A Week of Thanksgiving: Garden Bounty

Although for many, if not most, Thanksgiving is long since gone I am still reflecting on it, making all my notes for next year, and sharing my insights. Of all the things that I was thankful for this year on my Thanksgiving table this soup is one that holds a special place for me. Now, I am not a huge soup lover and puréed vegetable soups can sometimes be unpleasant but this Butternut Squash Soup was a winner on many levels. 

First off were the squash themselves. Many may know, but if not, my husband and I are, I guess some would say, avid gardeners. This years bounty was a bit of hit and misses but one that was a hit were our two butternut squash plants. Although the squash never got large there are dozens in the end, more than I knew what to do with. Before thanksgiving I did a dinner that used them with homemade tortellini and I still had what looked like a mountain of them. My butternut squash soup is something I have been doing for 17 years. Funny thing is every year I mess with is some more.

This year I started off with squash from the garden. There’s something about cooking with something you grew that makes it all that much more special. Typically in the past the squash gets split in half and the seed removed. You then roast that with the apples and onions. You then finish it off by cooing it with stock and puréeing it and seasoning it. The original recipe called for garnishing the soup with chopped pistachios and minced fresh sage leaves.

Over time the recipe evolved and I started used fried sage leaves, which if you’ve never had them they are a revelation. They crumble with ease and impart a lovely flavor as you’re eating. Even with a few tweaks over the years I felt like the presentation was lacking as well. One thing I tried was finding much smaller bowls. Since this is a starter course for the meal I don’t want a lot of soup maybe 4-5 ounces or so. Last year I even served the soup in stemless martini glasses which actually worked out really well but I still didn’t feel like I was hitting the mark with it.

One of the issues I have had with this soup is after roasting everything at 450º f for 1 hour the apples are mush and have disintegrated into nothing, the onions are burnt, and the squash has to cool for quite some time to be able to scoop the flesh out of the peel. This lead me to the thought: Why not peel the squash first and dice everything up to the same size so that it roasts more evenly. This was a sound theory but before I could even get there I had discovered both Joule and a cookbook Sous Vide at Home: The Modern Technique for Perfectly Cooked Meals at Home. In it she has all sorts of Thanksgiving dishes and one of them is a butternut squash soup. What I loved about this recipe was that you cube everything up into equal size piece, put it in ziplock bags, add the stock, and cook it in the sous vide bath. No more scorching on the bottom of the pan and another thing I can get off the stove.

The biggest benefit is that you can make these soup bags ahead of time, heck you could even freeze them, and then cook them in the sous vide water bath as needed. This allowed me to make up one bag with two servings. I made several of these which get me delicious soup freshly cook each day I wanted to serve it. Just pop it in the water bath, get it nice and hot, then pour the contents into a blender as a little seasoning and the soup is ready! The more I thought about this I then gave it a few tweaks. First I roasted my diced squash because I really enjoy that flavor. Once it cooled I added it to the bags. Then I grated the apples and added them to the bags. This allowed me the get a nice bright, fresh, and tart flavor. This soup went from being one dimensional to really coming alive.

I still did my fried sage leaves since but my husband and I love this topping but I again wanted some height and drama. I wanted something that could add height and interest. That’s when it hit me. Thin slices of sweet potato deep fried until crisp. To achieve this I used a vegetable peeler. Then something funny happened. As we were eating it we both immediately took to the fried strips of potato. So much so that we were dipping them into the soup and eating it that way. Then it hit me. Why not make this a “Chips and Dip” rather than some snooty pureed soup with an elaborate topping. So to make this change was simple. Noting changes with the soup but both portions go into one bowl. Then instead of strips use my Benriner (a Japanese mandoline) to make thin chips. Serve it with a giant pile of chips. In short this didn’t change just a few tweaks and now this is something fun and different. It feels more casual and I mentally have a much more accessible way to approach it! If you had some way to keep a bowl warm for a long period of time and put a basket of these chips next to the bowl I am guessing it would get scarfed up in no time!

This soup taught me to be thankful for all that my garden provides and sometimes happy accidents lead to fantastic ideas!

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