Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Butternut Squash Soup with Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

Didn't take a pic of final product, so here is Punkin and Oscar!
This is a wonderful fall/winter soup.  There are many recipes available – this one is particularly easy and, if you use vegetable broth – perfect for your vegetarian friends.  I add caramelized pears or apples to the soup as well as using them as garnish.  Finally, the addition of the pumpkin seeds – both sweet and spicy – really gives the crunch you need to keep it interesting. You cannot go wrong with the squash - high in fiber and vitamin A & C – warm and satisfying without a lot of calories.  Additionally I have included several possible garnishes – I recommend using at most two at any given time.

Begin with a 6-pound butternut squash – select one that is rock solid and heavy for its size.  The skin should be matte – a shiny one is a sign that the squash was picked prematurely. It can be stored in a cool, dry place (not a refrigerator), for a month making it useful to have on hand for impromptu meals. Split it lengthwise and remove the seeds. In a pinch, you could also use Butternut Squash puree in lieu of fresh squash – I like the one sold at Williams-Sonoma.

Place the squash, cut side down, on a rimmed 1” deep sheet pan. Add 2 C water and roast in a 350 degree F oven until very tender – about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, drain off any remaining water, and let cool.

Meanwhile in a heavy 12 Quart pot, melt 1 Tb butter, add 2-3 Red Anjou or Bartlett pears which have been cored and cut into ¼” slices. (Alternatively you could use 2-3 apples: Gala, Fuji or Braeburn). Caramelize the pear slices on both sides, about 4-5 minutes total.  Remove the pears and set aside.
Caramelizing pears
 In the same pot, add 3 Tb butter, 2 stalks celery, finely chopped, 1 medium onion, cut into ½” dice – cook over medium heat until softened, about 10 min. Add 3 minced garlic cloves, cook about 30 seconds. Add ½ to 1 C white wine, (apple cider, if using apples); allow reducing to <¼ C while scraping the bottom of the pan.
Cooking the veggies
When squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and add to the soup.  Add 2 tsp minced fresh thyme, 2 C chicken, or vegetable stock, half of the pears (or apples), salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes until all vegetables are tender.

Using a blender, puree soup in batches until very smooth.  Return soup to pot; add an optional ¼ to ½ C half and half.  Add more broth if needed to reach a desired consistency.
Pureed squash added to the pot
Ladle soup into bowls.  Serve with wine – if you prefer white wine, I would suggest a Viognier, Pinot Gris, Fume Blanc or a very dry Reisling. If you prefer red, then I would suggest a Pinot Noir or Chianti.

Garnish with 1-2 of the following garnishes:
1.     Other half of caramelized pears or apples
2.     Fried crisp bacon bits
3.     Spicy pumpkin seeds. (Recipe to follow)
4.     Drizzle of blue cheese sauce (recipe to follow)

Spicy Pumpkin Seeds
Heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 C unsalted shelled raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas), and stir until evenly toasted (careful – they will pop!), about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle evenly with 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp kosher salt and ½ tsp (or more) of cayenne pepper. Toss to coat. Transfer to bowl and cool.  Can be made two days in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temp.  
Pumpkin seeds pre-toasting
Pumpkin seeds post-toasting
 Blue Cheese Sauce

Mix ½ lb blue cheese and ½ C heavy cream in top of a double boiler.  Melt slowly, mixing as you go.  Keep warm and drizzle into finished soup.


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