By Marilyn Harris
Soup is a perfect menu choice for early autumn's chilly evenings. A great start for a soup of the season is one of the colorful winter squash varieties appearing in produce departments.
Butternut squash is my favorite because it makes such a satisfying, creamy soup. It's perfect, too, for a recipe to fit into a busy schedule because you can roast the squash one day, cover and chill it and be ready to finish the soup the second day.
You've no doubt seen butternut squash soup recipes that call for prepping the raw squash by peeling and dicing. If you've tried this approach you'll agree that it is laborious, as well as a bit dangerous. Butternut squash has a very tough peel, so a knife doesn't slide through it easily and can slip and cut a finger.
Roasting the squash first makes the process a lot easier as well as safer. Wash the outside of the squash and place on a cutting board. With a sturdy, sharp knife with a long blade, slice down the middle lengthwise to separate the squash into two equal halves. Don't bother to remove the seeds at this point. Instead, grease a foil-lined baking sheet (makes for easier clean-up and preserves your shiny baking pans) and place the squash on it cut sides down.
After an hour in a 375-degree oven, the squash should be tender enough to easily puncture with the tip of a knife. When the squash is cool enough to handle, the seeds are easily scooped out. Use a melon ball maker or grapefruit spoon to scoop out the roasted squash from its peel.
Roasting the squash not only saves you the trouble of peeling a raw squash, but roasting improves and intensifies the flavor and makes a more delicious soup with a shorter cooking time.
If you plan to serve this soup as a starter for a company meal, garnish each bowl with a large dollop of rich and creamy creme fraiche. For a family supper, just plain sour cream will suffice. You also may substitute toasted walnuts or pecans for the hazelnuts.
Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger and Toasted Hazelnuts
1 large butternut squash
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups light cream (half and half)
1 cup cr╦me fraiche
1/2 cup chopped roasted hazelnuts
Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Line a baking sheet with foil. Brush the cut side with olive oil and place, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Place in a preheated 375-degree oven for an hour or until fork tender. Cool and scoop out the seeds. Remove the pulp and reserve.
In a large heavy pot melt the butter and heat the oil. Add the onions and saute for 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in the ginger, pepper, salt and sugar.
Make a bouquet garni by tying together the sprigs of thyme and bay leaf, then add to the pot along with the stock. Bring to a boil. Add the squash and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the bouquet garni and puree the mixture. Return to the pot and whisk in the light cream. Reheat, but do not allow to boil.
Serve hot topped with a dollop of cr╦me fraiche topped with a small spoonful of the chopped hazelnuts. Makes 8-10 servings.
Contact Marilyn Harris by mail: c/o Cincinnati Enquirer; fax: 768-8330; e-mail: email@example.com
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