First off: don't forget to enter my giveaway for Bertolli Extra Light Tasting Olive Oil - it's open until Wednesday night! Now, on to the main event:
My partner for this month's Secret Recipe Club was Katrina, the writer of Baking and Boys. When I first looked at her blog, I was sure I was going to make one of her fabulous cookie recipes -- they all look really delicious! I was super tempted by Katrina's Lofthouse sugar cookies, surprise mint cookies, and chippy peanut butter cookies. Yum! However, after all the amazing food of Thanksgiving, I needed to detox a little bit and instead decided to make an amazing butternut squash soup. I was so glad I changed course, because this is one of the creamiest squash soups I have ever eaten! The texture was so velvety - I couldn't believe there was no cream, dairy, or cheese. And, although I used chicken stock, it would be very easy to make this recipe vegan with vegetable stock.
I made a few substitutions -- fennel for celery (I admit, I'm a celery-hater, though I know some of my readers are fennel-haters, so you can always sub the celery back in!), onion for shallot, and a sprig of rosemary simply because we had some leftover that I didn't want to go to waste. Upon typing up the recipe this morning, I also realized I completely left out the maple syrup! The soup was really delicious without it, but you can add a couple of tablespoons if you prefer a sweeter soup.
My favorite things about this soup were the details -- first and foremost the lemon zest. It sounds like a small element, but it added a terrific flavor to the soup and I was totally in love. The pepitas on top also added great crunch, and kept the pureed soup from feeling like baby food, which I think can sometimes be a problem with this type of soup. The color was also fantastic - using two large carrots made the soup a bright, vibrant orange, which you sometimes don't get with squash soups. Definitely a winner - thank you Katrina!
On the side: roasted brussels sprouts and bacon, homemade bread, and carrot-fennel salad (subbing mint for the herbs and adding golden raisins and almonds).
Butternut Squash Soup with Pepitas (adapted from Rachel Ray, via Baking and Boys)
1 small-to-medium butternut squash
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 bulb fennel, cored and chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 quart (4 cups) chicken stock
1 sprig rosemary
Zest of 1 lemon
Roasted, salted pepitas (hulled sunflower seeds), for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash into quarters, and scoop out the seeds -- no need to peel. Spray a foil-lined baking sheet with oil, and place the squash on the baking sheet cut-side-down. Roast until very soft -- mine took about 30 minutes, but timing will vary based on size and the particular squash. Remove from oven, and let cool until easy to handle without burning yourself.
2. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the carrots, fennel, and onion and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened, 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.
3. Pour in the chicken stock and add the rosemary sprig. Bring to a simmer.
4. Scoop the squash out of its skin, and add to the pot with the simmering vegetables. If you have time, simmer for 10 minutes or so all the flavors get nicely combined.
5. Remove the now-wilted rosemary sprig and add the lemon zest. Puree with an immersion blender (easiest) or in batches in a regular blender or food processor (be careful not to burn yourself!).
6. Serve topped with a generous sprinkle of pepitas. Leftovers reheat well -- just store the pepitas separately.