Who doesn’t love winter squash soup? It is savory yet sweet, warming yet light. It makes a wonderful first course, to be followed by a roast, or a light supper after too many hearty holiday meals…
My version of this soup is extremely easy:
- 1 kilo (2 lbs) winter squash (see Notes)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 liter (4 cups) broth, preferably homemade, or water
- 250ml (1 cup) heavy cream
- Salt and pepper
- Butter and/or olive oil
Take the winter squash of your choice, cut into wedges and seeded, and roast the wedges on a baking sheet in a hot oven for about 30-45 minutes, until perfectly tender. (You can check them the same way you check potatoes: by sticking a paring knife into the flesh; if you can remove the knife and the squash stays put, then it is done.) Don’t worry if the edges are a bit browned—that adds flavor and character. Remove from the oven and allow to cool off a bit.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, make a soffritto by sautéing a finely chopped onion in butter (or butter and a bit of oil) until translucent and quite tender. (Adding a pinch or salt and a spoonful of water helps things along and prevents browning.) Scoop out the squash flesh with a spoon and add to the soffritto. Allow the squash to simmer gently for several minutes to absorb the flavors of the butter and onions, stirring often. The squash should become even softer and basically ‘melt’ in the pan into a kind of mush. Then add broth to cover and simmer for about 10 minutes or so.
Pass the squash and broth through a food mill, using the finest mesh disk, into a mixing bowl. Leave behind any fibers and bits of skin. You should have a perfectly smooth and even purée. Add that back into the saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer. Add heavy cream (or milk if you’re counting calories or cholesterol), enough to thin out the purée into a beautiful, velvety consistency. Simmer for a minute or two more, so that the cream ‘melds’ with the squash purée, and serve.
You can top your winter squash soup with croutons, some finely chopped herbs, grated parmesan cheese and/or a drizzle of olive oil.
This method will work with just about any winter squash including, of course, butternut squash. For this dish, I used a winter squash I found at a local Asian market labeled as ‘calabaza’, which is Spanish for squash but obviously was some rather specific varietal that I had not come across before. It made for lovely eating, I must say.
While the initial roasting of the squash is not absolutely necessary, I find that it concentrates and accents the flavor of the squash. Winter squashes, as I have mentioned before, can be a bit bland and often need a little ‘help’.
There are lots of variations you can try here, mostly involving various herbs and spices that one can add to the soup. One variation I especially like is to add a spoonful or so of curry powder to the soffritto. It lends savoriness and just the vaguest hint of spiciness to the dish. Some recipes for winter squash soup call for a potato, which is surely meant to smooth out the texture, but I find this unnecessary. Instead of onion, you can substitute leek or shallot.
By the way, the word crema in Italian means a soup of pureed vegetable. It refers to the texture of the soup and not to the presence of cream. (The word for cream in Italian is panna.) In fact, many creme are made without any cream at all, just broth; this one can, too, and can be ‘veganized’ simply by using vegetable broth. But I find that cream just naturally goes with winter squashes—it adds to their sweetness and lightens their color and smooths out their texture—so I can never resist adding it to my winter squash soup.