August and September are busy months for me. I had no idea. I wanted to write and tell you about all the wonderful dishes and jams I have been making with free fruit, farmers’ market bounty and my parents’ incredible gift of 10 dozen jars, but I haven’t had time! This past weekend I spent the better part of both days hunched over boiling fruit — I think I have had my fill of canning for a while. (Remind me that I said that, often, please.) The rewards are many: our cupboards are overflowing and the flavor combinations I discovered are keepers (and I am quite pleased with myself, if I do say so), but I would like to go back to a schedule that allows time to read and cook better (well, more intricate) dinners than sliced tomatoes with salt and corn on the cob. Not to mention that I would like more time to write! I miss posting recipes.
September marked the first anniversary of cook.can.read (hooray!) and was highlighted by a thrilling, fun, rare visit from my parents. We explored and ate and took day trips and hung out; I baked with my Mom and picked blackberries with my Dad. After they left, I kicked into jamming gear, with an office full of peaches, pears, apples, plums and tomatoes to use, fast. When I looked up from my busyness, I realized that it is October, maybe my favorite month of the year. October means warm days and crisp nights, and nights when we eat crisp. I can wear sweaters and flip flops. October means plentiful and affordable squash and pumpkins in every shape, color and flavor you can imagine, which I incorporate into dinner whenever possible. I was very excited Sunday afternoon to make my first squash soup of the year, and it was a doozy. I decided to jump into squash season with both feet, and so I made a butternut squash soup with bacon, garnished with crumbled bleu cheese.
Sweet, salty bacon and pungent bleu cheese highlight the slightly sweet, creamy, smooth texture of butternut squash so well. You could use a different squash and have equally delicious results– a red kuri gives such a nice texture and nutty flavor– but I think butternut is just right. You can certainly make this a vegetarian dish by replacing chicken stock with vegetable and removing the bacon; just use a splash of canola or grapeseed oil to brown your onions. You may want to add a pinch of smoked paprika to mimic the lovely smoky flavor bacon provides, and that would be a welcome flavor in the non-vegetarian version, too. The best part is that a short ingredient list and relatively little effort produce a meal to be savored; it smells good, looks pretty and tastes amazing. Serve this comforting soup with homemade biscuits or hearty bread, with a pickle or two on the side. Growing up, we always had pickles on the table when we had chowder or stew, and this dinner was somehow even better with one of my just-jarred horseradish half-sours on the side. Happy fall, everyone! Thanks for making the first year of this blog so much fun for me. I appreciate every single one of you times a million. If I could, I would make you a bowl of this soup right now.
Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon & Bleu Cheese (serves 4)
- 3-4 slices of thick-cut bacon
- 1/2 c. diced onion
- 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 medium to large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
- 4 c. chicken stock
- 1/2 c. whole milk*
- crumbled bleu cheese to garnish
In a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat, cook the bacon to your preferred doneness– I like the fat to be rendered but not for the bacon to be too dark. When it’s where you want, remove the bacon slices to a cooling rack set on a plate or cutting board to catch the drips. Pour off any excess fat until you’re left with about 2 T. drippings in the pan, as well as all the good brown bits left from the bacon. Add the onion to the pot and stir, cooking quickly until the onion begins to soften and become opaque. Add the thyme and stir; if your ingredients are sticking, splash a few tablespoons of stock in and use a wooden spoon to scrape those good brown bits off the bottom That’s the flavor, mmm, and the base of your soup should smell delightful right now.
Add the cubed squash to the pot and allow it to cook for a few mins. with the onions and thyme. Don’t worry too much about the size of the squash pieces, since the soup will be blended, but they should be 2-3″ cubes for the most efficient cooking. (Also, don’t be too concerned with how many cups of squash you have– this recipe easily adapts to anywhere from about 4-6 c. It’s very forgiving.) After 3-4 mins., add the broth to the pan and allow the soup to come to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 35-40 mins., until the squash is soft enough to be mashed with the back of your wooden spoon. Now you have choices: for a rustic soup, use your spoon or a potato masher to crush the squash. For a smooth consistency, remove the pot from the heat and use an immersion blender to puree, or *carefully* transfer soup to a blender or food processor to blend. Carefully. Carefully. Return the soup to the heat, chop your reserved bacon and add it to the pot, mix and taste for seasoning, adding salt & pepper as you please. Pour the milk in and stir to combine; add more milk if you prefer a thinner consistency. Slowly heat over low heat until the soup is warmed through; don’t let it come to a boil. Ladle into bowls and crumble a tablespoon or so of bleu cheese over the top to garnish; serve warm. Pat yourself on the back for a soup well done.
*You can use cream if you like but I really find whole milk sufficient here, since the squash itself is so creamy.