I don’t like to think of myself as a finicky sort of person. I have lots of opinions, of course, but at the end of the day I don’t think I’m really all that picky about most things. If I had to make a list, though, (we’ll call it “Things About Which Kate Is Unusually Persnickety”) butternut squash soup might be on there. (See also: proper protocol for hanging Christmas tree ornaments, correct temperatures for serving Reese’s peanut butter cups, acceptable shades of chartreuse.) It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, either, but I can get really particular about my butternut squash soup.
Here’s my Goldilocks rundown: restaurant versions can deliver, but the hidden depths of cream and butter involved tend to scare me off from ordering it. Too rich. Canned soup usually registers as either too sweet or flat and dull-flavored. Too boring. Add too many bells and whistles or a heavy chicken stock to a home recipe, and you’ve bludgeoned the essential butternut squashiness right out the soup. Too much.
This soup, as far as I’m concerned, is just right.
You’ve got roasted butternut squash’s earthy sweetness, fortified by a base of aromatics and apple cider. There’s nutty Pecorino, a bit of garlic and a splash of cider vinegar to keep everything well-balanced in the savory department, and the soup’s autumnal shade of sunset orange, freckled just so with fresh sage, thyme and nutmeg. The result is fall in a bowl, basically, a cozy and healthy comfort food for slurping fireside.
I wish I could share the original source, since credit is due for that inspired addition of apple cider, but I lost the recipe many moons ago and I’ve just been winging it lately. (I am living on the edge, people.) I did think to take notes while my husband and I made this last batch in case it turned out particularly well, and Hallelujah, it did. (High-fives were exchanged and I jogged a little victory lap around the kitchen island. Go Team Soup!)
There’s also lots of leeway here for texture, since you might be on the finicky side yourself. We like a soup with a little heft to it in my house, but I do realize that one woman’s bowl of coarse-grained, rustic soup is another lady’s baby food; purée to your heart’s content or loosen up the soup with additional liquid. I’ve written the recipe the way I like it, but it’s your soup, after all, so make adjustments as you see fit.
To fancy it up for company, crispy sage leaves or savory homemade croutons are classic garnishes and add a pop of flavor and crunch. For our dinner I made quick crostini (topped with the same grated cheese I used in the soup) and served it all with slices of crisp Fuji apple and a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds. Just right.
- 2 large butternut squash, about 5 lb total
- 1/8 C olive oil
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1 C onion, chopped (about 1/2 large onion)
- 1/2 C celery, finely chopped (about 2 stalks)
- 2 Tbsp butter + 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 C Pecorino-Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
- 2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves (off the stem but unchopped)
- 1/4 C fresh sage leaves, finely chopped (plus additional whole leaves for garnish, if desired)
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 C apple cider (if your cider is super-sweet you may want to substitute a portion for stock or water)
- 1 C water or vegetable stock (or more, if desired)
- 1/2 tsp cider vinegar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel, seed and chop the butternut squash into 1″ hunks. Season the squash hunks with salt and pepper and toss with 1/8 C olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring halfway through, for about 30 minutes or until tender.
In a large soup pot or heavy-bottomed cast iron dutch oven, heat the butter and tablespoon of olive oil over medium. Add the onion, garlic and celery and cook until very relaxed, about 3-5 minutes. Add the thyme, sage, 1/2 tsp white pepper and 1 1/2 tsp salt, stirring to combine, and cook an additional minute.
Let squash cool for five minutes. Add the onion mixture to the squash. (Wipe down the soup pot with a paper towel to remove any last bits of onion mixture.) In a blender or food processor, purée the squash mixture in two batches. First, coarsely chop with about 15 one-second pulses. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Process for 30 seconds, adding 1/2 C of cider through the feed tube. Scrape again and process another minute. (Continue to process longer if you prefer a finer-textured soup.) Transfer the first batch to the soup pot and process the remaining squash mixture and 1/2 C of cider.
Heat the puréed squash mixture over medium. Add 1 C water or stock and 1 C cider. (Add more liquid if you prefer a thinner soup or plan to let it simmer awhile on the stove.) Add the grated cheese and cider vinegar. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your preference.
Note: like many soups, this one is even better the next day, allowing time for the flavors to marry. Also, if you have a fancy hand-held immersion blender, you can leave everything in the soup pot and process it there. A food mill will give you an ever finer texture.
One more thing: You won’t run into this if you follow the recipe as is, but for general reference, be careful when processing very hot liquids in a blender; the pressure created can blow off the lid and splatter soup all over you and your kitchen. Leave the feeder cap off, hold down the lid, and work in batches. PV=nRT, or something like that.