Butternut Squash Soup

Food traditions can take root faster than you’d think. Several years ago (probably seven or eight) I decided to make a soup for Thanksgiving that I’d made a few times and had liked each time. It’s surprisingly simple, has few ingredients, and can feed a crowd. Want proof about that last part? Each year my family celebrates Thanksgiving with my dad’s side of the family and some years this amounted to about 60 people (in recent years this number has fallen into the 20’s and 30’s). These gatherings would start in the morning and could last well past midnight, so this soup became part of the second wave of food that was eaten to supplement the leftovers.  The nice thing about this recipe is that it can feed from two to 60 with about the same effort. Since that first Thanksgiving when I introduced this soup to my family, I’ve made it every year – including the year I had knee surgery over Thanksgiving break.

After making this soup for years, I’ve learned that the recipe scales really well and that the ratio of ingredients can vary widely and still produces a great meal. This lets me adapt the recipe to the quantity of squash I have on hand and the number of people I need to feed. I’ve found that even friends who say they don’t like squash, or that they’ve never had a squash soup they liked can be persuaded to give this soup a try (and then have seconds).

This squash soup is unlike most squash soups you’re going to find in a restaurant. Most squash soups I’ve tried while eating out are sweet and often include apple.  A classic combo? Perhaps – but not one that I want to eat. Instead, my squash soup is rustic, spicy, and very savory. Flavored with red chili flakes, sage, and bacon you’ll dive into this like pure comfort food.

One nice thing about squash is that it keeps really well. I like to buy a lot in the fall when it’s in season and then eat it all winter until I run out. I still have a couple of squash left, but I’m nearly out, but that’s okay the amounts in this recipe don’t have to be exact. The amounts I provide should be considered a guide. Do you like your soup really thick and rich? Use less broth. Love onions? Use more onions. You can adjust everything to your personal tastes. I suggest blending only half of the soup because I like the texture that a few chunks of roasted squash provide, but at least one friend that follows my recipe blends hers until it’s all completely smooth (baby food – yuck!). Like I said – personal preference should guide how you make this. One word of warning – after cooling the soup will thicken up more than you’d expect, so I always keep some extra chicken broth or stock on hand to loosen up the leftovers when I reheat them. The recipe as written will serve about four and provides plenty of crispy bacon bits to enjoy with the soup.

butternut Squash Soup (Closeup)

Squash Soup

1 medium butternut squash
1 small onion, chopped
12 ounces thick sliced bacon
2 tbs chopped, fresh sage (or 1 tsp rubbed sage)
1 tsp red chili flakes
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 quart chicken broth or stock
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Split the squash in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds and fibers out of the cavity. Brush the cut face of the squash with some olive oil (about a 1 tsp total) and sprinkle with salt and chili flakes. Roast for 30-45 minutes until the surface is browned in spots and the flesh is soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool until easily handled.

Meanwhile, slice or chop the bacon into 1/4 inch or so slices and then fry in a large pot until the bacon pieces are brown and crisp. Carefully remove the cooked bacon, drain well and set aside for later. Pour most of the fat out of the pan and discard. Add the onions and saute until translucent and just starting to brown. Add the sage, garlic, and a little salt. Cook for about 2 minutes. Then add most of the broth/stock and turn the heat to low.

Scrape squash out of the peel in large chunks and add to the simmering soup. Once all of the squash has been added, cover and let simmer for at least 15 minutes. Then remove the soup from the heat and carefully blend half of the squash until smooth. Add the pureed soup back to the pot and mix with the remaining chunks (break any overly large pieces up with the back of a spoon). Simmer for a few more minutes, adding more liquid to reach the desired consistency. Reheat the bacon in the oven, in a skillet, or in the microwave and use as a garnish.