Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Winter Squash Soup

I know there are a plethora of things one can do with squash. It adds a layer of interest to a potato gratin, can be made into a sweet cheesecake or custard, and is a great filling for ravioli. Depending on the variety of squash, the sweetness, moisture/texture and flavour all suit different uses. I generally find that acorn and butternut are best for eating when whole pieces are desired but I don't have to be too fussy as any will suffice for soup. Care needs to be taken however, to reduce the moisture in squash for pasta filling (it sticks and spatters if the heat is too high). Pick a drier tending squash variety if you can. For me, they work better (I like to pipe my ravioli filling).

This gorgeous blue grey gem was destined for the oven and then, the soup pot.

Simply roasted, had I more than just enough for soup, it might have got eaten straight from the oven. Along with red onions to toss into a warm salad, it would be quite lovely. Versatile squash releases wonderful flavours when allowed to caramelise and these are complemented by any array of herbs and even a little sweet heat, if you're that way inclined (caramelisation can and will balance a little chipotle pepper quite nicely).

For soup, I like to roast a few cloves of garlic and season the squash with the ubiquitous salt and pepper. A little maple syrup helps things along if you've got some on hand. Just be sure to add this toward the end of the roasting so that things don't burn before the squash is softened and the natural sugars have been coaxed out.

All soups need a flavour base and sweating down any or all of a mix of onions, celery, carrot, leeks, and the heartier herbs or spices is how I start nearly ever soup I make. I like the flavour of rosemary in more substantial soups so in goes a few soft tips along with bacon, celery, leek, onion and garlic.

This mixture, even with a liberal amount of olive oil, will start to brown a little and form flavoursome bits on the bottom of the pan. Deglazing with various liquids: stock, wine, and beer is something I love experimenting with. Since the meal was to be served with beer (St. Bruno - a local interpretation of a flemish brown sur lie) and since I was sampling it while cooking.. I used a bit of that for deglazing. It added a fantastic savoury note even with all the other roasted flavours going on.

The other place where brown bits are crucial to include are from the squash roasting tray. A bit of stock (or more beer) helps to free these tasty morsels as well. As soon as the squash is out of the oven and before the pan has time to cool (possibly cementing your flavour to the pan..) I give it a good splash of liquid and scraping down with a wooden spoon.

With a softened flavour base and the squash, complete with roasted bits, all that is left to do is to purée the soup with enough stock (chicken or vegetable) to taste. Season well, perhaps a quick grate of fresh nutmeg if you like, add a few drops of olive oil, and top with a wonderful bit of melted cheese on toast. I like nutty gruyére on a whole wheat baguette.

Another easy as dinner and great to make ahead because, like most soups, it tastes better the next day.

Mangia!

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