Butternut Squash Soup—A bowl of sunshine on a dreary day!

I look out the window at the drab scenery—gray sky, freshly stripped tree branches, limp leaves plastered to the ground. Mother Nature and her overzealous cleaning crew went at the trees last night and scrubbed them bare. This happens every year when the leaves are celebrating the season, decorating the world with their colorful designs in reds and oranges, bronzes and golds. Then the rains come, and the party’s over.

What we need on a day like this is a little sunshine, something bright and cheery and unaffected by the weather. That’s where butternut squash soup comes in—it’s a cheerful little dish that wants to perk you up.

There are a lot of ways to make butternut squash soup. I’ve tried many of them, and this is by far my favorite. I don’t know if it’s the slightly sweet flavor of the apple—subtle but delicious, or the salty, smoky tang of the bacon, but it seems to have the perfect balance. Those ingredients bring out the natural goodness of the squash, without hiding it with overpowering additional spices.

Making butternut squash soup is easier than ever—these days stores even sell it pre-peeled and cut. I have to say that’s a pretty convenient option. The only drawback is that you don’t get nearly as much in a package compared to what’s in a whole gourd. When I recently bought a whole butternut squash, it was 4.25 pounds for $2.50. After I peeled and chopped it, it was 8 cups. That’s a lot—way more than what comes in one pre-cut package. That said, if you don’t have a super sharp knife, or perhaps especially if you do, when you slice into that rock-hard vegetable you could literally be taking your life into your hands. Or at least your finger’s life. If you slip while you hack and saw the rounded, awkward-shaped gourd, you could be looking at an emergency room visit. So, for Pete’s sake, be careful when you cut your own. I like to slice it widthwise first, then put the flat side down to stabilize it before I make any more cuts. Peeling it is also another adventure in finger survival—just don’t rush and be careful. I have a few very sharp knives that have been conspiring to send me to the hospital for years, but I’ve held the upper hand (figuratively and literally). Move those fingers out of the way!

When you’re chopping the squash, try to cut it into similar-sized pieces so they cook at the same rate. The smaller they are, the quicker they’ll cook.

Other than the cutting, this soup is a piece of cake (figuratively, not literally). As with many soups, the amount of ingredients doesn’t have to be precise. You start by sautéing leeks, onions and garlic. I like to use two leeks, a medium sized onion, and one garlic clove, but you can use what you have on hand. When you add the squash, apple and broth to the pot, be sure everything is covered by liquid. If there isn’t enough, no problem—just add more broth or water.

I always roast the seeds of squash, just as I would pumpkin seeds. It’s probably the most time-consuming part of the recipe, besides the peeling and chopping, and it’s totally optional. I actually prefer squash seeds to pumpkin seeds since they seem to have more seed and less husk. They roast well and quickly, crisping up into nice little crunchy, salty bites. I roast mine in my toaster oven. But be careful—you have to watch them closely. They actually start to pop like popcorn, which means that they’re just about done. Beware—they go from perfect to burnt in the blink of an eye, so watch them like a hawk. They’re great to munch on alone, or to sprinkle on top of the soup with the apple and/or bacon.

You could easily make this a vegetarian meal by using vegetable broth and omitting the bacon.

With its bright color and velvety texture, I hope this soup adds a little sunshine to your day.

Butternut Squash Soup
2          Tbsp. oil

2          Leeks, white and light green parts

1          Onion, chopped

1          Clove garlic, minced

1          Bay leaf

1          Butternut squash, peeled and chopped in like-size chunks

1          Tart apple, peeled, seeded and sliced

4          Cups chicken broth

Salt and pepper, to taste

Topping

Bacon, cooked and crumbled

Apple, cored, peeled and chopped fine

Roasted squash seeds (optional)

Sour cream or crème fraiche (optional)

Slice leek lengthwise, then slice in thin pieces. Rinse well to remove any debris. Heat oil in sauce pot. Add leeks, onion, garlic and bay leaf and cook until softened. Add squash, apple and broth. If liquid doesn’t cover vegetables, add more broth or water. Bring to boil, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until squash is soft. Remove bay leaf.

Puree soup, either with a hand blender, being sure to keep the head of it below the surface, or by carefully transferring it to a blender to puree in batches.

How To Roast Squash Seeds

Scoop out seeds from squash. Separate seeds from squash strings under running water. Spread seeds in single layer on cooking tray. Salt liberally. Toast in toaster oven for five minutes. Alternatively, roast in 300˚ oven for 15-20 minutes. When they start to pop, take them out. Check often to be sure they’re not burning. Once toasted—they should be dry and hard—remove them from the heat at once and transfer to a plate or bowl.

Sprinkle hot soup with toppings of choice.

Enjoy!

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