“Ever notice that Soup For One is eight aisles away from Party Mix?”
Soup humor. It never gets old.
I’ve always been in love with soup. Hot soup. Cold soup. Funny soup. It’s all good.
I’ve been making (and enjoying) this soup for a very long time. (The recipe printout I have tucked away in one of my recipe notebooks is dated 1998.) The source of the recipe is not clear. My printout says something about geo-cities and Napa Valley. So, thank you Napa Valley!
This soup, made with butternut squash rather than pumpkin, is beautiful. The color is a vibrant, warm orange. I’ve been sitting here trying to think how to describe the pretty orange color. I’ve decided that it is “Creamsicle Orange.” (Anyone else wax nostalgic about the orange creamsicles of yore? )
Cream, added to your taste after pureeing the soup, gives this soup an extra boost and a velvety texture. I’ve served it many times as a first course at dinner parties and I often enjoy a big bowl of the soup all by itself for dinner. Today, Tony, my handyman, and I enjoyed a steaming bowl of the soup as we discussed repair projects at my home.
Incidentally, I photographed this soup in a post-WWII-era soup tureen that belonged to my grandmother. I’m named after her. She was the most positive loving influence in my life. I inherited her china many years ago. The bottom of her china pieces identifies her pattern as “Victoria” made by Fuji China in “occupied Japan.” I was amazed to find pieces of her pattern on the Replacements, Ltd. site and I was able to make a complete set. I’ll never know how my grandmother came to have this set of china. A set of china of whatever quality would have been a huge extravagance.
But, I digress. Back to the soup and the butternut squash.
Here comes the history lesson. Winter squash, a new world native vegetable, is a member of the same family that gives us cucumbers and melons. According to food expert Harold McGee, winter squash was probably domesticated in the Americas around 5000 BCE. A number of varieties of squash developed over time and the forebearers to the butternut squash we eat today have been around in South and Central America for a very long time– typically with lots of seeds and little edible flesh.
Today’s fleshy butternut squash was developed in the 1940s in Massachusetts by a man named Charles A. Leggett whose primary occupation was selling insurance for the John Hancock Life Insurance Company. An illness in the family caused Leggett to buy a house in Stow, Massachusetts, with 94 acres of land. Leggett’s subsequent efforts to earn a little extra money growing corn were less than successful, and he turned his attention to growing squash. Looking for a profitable cash crop, Leggett crossed a gooseneck squash with other types of squash and eventually came up with the butternut. “Smooth as butter and sweet as a nut,” the butternut squash was born.
Leggett’s squash is good for you. It is rich in beta-carotene, magnesium, manganese, calcium and potassium. It is rich in dietary fiber. It is low fat, too. A cup of butternut squash has only 82 calories. Talk about a super food!
It is versatile, too. This sturdy squash holds its shape when sautéed but when cooked in soups can be pureed to a silky fine consistency. Roasted, the butternut takes on a rich sweetness. Steamed, it preserves most of its inherent nutrients. Because this squash is moderately sweet, it can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. This soup recipe, for example, is a wonderful example of the use of pureed butternut squash, but I also have had a spectacular chili with chunks of butternut mixed with the beans and spices. In writing this, I also came across references to butternut squash custards spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. I’ve put squash custard on my to-do list.
Then again, you could make a centerpiece out of it.
If, like me, you have a tendency to buy food ingredients in anticipation of cooking, something that may or may not happen quickly, butternut squash is a good deal. While it is at its peak in the fall, it lasts for months stored at around 55 degrees F. and kept dry. Choose a butternut that is heavy for its size and large. Heaviness is an indication of high moisture content. A large butternut is likely to have a more developed flavor. The squash you choose should also be hard. When nobody is looking, press your fingernail into the butternut’s flesh. If your fingernail penetrates the flesh, look for another squash. The one you’ve just tested is immature. (As it is with men, immaturity is not a good thing.)
So, make this soup even if you are the only guest at your table. You won’t regret it and your soup-for-one may just turn into a party.
Recipe: Israeli Pumpkin Soup
4 t. olive oil
2 lbs. butternut squash (peeled and chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
4 cloves garlic (peeled and chopped)
1 chile (seeded and chopped)
2 tomatoes (chopped)
8 C. vegetable broth
Salt and Pepper to taste
Cream (to your taste)
Paprika and Chopped Cilantro to Garnish
Heat olive oil in a large soup pot. Saute squash, onion, garlic and chile in hot oil until it just begins to brown. Add tomatoes and cook for 3-4 more minutes. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook for an hour until the solids in the soup are soft. Cool and puree. Add cream to your taste. Serve hot garnished with chopped cilantro and paprika.