Butternut Squash Soup

The tail end of a cold front moved through South Florida last night and prevented us all from becoming babbling idiots after the many long months of heat and humidity. It won't get out of the 70's today and is supposed to go down to the 50's tonight. Doesn't sound like much to get excited about? But to us it means fall has arrived.....and a day like this is the reason we live in Florida: not a cloud in the sky, a cool breeze and we can finally throw open our windows and doors. (And give our electric bills a break.)
It's a perfect time to give some thought to my Thanksgiving menu now that we are cooler and Halloween is days away. It looks as though I am having some of the family here and I like to plan ahead, freeze what I can so I can spend time with children, grandchildren and friends.

There are certain dishes my family insists upon: butternut squash soup, turkey of course, a brussel sprout dish they all adore and that really, really old recipe for frozen fruit salad. It astounds me everyone still looks forward to seeing that salad on the table. Other side dishes and the dessert are up to me. Dessert is usually pumpkin something or other. Perhaps I'll try a pumpkin roulade this year; I read a recipe for it recently and have yet to try it.

This year, we shall start the festivities with a scrumptious Bellini or two (or three). We had them last Christmas and all I can say is YUM! I already sent for and received the white peach puree; you can order it overnight (it arrives frozen) from The Perfect Puree Company in Napa, California. I noticed they also had a coconut puree and because my family loves my coconut bread toasted for breakfast (AND there is a minimum order) I ordered some of that as well.

When we lived in Michigan, my mother used to buy an enormous hubbard squash at least once every fall. We all adored it- especially when it was a lovely dry one. After baking she would beat it much like mashed potatoes and she added butter, salt and pepper and a little brown sugar, but not much. Sometimes when the squash came out of the oven, it was somewhat watery and she had to cook it down to dry it out a little, but it never tasted as good as a hubbard squash that was dry to begin with. Is there a trick to knowing when a hubbard squash is going to be dry before buying and baking? If anyone knows the answer, let me know. Mother also used acorn squash a lot, halving it and putting butter and brown sugar in the center. I still bake it often, but I just use salt and pepper.

Butternut squash is a member of the gourd family and is a winter squash as are acorn and hubbard. (Summer squash would be a squash like zucchini or yellow squash; they have thinner skins.)It has a hard, thick skin and it is filled with seeds. When picking one out, choose a squash that feels heavy for its size, with blemish-free skin, and no soft, moldy spots. Although the squash is native to Mexico and the surrounding areas, the most popular butternut squash is the Waltham Butternut which was originally grown in Massachusetts. There are so many ways to serve it: in a risotto, in lasagna, in soups, in ravioli, custards, breads and pancakes.

I think you will like my soup recipe; I use it as an appetizer- a small cup of it to kick off the dinner. It has lots of flavor and the touches of bacon, Marsala and fresh thyme marry perfectly with this squash. You could easily serve it for lunch or dinner as the main course. I freeze it after after I have added the stock and simmered it for 20 minutes. You can then thaw it when you wish, add the heavy cream, seasonings and Marsala and reheat.

Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from Thanksgiving The Williams Sonoma Kitchen Library


1 butternut squash, about 3 pounds, halved lengthwise, remove seeds and fibers
6 slices of bacon, chopped
2 yellow onions, diced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
fresh thyme leaves, whole, for garnish
5 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons Marsala
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Turn your oven on to 375°.
Place the squash, cut sides down, in a baking pan. (I put tin foil down first to save clean up) Add water to a depth of about 1/4 inch. Bake about 45-50 minutes or until the squash is fork tender. Let it cool and then scoop out the flesh. You will need 3 and 3/4 cups.

Saute the bacon about 3 minutes and then add the onions and thyme. Cook until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a food processor ( and in several batches) puree the squash and onion mixture until smooth. Place in a large saucepan and add the chicken broth. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. At this point, you can remove it from the stove, cool it and freeze.
When ready to use, thaw the soup overnight and place in a saucepan, reheat, add the cream, Marsala, cayenne, salt and black pepper. If you would like a thinner soup, add more broth.
Serve in bowls and garnish with fresh thyme. Serves 8-10.

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