Thursday, October 28, 2010

A soup for Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells

-- from John Keats poem, To Autumn

Autumn Bounty Soup, AKA Rock Your Socks Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (for the slow cooker)

2 medium sized butternut squash, unpeeled, halved, and seeds removed
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into quarters
6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup apple cider (or more if you like it sweeter)
3-5 cups broth or water (use more for a soupy consistency and less for a thick consistency)
1/2 cup instant potato flakes (used as a thickener and not absolutely necessary if you have an aversion to such things)
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
3 to 4 good shakes of tobasco sauce (omit or decrease if serving to children or the heat impaired)

(special equipment: blender, mesh sieve)

Preheat oven to 350. On a cookie sheet place a quarter onion and a garlic clove or two in each seed cavity of the butternut squash halves (see picture above). This is not a necessary step, I just enjoy the way it looks and I don't have to scrape crispy bits of onion and garlic from the bottom of the pan later. Drizzle all pieces with copious amounts of olive oil, or less if you choose to not wear this soup on your hips. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper to your taste preferences. Roast until squash is very soft when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 15 minutes.

Once cool to the touch, use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, onions, and garlic away from the butternut squash skin and plop gracefully into a slow cooker. Try to not let any pieces of skin mingle with the flesh as this will leave unsavory bits of chewy matter in your finished product. Once you have removed all the roasted pieces, you can add the remaining ingredients. Place the lid on the slow cooker and set to low for about 4 hours. It is OK to have large scoops and pieces in your slow cooker as they will all be subjected to rigorous pureeing in the next step.

After 4 hours has passed you can now begin the process of pureeing. You need a large separate bowl and a mesh sieve set over the bowl ready to go. Some may find this a tedious thing and if you would like a more rustic and textured soup you may use an immersion blender to break up the big pieces and serve as is. I find a smooth as pumpkin pie consistency more palatable so I do put up with the extra step. In small batches, ladle the soup into a blender. Do not fill the blender more than a 3rd full or you will wear your soup to the dinner table. Pulse until you see nary a chunk and pour slowly through the sieve and into the bowl. Let drain while you begin your other batches. Repeat until all the soup has been pureed. Using a rubber spatula, squash down (pun intended) the soup leftover in the sieve, getting as much soup pressed into the bowl as possible. Discard any solids left over. Pour soup back into the slow cooker and give a quick taste test, adding more of any seasoning if you feel the need. Cook an additional hour.

When ready to serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with a dabble of cream, half and half, yogurt, or sour cream. A little chopped cilantro adds color and flavor. An extra splash of hot sauce is also devilishly satisfying. I served mine with a simple pear topped salad and toasted crusty bread with an ample wedge of melty cheese atop.

Yield: a lot
Should you have any remaining soup, it freezes well for up to 6 weeks.

Harry Turns One

A Very Hungry Caterpillar cupcake cake for Harry.

So very sweet.


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