Friday, November 2, 2007

Kids Make Butternut Squash Soup

Do you take your squash perfectly smooth, or a bit lumpy?

That was the dilemma I wrestled with in my "food appreciation" classes this week. I wanted the kids to experience the old-fashioned method of turning vegetables through a food mill into soup, but I wasn't sure how they would react to the texture.

As much as possible, I try to make these sessions a hands-on tutorial. For the most part, we do without modern kitchen gadgets and especially electrical appliances. I want the kids to learn original techniques, and to appreciate the difference
between making food by hand and zapping it with electricity.

Turns out texture was a major issue for the smaller children. So on the second day of classes, we tried something different. All the kids got a turn cranking the food mill to see how the old-fashioned device turned sauteed onions, carrots and apples into a puree. Then, to get rid of the bumps, we processed the soup in a blender.

This makes me a pack mule, hauling all my equipment to school, and it does create a bit of extra work. But I think the final results are worth the effort.

This is a classic soup. The apple and winter squash harvests overlap, which leads to this fortunate blend of flavors, the sweetness of the apples giving just the right lift to the savory squash. I adapted this recipe from the many I looked at in my research. There is a startling number of variations, with ingredients including cream, sour cream, half-and-half, chicken broth, maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, curry powder, brandy, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg--and on and on.
Anything that goes with apples or butternut squash, it seems, is fair game for this soup, so don't be afraid to improvise.

In the end, the soup was a huge hit with the older kids--even the lumpy version. The younger children, however, were immediately put off by the rough texture of the soup using only the food mill mill. But they were eager to try it once it had been smoothed out in the blender. Still, many of them found the brownish color of the finished soup a bit intimidating. Some of them, on the other hand, absolutely loved it. And what's not to love about a soup that's practically half dessert?

I tried to keep my final recipe as American as possible, with the accent on maple syrup and brown sugar. Making it is surprisingly easy, really just a matter of combining the cooked squash with the other ingredients, hardly any cooking at all.

For 6 servings

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into small dice
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1 semi-sweet, crispy apple, peeled and grated
Coarse salt
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup chicken broth (or water)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Sour cream or crème fraiche for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place squash in an oven-proof casserole cut-side down and add water to a depth of about ½ inch. Place in oven and bake until completely tender, about 1 hour. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a heavy pot over moderate heat, heat the olive oil and add the onion, carrot and apple. Cook until the onion is completely soft, about eight minutes. Remove from heat. When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, process through a food mill (or in a blender or food processor with the addition of some broth or water).

Return pureed vegetables to cook pot. Scoop flesh from squash and add to cook pot. Add remaining ingredients and use a potato masher to thoroughly blend squash into the mix. (For a very smooth soup, process the mix in a blender or food processor.) Return pot to moderate heat on the stove and bring to a simmer. Adjust seasonings.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a swirl of sour cream or crème fraiche.

Note: if the soup is too thick, add half-and-half, chicken stock or water.


Meg Wolff said...

Great idea to show the kids that you don't have to zap everything. I used an old potato masher sometimes for squash soup and it doesn't come out lumpy...even using the skin.

Ed Bruske said...

Meg, you're right. The squash can be handled perfectly well with a potato masher. It was the other vegetables that create the lumps. If you want a really smooth soup, I recommend the blender or possibly pressing the soup through a seive or a Chinois.

Laura said...

Yum this looks delicious! I'll have to give it a try :)