Friday, October 24, 2008

Roasted Squash Soup

I might once have had a real recipe for this, but I've long since stopped using one. This makes it more difficult to write down because the recipe changes dramatically based on what I've got in the house and I eyeball the ingredients. If you've got the ingredients to hand, it's a simple, quick recipe to assemble and it doesn't take all day to cook. With the exception of roasting the squash ahead of time, I think I started making this around 5 and we ate at 6:30 (and could probably have eaten earlier). Most of that was cooking time, as opposed to prep time.

Squash dishes are often too sweet for me, so I've come to rely on spice in order to balance it. Now that we've got a little one sharing our dinner, I've swapped out the chipotle powder I normally used in this soup for, you guessed it, smoked paprika. Evan and I can then add a dash of chipotle to our own bowls (assuming that Elspeth doesn't insist on that whatever is in our bowl must be better).

I use whatever roasted squash we have on hand and this season I've ensured there is plenty! If it doesn't get turned into soup, it can be added to muffins or Elspeth will just eat it in chunks.

A mistake I often make with this soup and my Leek and Potato soup (to be posted later) is that I add too much water--one of the drawbacks of eyeballing everything. That can make the soup taste a little thin. The general rule is similar to that for the Hearty Lentil Soup: I try to add only enough water or stock so that the squash pieces are just covered. This ensures an unctuous (I love that word!) texture to the finished soup.

The soup will be pureed, so don't worry about cutting up any of the ingredients particularly finely.

A new innovation I hit upon in March 2009 is to use dried red lentils as my thickener instead of chickpeas. I add the red lentils at the same time as the squash and stock and cook according to the recipe. The lentils are a lovely color and distintegrate so that, when pureed, the soup is even more unctuous than in previous attempts.
INGREDIENTS
1 TBSP olive oil
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (I use my mini chopper for this)
1 onion OR 2 leeks, chopped (if desired--I think I might often season only with garlic)
1-2 tsp ground coriander (I feel this is the secret to the tastiness)
1-2 tsp ground cumin (I prefer to add slightly less cumin than coriander)
1-2 tsp smoked paprika OR
1/2-1 1/2 tsp chipotle powder depending on your spice preference
1/8-1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (I don't want a sweet soup, but I love adding a dash of cinnamon to savory dishes like this soup and chili)
3-5 large carrots, chopped or sliced into rounds (or an equivalent amount of smaller carrots)
1 roasted red, yellow or orange pepper, chopped (optional--last time I didn't use any)
Flesh of 2 small, or 1 medium or large roasted squash, in large chunks
Enough water or stock just to cover (a couple of quarts, maybe?)
2 cups or 1-2 cans cooked white beans or chickpeas depending on how beany you want it OR
1 cup dried red lentils, picked over and rinsed
Salt, pepper to taste
Champagne or cider vinegar to taste

I bet you could also add potatoes to this soup for thickening.

If you felt really ambitious, you could make a stock using the innards from your squashes (removed before roasting) plus the usual suspects of onion and/or leek, garlic, carrots, celery, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns and parsley). You could roast the squash seeds (pumpkin seeds taste best to me) and garnish the soup with them.

DIRECTIONS
  1. In a large soup pot (we use our 5 quart or 7.5 quart depending on how much squash we have), saute the garlic and onion/leeks (if using) in the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat until soft but not browned.
  2. Add the spices and cook another couple of minutes. I don't know if the flavors are really better using this technique, but I like to do it this way to let them bloom in the oil.
  3. Add the carrots and cook another minute or so
  4. Add the roasted pepper pieces (if using), squash, and water/stock and the dried red lentils if using
  5. Bring to a boil and then simmer until all the vegetables are nice and soft. I think I let this cook for 30 minutes to an hour.
  6. Puree the soup. I have an immersion blender, which makes things much easier, but you could do this in batches in a blender. However, if using a regular blender, I'd be tempted to make the soup a day ahead and cool without pureeing. Puree the cold soup and then simply reheat.
  7. Once the soup is pureed, add the cooked beans/chickpeas. You could certainly puree the beans along with the rest of the soup, but I like some chewy bits along with that unctuous texture I extolled earlier. You could also puree half the beans/chickpeas for thickening and save some out to add whole after.
  8. Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings. Cider vinegar was a great addition this last time.
  9. This soup goes especially well with Drop Biscuits. Sauteed greens are an excellent side dish. I sometimes plop them in my soup bowl.
A note about beans: we had some fresh shelling beans from our CSA so I used those. Instead of cooking them separately and adding them whole, I decided simply to add them at the same time as the squash and water. This shortcut worked well and produced a completely smooth soup.

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