I am a terrible recipe-tweaker. I have to admit I spend a lot of time reading recipes for inspiration but when I get in the kitchen, I’m like a rebellious teenager, blasting loud music in the form of splashes of cumin and rock salt.
Take, for example, the classic butternut squash soup. A staple of my cold-weather table, I never quite make it the same way twice. If there are apples in the kitchen I might toss those in the pot, maybe the base will have carrots, or potatoes, depending on what’s in the pantry. Ameretto crumbles make a lovely garnish. And can we please forget the time I made curried squash soup when I had a cold, and I kept adding more curry paste because I couldn’t taste it. Thank goodness I realized the error before I burned the tongues off my twelve dinner guests.
However, I think by not following recipes to the letter I can also miss out on things. There is, after all, a reason why great chefs do things the way they do, and sometimes a very simple technique can make the world of difference. I had clipped a recipe by the notoriously-picky Thomas Keller for butternut squash soup, and I would follow it.
I was a good soldier, I roasted, I simmered, I peeled those annoying squash necks. The recipe calls for homemade vegetable stock, and luckily I had some of my own in the freezer. And the result? Divine. Wonderfully flavorful and deceptively simple. I sat down with my soup on the second day and thought, “this is my best soup yet.” I won’t deviate anymore, although maybe next time I’ll just add some...
Buternut Squash Soup
adapted from Thomas Keller
3 to 3 1/2 lbs butternut squash
2 tbl olive oil
salt and fresh black pepper
2 sage sprigs
1 cup thinly sliced leeks
1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
3/4 cup thinly sliced small shallots
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
6 cups vegetable stock
a bouquet garni of 2 thyme sprigs, 2 flat parsley stalks, 2 bay leaves, a few peppercorns
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cut off the necks of the squash, then cut the bodies in half and scoop out the seeds. Brush the halves with a little bit of oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet and roast until very tender, about 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel and chop the squash necks, you should have about 3-4 cups of squash. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pot. Add the leeks, carrots, and shallots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the squash and garlic, some salt and pepper, and cook another 3 minutes. Add the stock and bouquet garni, bring to a simmer and cook until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes.
- While the soup is simmering, scoop the flesh from the roasted squash halves. Add the flesh to the pot and let the soup simmer another 30 minutes. Remove from heat and puree the soup until very smooth.
- Serving options:
creme fraiche, crispy sage leaves, browned butter, or chives