Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

winter squash

Maple Acorn Squash Soup Makes an Elegant Start to Thanksgiving

Warm Up Thanksgiving with This Exceptional Soup Recipe

In the cooler months, my kitchen counter is permanently decorated with an array of winter squashes. Hubbard, acorn, butternut, pumpkin, turban – whatever I can find at the grocery store or farmers’ market. They serve the dual purpose of appealing to my aesthetic senses as well as fueling my appetite for seasonal cooking. All winter squashes shine especially brightly in soups, which magnify their flavor and color intensity and smooth texture beautifully.  Thankfully, the heirloom varieties (my current favorite is Hubbard) are increasingly available. Lately, I’ve been roasting Hubbard squash, halved and skin-side down in a hot oven (425F) until very soft. Once cool, I mash the flesh with a splash of salt and pepper, cinnamon, perhaps a bit of maple syrup and a pat of butter. It has an exquisite bright orange color and possesses deep, rich winter squash flavor.  With a sauteed filet of salmon or cod, it makes a complete and very satisfying meal.

The acorn squash in this soup is treated similarly and finished with minimalist ingredients so the clean, earthy squash flavor takes center stage.  The maple syrup is cooked into the soup with just a few more ingredients and the elegance of shallots and a tiny bit of cream. It is pureed to a velvety finish with an immersion blender or a food processor. Because it is so elegant, delicious, seasonal, and just the right, light weight, it is the perfect way to kick off any special meal, especially Thanksgiving. The reverence and gratitude associated with Thanksgiving make soup the perfect starter – a slow and easy debut that gives you and your guests time to sink their hearts and minds into the occasion, pausing for reflection and slow sipping as they go. It also gives the turkey and the cook a little much needed time to rest before the gigantic feast begins.

This Maple Acorn Squash Soup from  Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith) was inspired by the maple syrup and butter-filled acorn squash halves my mother made often for my brothers and sisters when we were children. Do use real maple syrup. It makes a huge difference in the authenticity of the soup’s flavor.

Maple Acorn Squash Soup – Photograph by Alexandra DeFurio from Mashed by Holly Herrick. Reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith.

Maple Acorn Squash Soup

(Yields 6 to 8 Servings)

2 large acorn squash, halved horizontally and seeded

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large shallot, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and halved vertically

Generous pinch of kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons bourbon (optional but delicious!)

4 cups low sodium vegetable stock

1 cup water

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons real maple syrup

2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons heavy cream

3 tablespoons finely chopped chives

Preheat oven to 425F (22oC). Place the acorn squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Roast for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the flesh is very tender. Set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle,  scoop the flesh from the interior of the squash, discarding the shells. You should have about 4 cups.

In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and celery and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until just softened. Add the ginger, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and bourbon; stir to combine. Cook until the bourbon has reduced to a glaze, about 3 minutes. Add the stock, water, squash, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil over high and reduce to a simmer, cooking, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove ginger pieces and discard.

In the same pot, puree the soup with an immersion blender until very smooth. Finish with the cream, heating through. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve hot in individual soup bowls garnished with a flutter of fresh chives. (Note: The soup can be prepared ahead a day or 2 and refrigerated, but remember to add the cream and the chives when reheating, not prior).

 

Wishing everyone a beautiful, happy and delicious Thanksgiving!

Holly

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