, uncertain times, there is soup.
Keep it simple, and making soup means one thing will, without a doubt, go right today. The calming acts of chopping, heating and stirring lead to a sustaining series of good smells, an orderly, controlled progression in a disorderly, out-of-control universe. The wafting scents, of course, lead to real sustenance of the truly tasty kind. Like our friend sleep, soup knits up the raveled sleeve of care; like a favorite sweater, soup warms and reassures. If you haven’t made a pot of soup recently – or ever – it can feel like a small revolution of sanity.
This particular soup has been part of my wintertime supper vocabulary for so long, making it is like visiting with an old friend. Originally, I think I bought a funny-looking, giant-peanut-shaped butternut squash on a whim, then it sat on the counter until something was found to do with it. The first recipe I found, now lost to the sands of time, involved peeling and cubing the squash.
But butternut’s skin is hard, its flesh tough – getting it ready took notable effort, which can be in short supply in such a season, and involved what seemed like inordinate risk of chopping-related injury. Turned out that roasting the squash was far easier, smelled heavenly and made the soup even richer.
This soup takes a little time, but it’s very difficult to screw up – listen to some favorite songs while you’re making it. Take care of yourself and those you love. It doesn’t have to be complicated. When this soup is done, the color makes it like eating warm sunshine. This is food that can help you get ready for what’s next.
Organic ingredients can make a real difference with soup this simple; spring for them if you can. (Organic sour cream is so worth it!) You can also experiment with different spicing – sage, herbes de Provence, cinnamon/nutmeg, ginger, curry, za’atar, any kind of minced fresh herbs, whatever sounds good – using it to season the squash before roasting and then again, to taste, as the soup simmers. Pepitas make a nice garnish: Save the squash seeds, then toast them in a little olive oil and salt at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes. Or if you’ve got good croutons, serve it with some on top, or with a nice baguette, or just buttered toast. (And unless you’re vegan, don’t skip the dairy here.)
Roasted butternut squash soup
1 large butternut squash
Salt and pepper
1 large yellow onion
2 tablespoons of butter (or olive oil)
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (homemade is best, but store-bought is fine, too)
1/4 cup whipping cream (optional)
Sour cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Carefully cut the squash in half lengthwise (it’s easier if you cut the stem off first), then scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff. Put a half-inch or so of water in a baking pan, and set the squash in it, cut side up; drizzle with olive oil, rubbing it around to coat, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast on middle rack of the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until the flesh is soft. Let cool for about 20 minutes.
Chop the onion and saute in butter over medium heat in a large pot, sprinkling with a little salt and pepper. Remove from heat when the onion is soft.
Add the flesh of the butternut squash, scooping it out with a spoon; discard the skin.
Pour in enough stock to cover; bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
Blend with an immersion blender or in batches until smooth. Stir in cream; taste and season with salt and pepper.
Garnish each bowl with a dollop of sour cream and chopped Italian parsley, plus a little pepper over the top.