As soon as temperatures drop, squash figures big in my kitchen, especially when it comes to warming soups. Think rich, thick bisques of puréed roasted squash seasoned with curry or ginger, lush with coconut cream. Or, how about a hearty vegetable combo, bright with bell peppers and emerald kale? Squash is the lazy home cook's dream.
Squash, in all shapes and sizes, is ubiquitous throughout the world, easy to grow and highly nutritious. It works well in a range of cuisines — Asian, African, Italian, Mexican — the possibilities for seasoning are endless. Granted that all the different varieties of squash are delicious with subtle variations in flavor and texture, but I favor butternut squash for soup. I'm fond of its earthy-sweet nature and dense, creamy texture. Its skin is smooth, unlike the bumpy turban or ridged acorn squash, so it's relatively easy to peel.
When shopping for any kind of squash, look for a firm, hard rind. This allows it to last longer, especially when stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Choose a squash that is heavy for its size with a stem that's intact. Generally, it should be firm and dry, its color rich without any hints of green. The surface should be dull and matte; a shiny skin indicates the squash was picked too early. Avoid cracks and soft spots that can lead to mold.
If there's a challenge to working with squash, it's in the peeling. The frequent mistake is to attack the squash with a standard vegetable peeler. A quicker and more reliable method is to cut the squash into wedges, then rest each wedge on a cutting board and, using a sharp, heavy knife, remove the peel and seeds. You'll take some of the flesh with it, but given the size of most butternuts, that's OK.
Roasting big hunks of squash takes about 30 to 40 minutes. Cut into chunks, squash cooks in about 20 minutes in a soup or stew and contributes a light subtle sweetness to the stock. Roasting chunks of squash draws out its unctuous texture and caramel flavors, in about 20 to 25 minutes time. When those chunks of roasted squash are lacquered with maple syrup and topped with whipped creamy, they make a fine dessert.
These days, farmers markets are exploding with peppers, dark greens that are nearing the end of their season while squashes and root vegetables are coming on full. This soup brings them all together in one big, bright bowl.
Butternut Squash and Bean Soup
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: Butternut squash contributes an earthy, subtle sweetness to the stock, while the beans are creamy and add body to this hearty dish. Pair it with crusty bread and a tossed salad for a meal. From Beth Dooley.
• 2 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 medium onion, minced
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 tsp. chopped fresh sage
• 3 c. peeled, seeded and cubed squash (cut into 1-in. chunks)
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• Generous pinch red pepper flakes
• 2 tbsp. tomato paste
• 1/2 c. dry red or white wine
• 5 to 6 c. chicken or vegetable stock
• 1 c. cooked or canned white beans, drained
• 1 large bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-in. pieces
• 1 c. thinly sliced kale
In a large deep pot, heat the oil over medium and sauté the onions, garlic and sage until just tender. Stir in the squash, a generous pinch of salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, and the tomato paste. Then add the wine and stock. Increase the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, until the squash is tender, about 25 minutes.
Stir in beans, bell pepper and kale; heat through. Adjust seasonings to taste before serving.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories160Carbohydrates21 gProtein8 gFat6 gSaturated fat1 gCholesterol0 mgSodium160 mg
Total sugars4 g
Dietary fiber5 g
Exchanges: 1 starch, ½ carb, 1 lean protein, ½ fat.
Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.