Saturday, October 8, 2011

In praise of clichés

Say what you will about stylish food I prefer my fare tasty and, ideally, simple to prepare. There is something to be said for leaving the guanciale ravioli to the experts at Enoteca Sociale. With my preference for the tried and true, no one at my table is surprised to find this gorgeous soup in their bowl come fall. 

Mr. H gave me a beautiful Aspinal recipe book for Christmas a few years ago. It is a lot of pressure to create a document that may very well outlive me if my daughter takes an interest in the food of her childhood. But every now and then I deem a recipe worthy of the book's handmade pages and I carefully, neatly, and always with a black roller pen, make an entry. This soup was the first one. I can't lay claim to the recipe - it's from Cinda  Chavich - but I have made it so often over the years that I feel kind of proprietary about it just the same. The photo does not do the soup justice - and may well earn the scorn of food bloggers - but it was lunch and I was hungry and did not want to let my steaming bowl of soup cool while I worried about styling the photo. Do not let the humble snapshot dissuade you from making it. I promise it will be the best darn squash soup you've ever tasted. And the quickest to make too.

3 lbs squash peeled and cubed (butternut, acorn or buttercup)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion (I like to use Vidallia) finely chopped
1 medium Yukon Gold potato peeled and cubed
6 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup Jack Daniels
1 bay leaf + 4 sprigs fresh thyme (do not use dried)
1 Tbsp maple syrup (has to be real maple syrup or omit)
salt and white pepper
1/4 sour cream or whipping cream if serving at the holidays. I also use condensed milk on occasion.

1. In a soup pot melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion, covered, until softened and transparent, about 5 to 8 minutes.

2. Stir in the squash, potato, stock, whiskey, herbs and syrup and bring to a boil over high heat.

3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the squash is softened, 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the squash pieces. So cube them smallish if you're in a hurry. After 30 or so minutes pick out the thyme and bay leaf and discard.

4. Use an immersion blender or a blender and purée until very smooth. You don't want chunks.

5. Return the soup to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste with white pepper and salt (though I usually find the soup stock adds enough salt). Whisk in the sour cream, whipping cream or condensed milk, or spoon a dollop onto each serving.