I like to think of winter squash as the Aretha Franklins of the squash family – just looking for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Summer squash, such as yellow crookneck, pattypan, and zucchini, get lots of love here in the South. Sadly, we often relegate winter varieties such as butternut, delicata, and carnival to backup singer status (or really, something closer to William Hung, you know, like, “Please, dear God, never let him sing again.” OK, wait, hold on just a second. I’ll return you to the food related portion of this post in a minute, but seriously… I just discovered that William Hung has a Christmas album. And yes, it really is called Hung for the Holidays. I mean, wow. WOW. OK, sorry, back to the squash.)
Remembering “when life gives you lemons” and having an overabundance of not lemons but winter squash (compliments of my beloved CSA), I decided to find them a starring role. Sure, we’ve enjoyed them roasted and in muffins but it wasn’t until this soup that the humble butternut squash claimed top billing at our dinner table.
This is no thin and watery soup. It’s intensely orange (or is it saffron or, better yet, butternut?), rich, velvety, and satisfyingly squashy – perfect for a chilly evening. Perfect, that is, when garnished with plenty of cinnamon sugar croutons, a dollop or two of cinnamon whipped cream, and a sprinkle of tangy ruby red pomegranates. (And yes, I admit that I’m pomegranate obsessed!) Served this way, even my 4-year-old, a former vocal leader of the “ewww! – squash soup” camp, laps it up and asks for more.
Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from The New Best Recipe by Cook’s Illustrated
Serves our family of 5 perfectly with a little leftover for my lunch the next day
- 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 3 pounds butternut squash (about 1 large), unpeeled, cut in half lengthwise and then each half cut in half widthwise; seeds and strings scraped out and reserved*
- 6 cups water
- kosher salt
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
- freshly grated nutmeg
*If you’re not rolling in butternut squash like we are, you can substitute delicata or carnival squash.
Heat butter in large Dutch oven over medium-low heat until foaming; add shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add squash seeds and strings and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and butter turns a saffron color, about 4 minutes.
Add water and 2-3 teaspoons kosher salt to pot and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, place squash cut-side down in steamer basket or pasta insert, and lower basket/insert into pot. Cover and steam until squash is completely tender, about 30 minutes. Off heat, use tongs to transfer squash to rimmed baking sheet to cool down. When squash is cool enough to handle, use large spoon to scrape flesh from skin into medium bowl; discard skin. Reserve steaming liquid (consisting of sauteed butter, shallot, seeds, strings, water, and salt).
Strain reserved steaming liquid through mesh strainer into another bowl; discard solids (meaning spent shallot, seeds, and strings) that remain in strainer. (You don’t need these solids anymore since you’ve already gotten all the squashy flavor, color, and aroma from them.) You’ll need a total of about 2½-3 cups steaming liquid as any more makes the soup too thin.
Using a hand blender or a regular blender, puree squash and some of the reserved steaming liquid in batches, pulsing on low until smooth. Add just enough liquid to make a thick puree. Transfer puree back to Dutch oven and add rest of steaming liquid (up to 3 cups total), cream, and brown sugar. Warm over medium-low heat until hot. Add nutmeg and salt to taste. Ladle into bowls and top with cinnamon sugar croutons, dollop of cinnamon whipped cream, and pomegranate.
The soup can be refrigerated for several days. Warm over low heat but do not boil.
Cinnamon Sugar Croutons
- 4 slices white sandwich bread (thick cut)
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Cut bread into ½-inch cubes. Toss cubes with melted butter. Combine sugar with cinnamon, and toss bread cubes with mixture. Spread cubes in even layer on parchment-lined baking sheet; bake until crisp, 10-15 minutes.
Cinnamon Whipped Cream
- cinnamon, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon or so for us)
- 1 cup cream
- sugar, to taste (I like it lightly sweetened – about 1 tablespoon)
Chill bowl and beater. Whip cream until soft peaks form. Then whip in cinnamon and sugar.