Thursday, September 30, 2010

Curried Butternut Squash Bisque

Summer in New York City has a kind of charmed quality, and come every autumn, I mourn the passing of another magical season of sun, strappy dresses, and (cold, gray, polluted) surf. But there are a few things making their annual debut in September that console me for the loss of summer: squashes, soups, the new season of 30 Rock, pies, and—ever since The Rob entered my life—New York Rangers hockey. This post concerns the first two, though future ones may touch upon the fourth…and possibly even the fifth, since God knows Alyce uses every excuse she can to gratuitously mention the Celtics. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

But I digress. On a recent evening, the aforementioned The Rob’s dinner suggestion was squash soup, which struck me as a perfect choice to put a positive spin on the fact that the temperature had just dropped 20 degrees from the day before. (Obviously, we have soup on the brain lately at BGC.)

The ingredients for a big quantity of this bisque are really cheap; it freezes very well (you’ll want to wait to add cream until defrosting the soup). I like to use chicken stock, but you can make this recipe vegetarian with vegetable stock.

Start with—wait for it—a butternut squash. (The one I used for this recipe was on the medium side, say 1 pound; one great thing about soup is, you can easily adjust the proportions of liquid and seasonings in relation to your main ingredient[s]).

  • Prep the squash by following this post's instructions and then chop it into approximately one-inch-ish cubes. You're going to puree it all later, so you don't have to worry about your pieces being symmetrical or any of that aesthetic stuff.

  • Melt a few tablespoons butter with a small splash of olive or vegetable oil (to prevent the butter from burning) in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.

  • Add the chopped squash.

  • Add a diced white onion.

  • Add 1 Tbsp. yellow curry powder, 1 tsp. coarse kosher salt, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. cumin, a dried bay leaf, 4 minced garlic cloves, and an approximately inch-long piece of ginger root, peeled and minced. (All these measurements can be tweaked to suit your taste; just go easy with the salt.) Stir with a wooden spoon to blend.

  • Cook for about 5-10 minutes, until the squash is slightly softened and the onions are translucent, stirring every few minutes. Keeping the pot half-covered (the lid on the side of the pot) will make this go faster, but do leave some ventilation.

  • Turn the heat up to high and pour in a splash of white wine, chicken or vegetable stock, water, sherry, or white wine. (Gentle reader, I used beer.) It should immediately get bubbly and sizzly. Scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen whatever brown stuff is stuck to it. This is called deglazing and really adds to the depth of flavor of your soup.

  • Pour in 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock and 2 cups of water (unsalted or low-salt is highly recommended; if you have full-salt stock, you might want to do 2½ cups of water to 1½ cups stock). With the burner still on high, bring the liquid to a boil.

  • As soon as it boils, stir it, turn the burner down to medium, and partially cover the pan. Let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until the squash is soft enough to be easily smushed against the side of the pan with your wooden spoon. (Add a little more water if it looks like too much liquid has cooked off). Turn off the burner.

  • Remove the bay leaf from the pot and discard.

  • Now puree the mix until it's smooth. An immersion blender works best here since you don't have to deal with pouring the hot soup into a blender or food processor and then transferring it back to the pot; if you don't have one, let the soup cool off a few minutes. If necessary, transfer the soup back to the pot.

  • Stir in about half a cup of heavy cream (you can skip this and add a little more water if you desire, but come on). Note: If you plan to freeze the soup, wait to add the cream until after you defrost it. (You could also ladle out some for freezing, and add proportionately less cream to the remainder that you're planning on serving immediately.)

  • Turn the burner heat on low and reheat the soup. Before serving, taste it to see if it needs any more seasoning, or if the consistency is too thick or too thin. If it's too thick, you can add a little more water; too thin, let it cook down (uncovered) for a few more minutes.

    Here are some suggestions for garnishes for the soup:
    • Croutons (pictured)
    • Toasted squash seeds (here's how to make them)
    • Crumbled bacon (you can fry the bacon in the pan, then cook the squash in the leftover grease plus some butter)
    • Chopped chives
    • Chopped scallions
    • Frizzled shallots
    • Fried sage leaves
    • Fresh thyme leaves
    • Diced red pepper
    • Dried red pepper flakes
    • Shaved Parmesan cheese
    • A slab of Brie or St. Andre cheese (this would work great in addition to chives or fresh herbs)
    • Chopped toasted pecans
    • Matchstick-sliced Granny Smith apple
    • Matchstick-sliced jicama
    • Roasted garlic cloves
    • Mexican crema or creme fraĆ®che (also good with chives)
    Please leave your own suggestions in the comments!

    1. Yum! Have you ever blended hot soup in the blender and it literally explodes? I did that once - I usually let mine cool quite a bit before I do that. I should just buy an immersion blender. Anyway, this sounds great!

    2. Love this! cannot wait to get home and make more soup!