Wednesday, November 2, 2011

There's a squash in my soup!

I had the most delicious soup last month at a luncheon at the Wilson Country Club. It was a creamy butternut squash soup sprinkled with cinnamon and served in a bread bowl.

The women at my table loved it as much as I did, and one challenged me to make my own and put the recipe in the paper. Challenge accepted!

Before the week was out, I had purchased my first butternut squash. I had no idea how big the squash should be to end up with six cups, but I decided on a 31⁄2-pound butternut and took it home with me.

I didn’t know whether my husband would even try this soup, but when I told him what I was making for supper than night, he was pleased and looked forward to something new.

The first order of business was peeling that big thing. That was no small feat. I had read suggestions online for how to peel a butternut squash with ideas that included roasting it with the peel on it and removing the peel once the squash had cooled. But my sister assured me it was easy to peel the squash if I used a vegetable peeler.

Well, that’s the route I took, first cutting the squash into manageable segments with the sturdiest chef’s knife I own. It was awkward, but I was able to get most of the peel off with my very cheap peeler. (Make note to tell my husband to buy me a nice vegetable peeler for my Christmas stocking.) Please be careful when cutting and peeling your squash. I consider it a major triumph that I did not cut myself while slicing that thing. I recommend buying two smaller squash rather than one really big one for this recipe.

I must stop to warn you of something else. I had a weird skin reaction to the squash; my sister did, too, with one she cooked recently. I researched online, and discovered many people get contact dermatitis from butternut squash. The skin on my left hand, which I had used to hold the squash while I cut and peeled it, turned a strange yellowish orange and felt extremely tight and uncomfortable. I tried washing off what felt like a waxy film, but it didn’t help. It was a few hours before the symptoms went away. I found out later that I should have applied a cortisone cream.

When I was preparing another butternut squash a week later, I held onto the much-smaller and more manageable squash with a paper towel, limiting my hand’s exposure. I had no reaction.

If you get to this point in the recipe, and I haven’t scared you too much, the rest is easy.

I looked at a number of butternut squash soup recipes and combined a few ideas, including roasting my squash instead of sauteeing it and adding a bit of nutmeg for flavor. I also decided to add in a medium sweet potato to give a little sweetness to my soup.

The kitchen smelled so good while the squash, onion and sweet potato were roasting, and I couldn’t wait to try my soup.

Once the vegetables were cooked, I combined them with the other ingredients and got a chance to use one of my favorite convenience products — an immersion blender. The soup was creamy in no time, and once I added a little half-and-half, it turned the prettiest shade of pale orange.

I sprinkled some cinnamon on top of my soup, and we were ready to eat our meal, complete with a salad of fresh greens, apple, nuts, feta cheese and strips of grilled chicken.

My husband loved the soup as much as I did. In fact, once we had finished our meal and were cleaning up, he pulled out a bowl and had some more, this time without cinnamon. He said he liked it better that way.

My soup did not taste exactly like the country club’s, and I didn’t expect it to. But it was smooth and creamy, it was delicious with a touch a cinnamon, and it was my creation.

There were plenty of leftovers with our soup and I several delicious lunches.

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup
  • 6 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks (purchase 3 to 3 1/2 pounds of butternut squash)
  • One medium to large sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cans (14 ounces each) reduced sodium, reduced fat chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Half-and-half (about 1/4 cup)
  • Cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

On a cooking tray, spread butternut squash, sweet potato and onion. Sprinkle some salt and drizzle a little olive oil over the vegetables. Use hands to gently toss, making sure the oil also coats the pan.

Roast for 45 minutes to an hour or until vegetables are tender.

Pour the cooked vegetables into a soup pot and add chicken broth, pepper and nutmeg. Let come to a simmer. When heated through, remove from heat. Add in a few splashes of half-and-half. With an immersion blender, blend the soup until it is creamy. If you do not have an immersion blender, a conventional blender would work as well.

Pour soup into bowls and sprinkle a little cinnamon on top, if desired.

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