Tuesday, October 27, 2009
BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP WITH PEAR, CIDER, AND VANILLA BEAN
I already have a satisfactory butternut squash soup recipe, as well as two dissatisfactory ones, so I wasn’t really in the market for another. It’s impossible, however, to read Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life without wanting to make this recipe (originally featured on her blog, Orangette, and published at Seattlest)—at least, if you’re a sucker for vanilla the way I am. I’ve had it filed away all spring and summer, just waiting for squash, pear, and cider season to roll around, and I’m happy to say it was worth the long wait. This soup is more labor-intensive than my usual one, and less savory, as well as being considerably more expensive (at least until I find a source for discount vanilla beans), but it’s also rich, complex, unusual, and utterly delicious. I was wary that with all that fruit and squash and vanilla, its flavor might veer into the realm of overwhelmingly sweet, but as long as you make sure to salt it sufficiently, it escapes dessertiness. And if in doubt, pair it with something salty to balance everything out. The first time around, I dipped in slices of the best garlic bread ever, which created an amazing contrast between flavors; for the leftover soup, a grilled-cheese sandwich made from sharp aged cheddar and onion rye bread proved a worthy accompaniment.
I won’t be dumping my former favorite butternut squash soup for this one. But my simple, everyday standby is gaining a more sophisticated, decadent, special-occasion cousin, perfect for dinner parties, Sunday suppers, and feasts welcoming fall.
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces (4 generous cups)
2 firm-ripe pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup apple cider
4 cups good-quality chicken broth
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup half-and-half
1 vanilla bean, about 7 inches long
Fresh chives, finely chopped
1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the squash, pears, and onion, stir to coat with oil, and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onion is soft and transparent and the pears are starting to fall apart.
2. Add the cider, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the broth, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the mixture, partially covered, for about 30 minutes, until the squash is tender.
3. Working in batches, carefully puree the mixture in a food processor or blender, then return the soup to the pot (or keep it in the pot and use an immersion blender). Season soup with salt. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, uncovered, until it has reduced to about ½ to ⅓ of its original volume. Stir occasionally. The final consistency is up to you; when it reaches a thickness that seems right—not too thin, not too thick—it’s ready.
4. While the soup is reducing, put the half-and-half in a small saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise into two long strips. Using the back of your knife, scrape the tiny black seeds out of the bean. Scoop the seeds and the bean halves into the pan with the half-and-half, and put the pan over low heat. Warm the half-and-half until it is steaming, but not boiling. Remove it from the heat, remove and discard the vanilla bean halves, and whisk to break up any clumps of seeds in the half-and-half. Set aside.
5. When the soup has reduced to its desired thickness, stir in the half-and-half, taking care to not leave any little black seeds behind in the saucepan. Taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve, garnished with chives.
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: High; soup always tastes better the next day.