[I'm getting into the groove of things with the kiddos. That means I'm starting to feel capable of doing slightly more than just surviving. I made chicken stock again the other day - first time in a while. One thing led to another and before I knew it, bam: Creamy Roasted Winter Squash Soup.]
When it comes to food Fall has to be my favorite time of year, even if it’s for no reason other than root vegetables and winter squash being in-season. Those two categories of veggies are so flavorful and yet so underrated. And when it comes to preparation, there really isn’t much you need to do other than roast them with some herbs. Hence how I was able to whip up this recipe while barely understanding how to corral two kids at home.
In addition to the new foods, fall also boasts many opportunities to eat with a crowd (including my personal favorite holiday, now just around the corner: Thanksgiving). Of course, when eating in packs you must undertake to cook for large groups of people. This can be overwhelming, but done right it doesn’t have to be. There is a lot of advice out there on how to succeed in this, with quick tips, ideas, how to cut corners, etc, but it all boils down to a couple of points:
First, keep it simple. Cook what you (sorta) know. Avoid cooking with ingredients on game day that you’ve never before prepared. This goes doubly when it comes to using new cooking methods. That huge family breakfast probably isn’t the best opportunity to try your hand at the souffle. Do something you know you can do, and find ways to turn it up a notch or two (like longer marinating times, hunting down better/fresher ingredients, using homemade chicken stock instead of the store bought you usually use on less important occasions, etc).
Second, try to do as much ahead of time as possible. So many side dishes can be prepared a day or two in advance. Likewise for sauces and marinades. And lets not forget punches. Why pour individual drinks when you can make a bowl of delicious punch the night before? (And yes, make it at night so you can test it – a lot – without the guilt of drinking during the day). Remember, the drunker your guests, the better your cooking (seems).
In honor of the season, here’s a recipe you can start sharpening now in hopes of having yourself ready for the fall celebration of your choice later (Oktoberfest? Halloween?). And honestly, even if you don’t practice it, this one can be made in advance and is incredibly simple to execute, so it might not even matter if you break that first rule of feeding a crowd.
Creamy Roasted Winter Squash Soup:
Winter squash soup is your friend (pumpkin, butternut, acorn, etc). It can be made two days ahead, involves very little smarts and just screams fall. Most important, it gets served first and helps begin the filling up (and quieting down) of your hungry guests right away. The whole thing is blended, and done right is delicious.
2 Slices of Bacon, chopped;
4 Winter Squash (Pumpkin, Acorn, Butternut, etc);
1 Onion, chopped;
2 Carrots, peeled and chopped;
1 Apple, peeled and chopped;
1 Shot of Bourbon or Brandy;
4 Cups of Homemade Chicken Stock;
1 Cup Whole Milk or Cream;
Coarse Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper to taste;
1 TBS Fresh Parsley, chopped, for garnish; and
Fresh grated Parmesan Cheese to top.
Roast the Squash (can do ahead of time):
Decide on the type of winter squash combination you like. I’d avoid going 100% acorn squash, since it isn’t as sweet or flavorful alone as are the others. Butternut and pumpkin squash are my favorites. The recipe that follows assumes 4 whole squash (for which you’d need about one cup of chicken stock per squash). If your going the pumpkin route, choose the small softball-sized pumpkins that are generally used for making pies (I’ve seen them called “sugar pumpkins before). Whatever you choose, proceed as follows:
Cut the squash in half (vertically for acorn and butternut, from stem to bum; horizontally around the circumference for pumpkin), remove seeds. Oil the cut-side rims of the squash, salt the insides modestly, and place cut-side down on a tin foil covered baking sheet.
Roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 50 minutes, or until fork tender. This can be done a day in advance, and may take roasting in batches.
Brown the Aromatics:
While the squash are cooling, in a large stockpot add the chopped bacon and then bring the heat up to medium. Once the bacon is cooked, remove and set aside, leaving the bacon grease in the pan. In the grease, saute a chopped onion, two chopped carrots over med-high heat until the onions are translucent and the carrots begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Right about the time the carrots are beginning to brown, add one chopped and peeled apple.
Once cooked, toss in a shot of bourbon or brandy to strip the pan of the yummy bits using a wooden spoon. Cook the booze for a few minutes, at least until the alcohol smell is gone. Set pot aside until the squash is ready.
Combine, Blend and Simmer:
Once the squash are cool enough to handle, use a fork or spoon to scrape out the flesh. Add flesh into your pot with your browned aromatics.
Add enough chicken stock to cover (about 4 cups).
Using a stick blender (or working in batches in a regular blender), blend the whole thing to a creamy consistency. Return to a low simmer for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.
Before serving (since you can make it ahead of time), return to a simmer and then add a cup of whole milk or cream and stir until completely incorporated. Salt and pepper to taste (about two TBS coarse salt and 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper should do it for this size batch). Garnish with parsley if you’d like. I’ve also garnished with spicy toasted pumpkin seeds, but that’s more work. You can also garnish with that cooked bacon from the first step (if you haven’t already eaten the cooked bits throughout the process). Grate some parmesan cheese to top it off.
Serve with beer. Because why not? Enjoy!