October 8, 2009
Butternut squash and roasted red pepper soup
Fall is definitely in the air and I love it. Ever since I moved to the South, I am happiest when the weather turns from hot and muggy Summer to crisp, clear and beautiful Fall. I really appreciate the change in seasons in the Southeast, not least because I get to cook new things!
Now is the time for winter squash: butternuts, pumpkins, acorns and kabochas. I love them because they look and taste like Fall. Before I cooked so much, I used to buy them at farmer's markets and leave them on the counter or on a table on the porch and enjoy looking at them. But now that I try to cook and eat seasonally, I look forward to the arrival of squash and all the new ways I find each year to cook and enjoy them.
I remember being in Italy last Fall and being excited that the same winter squash that we have were found in all the markets (and the menus) over there. It was late September and we visited an organic farm in Tuscany where they had a storage room full of butternuts. I could think of nothing more than putting them to good use for torellini di zucca with sage butter sauce, perhaps my all-time favorite pasta dish.
(look at all those butternuts!)
Butternut is my favorite. This week I had three on the counter from the farmer and one big one growing in my garden, so I thought I should get creative. I threw one in the oven, sliced in half, to roast while I thought about ways to use it for that night's dinner. Just then, Ben Frank posted a link on facebook to his blog with a recipe for a creamy winter squash soup. The photo was so beautiful I couldn't help but click over.
There are a million recipes for butternut squash soup, but this one struck me as very unique. It combined the sweet flavors of roasted butternut, apple juice, roasted red peppers and the heat of cayenne peppers. In addition, it started with bacon! What could be better than that? So I immediately decided this was the soup for my roasting squash. I still had a few red peppers from the farmer and a neighbor had given me a handful of cayenne peppers from her garden last week. I threw the red peppers into the oven to roast along with the squash.
I followed Ben's recipe exactly, except I substituted a cup of chicken stock for the cranberry juice. But I did use apple juice for the rest of the liquid as he calls for. At first I thought that would be a weird addition for an already sweet soup, but because of the spiciness of the peppers, the apple juice was a welcome sweetness and of course, the flavor of apples and bacon cannot be beat.
I raved about this soup for a while after dinner. I liked it so much I even brought some in a small container to my neighbors across the street to share. I thought the combination of squash and peppers, roasted until all their juicy Fall sweetness comes through, and the heat of the cayenne and other spices such as nutmeg and allspice made for a really complex flavor combination that you don't get too often in chunky Fall soups. I will return to this recipe again, I'm sure.
And, taking Ben's cue that there's no better accompaniment to soup than a grilled cheese sandwich, I served the soup with grilled camembert, provolone and fig sandwiches that were deliciously rich. All together, a perfect Fall meal.