This is the best time of year for a warm bowl of soup. All those big holiday feasts are receding into the past, and we yearn for simpler meals. Our New Year's resolutions about eating more healthful foods and getting fit make us want to focus on simpler ways to satisfy our hunger. And those dark, chilly January nights demand dishes that can really warm you up from the inside.
Soup is a perfect solution. Make a robust soup and add a hearty side salad and some crusty bread, and dinner is served. Prepare that soup with the best produce from the farmers' market, and you're eating with good health in mind. And a soup that's thick and velvety seems almost to glow with warmth, bringing you cozy comfort with every spoonful. My recipe for Roasted Winter Squash Soup with Red Bell Pepper Swirl is a very satisfying example of what I mean.
Hard-shelled winter squashes are abundantly available in farmers' markets and supermarket produce departments right now. I've called here for two of the most common kinds, butternut and acorn, which combine to give the soup a more complex flavor and a rich golden-orange color. But you could also substitute other good varieties you might find, such as banana squash, Delicata, Hubbard, or kabocha. You might find some of the larger types being sold already cut up into skin-on chunks. But the two I call for usually need to be cut in half before roasting, a task that will call for a sharp, sturdy knife, a slip-proof cutting board, and -- most important of all -- carefulness!
Those squashes, plus some broth and seasonings, make up the majority of the ingredients. Yes, there's also some butter and cream. But, when you divide them by the maximum number of bowlfuls you get, 12, you see how healthy the soup really is. There's just 1/2 tablespoon of butter and 2 teaspoons of cream per serving. You see, even a little touch of richness can help deliver so much satisfaction with every spoonful.
The final touch, a simple puree of roasted red bell pepper, makes each bowlful more beautiful and flavorful. If you like, substitute a scattering of toasted nuts or some dried cranberries or cherries.
I would happily serve this healthful soup to my family and friends for a casual dinner any day of the week during winter. All you need to do is add a loaf of hot whole-grain bread and a salad of winter greens -- perhaps hand-torn pieces of kale tossed with some toasted nuts, a few dried cranberries, and a warm balsamic dressing.
Doesn't that sound delicious? I feel warmer just thinking about it!
ROASTED WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH RED BELL PEPPER SWIRL
Makes about 2 quarts, 8 to 12 servings
3-3/4 pounds organic butternut squash
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