Friday, January 1, 2010

Butternut Squash: Day 1

More soup was needed. Our Christmas meal (see last post) was delicious and fulfilling, but rain continued to fall in Santa Cruz and another pot of soup was in our forecast. This time, butternut squash would be the star of the show. I decided to roast the squash, which caramelizes the sugars and really enhances the nutty flavor. Split down the middle and scoop out the seeds (save the seeds to roast too). To add some extra sweetness and depth, I peeled and cored an apple, and roasted it along with the skvash. I put them on a baking sheet and covered it with foil. Then into a 375° oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until tender.

The seeds we reserved are going to get some oven love as well. I tossed them in olive oil, salt, pepper, chipotle powder, and minced orange peel. Turn the oven down to 300° and use the same baking sheet once you're done with the squash. The seeds only need to toast for about 5 minutes. They might start to pop on you, like they did for me, but I don't think I let the oven cool down enough before I put them in. Once nicely browned, I scattered the seeds on a paper towel and set them aside.

On to the base. I opted not for the classic mirepoix, but instead for a pile of sliced shallots. Shallots have a mild flavor, and I thought they would work nicely with the flavors in this soup.

So these sliced shallots get sauteed over medium heat in a couple tablespoons of butter and a couple tablespoons of wild sage olive oil. I bought this bottle at a farmer's market years back and every time I finish it, I simply refill it with fresh oil. The bottle says that the sage is harvested in the Mayacamas Mountains of Northern Napa Valley but doesn't specify the type. It looks and smells like Salvia clevelandii to me, but I'm not certain. It doesn't look like Big Paw is still making this flavored oil, but they do have plenty of other oils and other grub on their website. Of course, you can always make your own flavored oils at home, but you must take care to do it safely. I usually stick to purchasing flavored oils and infuse vinegars, liquors, salts, sugars and the like.

Anyways, the shallots get sauteed in butter and sage oil (which smells fabulous by the way) until translucent and then I dump in my squash, which I had peeled and diced after it cooled. I ended up using 1 and 1/2 squash, and saving the other half for...well, the next post! Next, pour in a 1/2 cup or so of brandy. This will further develop our deep caramely flavors. I grated some nutmeg, sprinkled some salt, and cracked some pepper into the pot, then poured in my stock. I think chicken or veggie stock works best here, but I happened to have the stock I made from the Christmas ham bone so I used that. I used enough stock so that the squash was just covered. I didn't want too much liquid because I wanted this soup to be thick. Once everything came up to a boil I turned the heat off and blended with my hand blender until smooth. With the blender running I added a 1/2 cup of half and half, checked the seasoning (it needed more salt) and served with an extra drizzle of sage oil and a handful of the toasted seeds. Served with a big salad on the side, it was a welcome second soup supper. Many more to come I am sure.

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