On a chilly fall evening, there is nothing more comforting for the soul as a steaming hot bowl of soup. It chases away our runny noses and warms us to the core as we begrudgingly put our flip flops and sun dresses in storage and add extra blankets to our beds. But not just any old soup: creamy squash soups gently spiced and blended with a touch of cream.
Ladies, you know that feeling when you see an absurdly high-heeled shoe covered in jewels and a hefty price tag? Part of you is terrified and clutched your wallet for good measure. But at the same time the little devil on your shoulder smiles and makes sure you turn your head and get one last look at the fabulous creation before leaving the store. You know that feeling? That is how I felt about the acorn squash last week when I saw it’s dark, jagged form staring at me in the produce section.
I have had one run-in with acorn squash before, and it wasn’t pretty. The thick rind of this rock solid gourd refused to peeled, pleaded, or pried off and after much grief I finally had to call in reinforcements in the form of Mom. We did a simple saute with butter and herbs and lemon, and it was actually pretty good. But this time, I thought as the culinary devil steered my cart towards the forbidden fruit, I would do it myself. This time I wanted to harness the full potential of the acorn squash. No silly sautes where the buttery, earthy texture is masked my actual butter and outside spices. I wanted to experience it in as pure a form as possible.
This week was unnaturally cold, even for fall. Night-time temperatures dropped into the 40’s, and it is becoming quite uncomfortable to take my lunch breaks outside. Yesterday especially, with the strong wind warning everyone that summer was officially over. Soup was the natural answer. And this time, I conquered my squash-from-scratch fears!
The great thing about acorn squash, as well as its sister plants butternut squash and pumpkin, is that when cooked it has a creamy, velvety texture while remaining totally free of fat and cholesterol. A lot of people have realized this and started incorporating these wonderful gourds into classic cheesed-up recipes, which is why such fabulous creations as butternut squash mac and cheese and pumpkin cake have been so popular over the past few years. And anyone who’s had these can say they no longer desire their old artery clogging recipes, as these squash-bearing ones are much more flavorful.
Squash’s natural flavor pairing is spice. It’s inherent sweetness leans almost to the dessert side, but can easily be made savory with the addition of cloves, cinnamon, brown sugar, and sage. Now imagine all these flavors singing together in a bubbling golden pot of soup.
1 acorn squash
1 large yellow onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon rosemary (dried or fresh)
2 clove buds
Olive oil (for sauteing)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup half & half, milk, or unsweetened almond milk
Hot water (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Using a large chef’s knife (not a serrated knife) slice the acorn squash into fourths. Be very very careful! The acorn squash will not like being stabbed, and will roll away and will refuse to let go of the knife. Do not listen to it! It’s a squash and you are hungry. If you have a buddy on hand, one person should probably hold the squash to prevent the rolling. Just try not to cut their hands as well as the vicious delicious squash.
3. Drizzle the acorn squash fourths with olive oil and bake until soft, about 45 minutes.
4. While the squash is cooking, coarsely chop 1 large onion and saute in olive oil until brown on edges. These are going to be blended in the soup, so don’t worry about how finely you chop it. Whatever gets the job done. It’s important to cook them a little because that raw onion flavor can really over-power the other ingredients.
5. During the last 5-10 minutes of baking, place 2-3 cloves of garlic (unpeeled) on the baking tray beside the squash. If you only have peeled garlic, you can wrap the cloves up in aluminum foil. The garlic is take on a delicious, roasted flavor that adds a level of depth and earthiness to the sweet squash.
10. Remove the squash and garlic from the oven.
11. While the squash cools, add onions, garlic, rosemary, cloves, and 1/2 cup of vegetable broth to a blender or food processor. Pulse until smooth. Set aside
12. Using a large spoon, scoop the cooked squash out of the peel (the peel will be rubbery and difficult to remove) and add to the blender. Add the remaining vegetable broth and pulse until smooth.
13. Over medium heat, combine the onion mixture, pureed squash, black pepper, salt, and half & half or milk (I used fat-free half & half, but I would not recommend using skim milk, as it tends to be watery. You could even use almond milk for a vegan alternative). If the soup seems too thick, add water, broth or milk until it’s at the consistency you want.
14. Garnish with fresh herbs and serve with toasted bread.