I love winter squash. I can't seem to get enough of it, be it in a soup, saute or gratin. Winter squash is usually orange-fleshed and has a velvety texture. This soup fits all my requirements for cozy comfort on a chilly night. It is creamy and intensely flavored yet doesn't use cream except for a garnishing dollop on top. The chipotle cream finish adds a hint of smoky chile flavor to the faintly sweet, silky squash.
You can use winter squash in soups, pie fillings and vegetable gratins, as a pizza topping or as a colorful side to your main dish. Try it braised, roasted or steamed. Choose squashes that are heavy for their size and brightly colored. Avoid squashes with dull shriveled skin, cracks or bruises. They can be kept at room temperature for at least a month.
Butternut squash looks like an elongated bell and is my favorite winter squash for cooking. Winter squashes vary in size, shape and color, although they all have in common a golden, velvety flesh and a rich, buttery taste. With their thick skin they are a challenge to cut. Here's trick that will help ease the peeling process:
Place the squash in the microwave for 3 1/2 to 5 minutes, depending upon the size of the squash. This will soften the skin before you peel it. Use a sharp swivel peeler to shed the thick, hard skin of the squash. A sharp knife also works well. If you want to make this super Seriously Simple, buy pre-cut butternut squash and use a total of 2 pounds peeled and cut-up squash.
You can use either an immersion blender or a regular blender to achieve a smooth puree. I like to serve this soup in a couple of different ways. If I am having a big group, I serve the soup in little espresso cups or shot glasses as my guests arrive, which is always a lovely way to get the party started. If I am serving this as a first course, I will serve it in mugs or shallow soup bowls. The chipotle cream garnish is just one way to serve this soup. You can also try topping the soup with sun-dried tomato pesto, Parmesan croutons or crispy onion rings (from the can). This can be multiplied for a larger group.
Puree of Butternut Squash Soup with Chipotle Cream
Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, white part only, cleaned and finely chopped
3 pound butternut squash, peeled and seeded, total of 2 pounds peeled and diced butternut squash
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chipotle garlic cream (see following recipes)
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives, for garnish
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add leeks and saute for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the squash and cook 3 more minutes or until nicely coated. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add the stock, syrup, salt, pepper and lemon juice, and mix together. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium low and, cover and simmer over medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes.
2. Puree the soup in the pan with a hand blender or in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Taste for seasoning. Pour into serving bowls and garnish with the chipotle cream and the chives. Serve immediately.
3. To serve, ladle the soup into heated bowls, swirl in a tablespoon of chipotle cream and garnish with chopped chives. Serve immediately.
Chipotle Garlic Puree
Makes about 1/4 cup
TIP: Keep this spicy, smoky flavor enhancer in the refrigerator. Add it to dressings, sauces or anything you want to have an undertone of smoky heat.
6 garlic cloves
1 can chipotle en adobo
1. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade process the garlic until it is minced. Add the chilies and process until totally pureed. Place in an air-tight container and refrigerate for up to one month.
Chipotle Garlic Cream
1 teaspoon chipotle garlic puree (see previous recipe)
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1. Combine the chipotle puree with creme fraiche in a small bowl and mix to combine. Add salt, and taste for seasoning.
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Parties," and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)