I read a recent column titled In Defense of Emotional Eating, which essentially posited that all eating is emotional. A baby’s social interaction and psychological development cannot be separated from his food supply (his mother), and that right there is the foundation of each and every individual’s relationship with food. The essay described the positive association and nostalgia one may have for the comforting foods of our childhoods, or foods that remind us of places and times and people who touched our lives but have since passed on.
This roasted butternut squash soup is one of the comforting foods that makes me smile and think fondly of my maternal grandmother. We shared many meals at a local restaurant that served a beautiful butternut squash soup, on which this one is loosely based. In a moment of festive autumnal inspiration, I picked up two butternut squash and an acorn squash at the grocery store. Life happened, though, and they sat on our counter collecting bacon splatter and dust for nearly two weeks before I was was hit one Friday afternoon with a sudden craving for creamy, comforting, herbaceous, squashy goodness. As we ate it for dinner that night, I could almost smell North Carolina rain and the cinnamony scent of my grandmother’s cashmere sweater. Food is powerful.
Butternut & Acorn Squash. I chose to roast the squash rather than cook on the stove, because I find it imparts a smokey flavor not found in a sauté pan. Also, less work for me! While the squash were roasting, Adam came home from work and, in the midst of our chatter and activity, I completely forgot to remove the squash out of the oven – leaving them in for nearly twice as long as was recommended. Forty-five minutes later and convinced they were ruined, I raced to retrieve the blackened lumps of squash skin from the oven. I was shocked to discover that while the skins were burnt to a crisp, the undersides had transformed into the most gorgeous, caramelized, buttery flesh imaginable – even the acorn squash, which can have more of a fibrous texture. I love happy accidents.
Sage. Sage is one of those peppery fall herbs that seems to pair perfectly with other seasonal ingredients, judging by its appearance in numerous Thanksgiving stuffing recipes, dense grainy breads, and the like. In the Middle Ages, the herb was called S. salvatrix, for Sage, the Savior, and was listed as one of the four ingredients of Four Thieves Vinegar, a mixture of herbs declared to ward of the bubonic plague. Many traditional or folk medicines refer to sage as a healer of virtually all possible ailments, from respiratory to digestive to cognitive. While the veracity of these claims are dubious, at best, I can attest that a steaming bowl of this sage-scented potage is good for the soul.
Also, for those of you who wrinkle your noses at squash in it’s solid form: Adam is not at all a fan of squash. In the past, he has simply not eaten it when I have prepared it roasted or stuffed. But, upon tasting this soup, he called it, “something special.” And proceeded to go back for seconds and thirds on this soup. It’s that good.
Creamy Roasted Butternut Squash + Sage Soup
Adapted from the Weathervane Restaurant’s Famous Butternut Squash Soup
1 butternut squash
1 acorn squash
2 yellow onions, rough chop
2-5 cloves grated garlic, to taste
1/2 cup fresh sage, finely chopped
4 cups chicken stock (I used homemade bone broth that was in the fridge, but store-bought chicken or vegetable stock would also be just fine)
1/4 cup heavy cream, whole milk, or coconut milk (vegan, Paleo)
Cinnamon + nutmeg, to taste
Maple syrup, to taste (the good stuff, please: Mrs. Butterworth’s may bring back summer memories of flapjacks at sleepaway camp…but it ain’t maple syrup)
Butter, for the pan
Large dollop fresh sour cream
Heavy cream, to thin
Cinnamon + sugar, to taste
Chiffonade of fresh sage (Click for instructions)
1. Slice both squash down the center and remove seeds + pulp. Tip: If your squash is too firm to cut through, pop it in the microwave – whole and unpeeled – for a minute. It should slice nicely after that. Rub the inside edges with a bit of butter or olive oil. Slice a clove of garlic in half and run it along the exposed side of the squash flesh, one squash per half clove. Reserve leftover garlic for soup. Sprinkle with a small bit of salt. Place in a jelly roll pan, cut side down, and roast at 400°F for approximately one hour and twenty minutes. Cooking times may vary; after fifty minutes, check squash every ten minutes until done.
2. When the squash is at fifty minutes, place the chopped onion and the butter in a sauté pan (at least 5-quart or more) or a chef’s pan. Season with pepper to taste. Cook until translucent. If onions are ready before the squash finishes cooking, simply turn the burner down to low.
3. Remove the squash from the oven. They should be nicely blacked on the top, but when turned over, the flesh should be incredibly soft. Save as much of the caramelized squash (the part that was touching the pan itself) as you can, and scoop the flesh into the soup. It will be messy. Discard the skins.
4. Using a microplane zester – OR – extra fine grater, grate the garlic into the pan with the squash and the onion. I found five cloves to be perfect, but we are garlic lovers. Add chicken stock. Bring the soup to a boil. Add the chopped fresh sage, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for one half hour. Replace diminishing stock with water or more stock, adding one cup at a time.
5. Turn off the burner and use an immersion blender to purée the soup until thick and creamy. If you do not have an immersion blender, allow the soup to cool slightly and then blend in a regular blender in batches. I did this for years and it was a royal hassle. I highly recommend a handheld immersion blender; mine is a Cuisinart version that I picked up for less than $30 at a big box store that shall remain nameless.
6. Once your soup is puréed and returned to the original pan, add maple syrup, cinnamon, and the smallest pinch of nutmeg, all to taste. I find that some love heavily sweetened squash and pumpkin, but Adam and I both find sweetness over-powering in savory dishes, and prefer to let the garlic and sage take the lead. I added a teaspoon of syrup at a time, tasting as I went, to ensure the proper sweetness, plus a pinch of cinnamon and the smallest bit of nutmet (perhaps one quarter teaspoon).
7. Add the heavy cream or coconut milk, and stir to combine. Check the taste again, and adjust sweetness as needed through additional syrup, cream, salt and pepper, or cinnamon.
8. To create the topping, put a generous scoop of sour cream in a dish. Depending on whether you like a dollop or a drizzle in your bowl, add enough cream to thin to desired consistency. I love anything tangy and sour, so I used only a small amount of sour cream. Add a pinch of sugar and cinnamon; stir to combine. Taste and adjust.
Serve in individual bowls with sour cream topping and fresh sage. We enjoyed this with