For someone who so relishes the cooking and consuming of food, it may come as a surprise that I was once a picky eater. While the rest of my family chowed down on spaghetti and meat sauce, I’d twirl my strands of buttered noodles seasoned with Kraft Parmesan and Mrs. Dash. I refused to eat the skins of chicken nuggets, forcing my parents to follow a greasy (and often finger-scalding) ritual each time we visited McDonald’s. (They would have ordered me a hamburger, but I despised those, too.) When I was five, I told my mom I hated three things: green bean casserole, Satan, and meatloaf—in that order. At age seven, I sent back a Chi-Chi’s hot dog that arrived at the table with suspicious black lines (grill marks). And, at the pinnacle of my picky eating, I refused to eat the hot dog a babysitter prepared for me because she microwaved it for 25 seconds, not 18.
I was in high school before peer pressure forced me to expand my palate. No one wants to be the weird girl who still picks every single topping off her pizza, or the one who asks her new friend’s mom if she can use a chicken bouillon cube to season her Oodles of Noodles in lieu of the included packet. And at some point my parents decided they shouldn’t have to puree the chili beans of a girl with a driver’s license. (To which I say, touché.)
These days, I’m willing to try anything once. But the bar for what I consider “good food” is still quite high. We’ve stopped eating at most chain restaurants because the food is constantly overcooked, the sauces over-salted, and experience overpriced. (“You could make this better at home” is basically Jason’s restaurant mantra.) The recipes I try at home don’t always cut it, either—which brings us to the creation of this soup.
Butternut squash soup has become my culinary white whale. I’ve tried a different recipe each fall for the last six years. Some had cinnamon croutons; others were rich with cream and cheese. However, every one was a disappointment. I voiced my frustration to a coworker one September, who shrugged and offered the following logical advice: “Why don’t you make something else?” Because I want this soup, dammit. And now, I’m pleased to say, I’ve found it.
The secret (if you want to call it that) is shockingly simple. Use few ingredients and draw as much flavor from them as possible. Thus the squash and garlic are roasted, the onions slightly caramelized, and the resulting puree seasoned with nothing but salt and pepper. Despite the creamy consistency, there’s no dairy to dull the taste—save the barest drizzle of heavy cream added only as food for the eyes. My childhood self would have loathed it—which is perhaps the most accurate gauge of truly good food.
Butternut Squash Soup with Crunchy Rosemary Topping | Serves 4-6
For the soup:
- 1 large butternut squash
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 small red onion, skin removed and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (learn how to make your own here)
- Salt and white pepper*, to taste
- Heavy cream, for garnish
For the crunchy rosemary topping:
- Reserved squash seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
*Black pepper is fine, but it will leave your soup slightly speckled. If you have white pepper on hand, this is a good time to use it.
Preheat oven to 400°. Peel squash and cut in half, top to bottom. Scoop out seeds and set aside. Cut squash into 3/4 inch pieces and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Toss with olive oil and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Wrap garlic cloves, skin on, tightly in foil and add to the baking sheet. Bake for one hour, tossing once or twice.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add onions and sauté over medium-low heat until translucent and barely golden, 25-35 minutes. Transfer to a blender.
Thoroughly rinse reserved squash seeds and scrub dry on a kitchen towel. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and toss seeds with rosemary and salt. When the squash and garlic have finished roasting, transfer the pan of seeds to the 400° oven and bake 3-5 minutes, watching closely, until lightly toasted. (Mine started snapping like popcorn around the five-minute mark, which is when I promptly removed them!)
One the garlic foil packet is cool enough to handle, carefully unwrap the cloves; the roasted garlic should slip easily from the skins. Transfer the garlic, roasted squash, and any liquid from the baking sheet to the blender. Pour chicken or vegetable stock over the vegetables, being careful not to exceed the “maximum fill” line. Blend until completely smooth. (Because the mixture will be hot, I recommend using your blender’s pulse button, removing the lid every few pulses so the steam can escape. This prevents pressure from building up and causing a butternut explosion all over your kitchen.)
Return soup to saucepan and add any remaining stock. If the soup is thicker than you’d like, add some water, 1/4 cup at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Turn burner to medium and allow soup to warm through. Taste and season with salt and white pepper.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls and drizzle with heavy cream. Gently sprinkle the crunchy rosemary topping in the center of the bowl and serve immediately.