Thursday, March 08, 2012

sweet and spicy butternut squash soup

For the past several months, I've been all about soups. They're so easy, and you can make them with anything. Pureed, you can have lovely vegetable bliss or you can have lovely chunks of meats, pasta and vegetables floating in a flavourful broth. In fact, pretty much any vegetables baked or cooked for an hour in stock and then put in the blender ends up in deliciousness.

One of my favourites, and a consistent hit with Bunny has been butternut squash soup. Ridiculously simple, and with such wonderful consistency it almost always seems to come out right. The squash is delicious in its own right (we love eating it roasted, or with pasta), and takes on such lovely sweet flavours if properly developed. I mean, roasted squash with a little bit of brown sugar or syrup? The carmelization that develops is out of this world.

Which got me thinking. Roasting squash for soup could create so much sweetness, I wanted something to balance it out and create a little bit more depth of flavour. Sweet and sour seemed obvious, but I'm not always a fan of that combination (unless it's in candy - then I am all over it) and I didn't really think sour would work with the squash. Inspiration hit in the form of Bunny deciding that he wanted to start eating more spicy food. Seriously, the man has been adding hot sauce to everything lately.

Sweet and spicy. That seemed like exactly what I wanted. I've tried to create this soup before - and it did not turn out well. This time, I seasoned things much more conservatively and I think that made all the difference, because it came out every bit as good as I'd hoped for. And then some.

Sweet and Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients
  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut into even 2 inch cubes
  • 1 medium sweet onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped (optional - I didn't have any on hand but really wished I did)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock OR 4 cups water and chicken bouillon
    • Note: My goal was a slightly thinner soup, if you prefer a thicker puree, reduce this to 3 cups
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, based on your heat preference
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • Salt to taste
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350*F.
  2. Spread cubed squash evenly on a lined (parchment paper or silicone) cookie sheet. Drizzle the squash with maple syrup. Season the squash with cayenne pepper and garlic powder.
  3. Bake butternut squash for 1 hour, until the cubes begin to develop carmelized crusts.
  4. While squash is baking, heat olive oil in a dutch oven or soup pot over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until translucent or about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Adding the carrots and celery, continue to cook another 5 minutes.
  5. Add stock to the pot, bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until squash is done cooking.
  6. Remove squash from the oven. Using a blender or a food processor, you will want to work in two batches. Transfer half the squash into the bowl of the blender, followed by half the liquid and vegetables from the soup pot. Blend until smooth, and repeat with remaining ingredients.
    1. Alternately, if using an immersion blender, transfer all the squash into the soup pot and blend to desired smoothness. I am envious.
  7. Bring the soup up to a low simmer again, and taste for seasoning. This is the point to add salt/pepper/more cayenne if you desire. As well, you can add more broth at this point if the soup is too thick.
  8. Serve. Enjoy. Eat with generously buttered crusty bread and smile a lot.
Final Notes:

There are so many ways to change this up.
  • Swap out the maple syrup for brown sugar, or your sweetening agent of choice
  • Add more or different vegetables into your soup stock. I almost want to add apples into this, but that's a whole different beast.
  • When the squash is done roasting you can add it to the soup pot and let the whole thing continue to cook for another half hour or so. I've done this before, but don't find it makes enough of a flavour difference to bother with though.
  • Change up the heat. Maybe you don't like cayenne. Change it out for jalepeno peppers, or chili powder or oil, or hot sauce. I really like the slightly sweet heat of cayenne with the maple syrup, but there are lots of combinations you could do.

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