A great cold weather treat is butternut squash. Kids will eat it because it is sweet. Adults may relish the flavor as well, but they know that it scores big nutrition points too. For class we made a soup using a few winter squash that could easily double as a puree - sitting under a roasted chop or grilled chicken or even stirred into pasta. There are surprisingly few steps and ingredients involved in this preparation. Even so, it is packed with flavor and looks elegant enough to be an impressive dinner party starter.
When I went to the farmer's market to purchase the squash and pumpkin there were so many options. I ended up choosing several sugar pumpkins, kabocha squash (looks like a little black or deep orange pumpkin), in addition to the butternut variety. The resulting flavor from their combination was quite tasty. The kabocha was dense and flaky inside. It was more meaty than the sweeter creamy butternut squash. Together with the pumpkin, they each brought something different to the soup. You can use whatever variety you wish, but the best way to insure a balanced finished product is to combine several types together. This is a recipe that can be completed quickly and it permits much leeway in measurements. It's really hard to mess it up.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND PUMPKIN SOUP
3-4 medium squash or sugar pumpkins - various varieties combined 1 leek trimmed of green parts 2 medium carrots 2 stalks celery 1 clove garlic ½ cup olive oil 2 tbsp. honey (optional) 2 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped 1 quart vegetable or chicken broth 1 cup half and half or milk (optional) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread half of the oil onto a baking sheet large enough to hold the vegetables.
Cut the squash and pumpkin in half and remove the seeds. Wash the outside and inner parts. Rub the remaining olive oil over the inside cavity and season with salt and pepper.
Trim celery and peel carrots. Leave whole. Cut the leak in half, clean between the layers and dry it. Crush garlic clove with the side of a knife or your palm and leave it in the peel.
On an oiled baking sheet, place the squash and pumpkin, skin side up. Add the carrots, celery, leeks and garlic to the baking sheet and roll them on the baking sheet to cover them with a thin film of oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Bake the vegetables in 375 degree oven until they can be easily pierced with a fork and are tender - about a half hour. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool.
Scoop the flesh from the squash and pumpkin with a spoon or paring knife, removing the skin. The kids will happily eat whatever flesh is left behind. Cut the remaining vegetables into 2 inch pieces. Remove the garlic clove from the skin.
Add all of the vegetables and thyme to the bowl of a food processor or blender. While processing the vegetables, add the broth until it is all combined and smooth. If you want a thicker puree, add the broth incrementally until the consistency is correct. Taste for seasoning. (Alternately, you can add them directly to the pot and use an immersion blender)
Add the soup and honey to a large pot set at medium heat. Slowly add the half and half until you attain the texture you desire. Use less than a cup for a puree. Conversely, it can be thinned with more broth or water. Simmer soup for 10-15 minutes until it is hot and fragrant.
Serve with bread or croutons. Toppings could added, including bacon pieces, sour cream, soft cheese, grated hard cheese or herbs. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Have fun with it. It can be as casual or elegant as you like, And your kids can basically make the dish themselves, or so they will think.