Thursday, November 5, 2009

For these long wintry nights... Winter Squash Soup

I hate daylight savings time. Mostly because I hate that the sun is setting before 5 o'clock. But, I have decided that this winter the time change is not going to get me down.

Here is my plan:
1. Have a stack of winter squash in my apartment at all times
2. Have the cupboards stocked with stock, onions, and garlic, and the frig stocked with celery, carrots, and cheese (this last ingredient is essential for wintry nights (well, all nights really))
3. Have a stack of recipes for things like 'winter squash soup with Gruyere croutons' ready and waiting (I actually have a list on my frig of recipes that I am going to make)
4. And, finally, have the courage to tackle new ingredients (this time: acorn squash)

So far, so good.

In fact so far, I have made the best soup I have ever made. Ever. This winter squash soup is elegant and gorgeous: perfect for these long nights. And, did I mention that it is accompanied by... Gruyere croutons? These croutons are to die for. They take mere minutes, and they are like heaven.

While the soup ended up pretty as can be, the making of it was... a little rough around the edges.

Like I said, the ingredient new to me in this recipe was acorn squash.
All I knew about it was that it loves brown sugar and that it is hard to peel. But, I thought: could it really be that hard to peel? And then I thought (and, yes, I really thought this): isn't it just like cantaloupe? Don't you just cut it into segments and then slide your knife along the peel, pulling the flesh away?

This is not true. In fact, this is a crazy thought. Peeling acorn squash is nothing like peeling a cantaloupe.

But, after about 30 minutes of butchering the acorn squash, I have found a method that I think is pretty darn good. See what joys winter can bring!

The Samantha-method:
Cut the squash in half.
Deseed it.
Then, use your vegetable peeler to peel as much of the skin off as you can. You won't be able to get between the ridges, but don't worry, I have a solution!
What you are going to do next is cut the squash into segments. But, the key is to cut between those ridges, where the indentation is deepest. That way, all of the remaining skin is right along the edges of the segments.
And you can peel that off no problem.
Voila! A method for peeling acorn squash. (And one that doesn't involve thinking of it like cantaloupe).

And its great, because once you get through peeling the acorn squash, the butternut squash is a walk in the park.
So peel some more squash.
And cut all of your lovely winter squash into 1-inch cubes.
And, at last your squash is prepped! It may be a little challenging, but I promise you it is rewarding.
From here on out, it is just like any other soup. Since it is a French-inspired soup, begin with some delicious butter.
Then saute your onions. And add your garlic in just before the onions are done.
Next, in goes the squash. Be sure to season it.
Add your stock.
Throw in some very French herbs: thyme, first.
Then sage.
Stir that all together and revel in the lovely colors.
Bring it up to a boil, reduce the heat, cover it, and simmer it for 20 minutes. At the end it should look like this.
Next, blend it up.
Return it to the heat and add a little sugar. Don't skip this part! The hint of sweetness makes the soup elegant. Also add in some cream or milk.
Bring that up to a simmer, turn off the heat, and have a taste. This is your chance to think about the flavors, add salt and pepper, and get it just right. (I find this part challenging, but I am getting better. Thinking about the flavors really does help.)
So, the soup is done... but what about those Gruyere croutons? They take about 5 minutes and they are glorious.
Begin by preheating your broiler. Then butter one side of the bread.
Pop those into the broiler for one minute. Once they are golden, pull them out and turn them over. Sprinkle them with Gruyere, thyme, sage, salt, and pepper.
Put them back into the oven for another minute. And you are done.
Just look at them. You know they are going to be good. In fact, they look so good it is hard to resist eating them before you ladle out your soup. But, do try.
They are the perfect accompaniment to this wonderful soup.
Here's to a lovely winter!

Winter Squash Soup with Gruyere Croutons (adapted from
1/4 cup butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
43.5 ounces of low-sodium chicken broth (I used stock)
4 cups 1-inch pieces peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
4 cups 1-inch pieces peeled acorn squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 1/4 tsp minced fresh thyme
1 1/4 tsp minced fresh sage

1/4 cup whipping cream (I used 1% milk)
2 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

For the croutons:
2 tablespoons butter
24 1/4-inch thick baguette bread slices (I used whole grain bread)
1 cup grated Gruyere
1 tsp minced fresh thyme
1 tsp minced fresh sage

For the soup:
Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and saute until tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic in right at the end of the 10 minutes. Add broth, squash, and herbs (I added some salt and pepper at this point). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until squash is very tender, about 20 minutes.

Blend up soup. Stir in cream and sugar; bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill. Rewarm over medium heat before serving.

For croutons:
Preheat broiler. Butter 1 side of each bread slice. Arrange bread, buttered side up, on baking sheet. Broil until golden, about 1 minute. Turn over. Sprinkle cheese, then thyme and sage over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil until cheese melts, about 1 minute. Ladle into bowls. Top each with croutons and serve.

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