Guest Post by Tracy Rud, Author of Sea Beggar
Winter squash is popular in New England where I grew up. You can do so much to dress up a basic squash: butternut squash risotto, acorn squash baked with butter and brown sugar. It’s a complete and hearty feast on a chilled winter day.
Years ago there was a well-known restaurant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire called the Blue Strawberry, the brainchild of noted chef James Haller. Nestled on a side street down by the harbor, I remember the ambiance being as wonderful as the food. The table settings were an eclectic selection of odd pieces of treasured china and flatware, some old, some new. The dining area was intimate and seated a maximum of 50 at full capacity. It breathed the casual elegance that I still love about Portsmouth, and even as an awkward teen I never felt out of place there.
The Blue Strawberry had a fixed menu, but the only courses I remember from that night were the appetizer and the dessert. I’ll get to the dessert in a couple of minutes, but first I want to share with you the wonderful appetizer that I totally fell in love with–butternut squash soup.
It was a perfect blend of rich, creamy goodness and fragrant spice that was neither too hot nor overwhelmingly herbal. It was totally out of character for me to enjoy such a dish (teenager, burger and fries a staple, helllooooo!) but enjoy it I did. And I was thrilled to get The Blue Strawberry Cookbook for Christmas that year, until I noticed the sub-title: “Cooking (Brilliantly) without Recipes.” NOOOOOO! How could I ever replicate that beloved squash soup without a recipe?!
I desired the soup so much that I had to try. The cookbook told me the basic ingredients of “any great cream soup” are butter, leeks, and cream. To that, I could add any vegetable, and recommended wine or salty stock for the liquid. I could spice my soup with whatever my “imagination could conjure up” such as the typical herbs and spices, plus flavors like chocolate, ginger, saffron, and orange. Chocolate and butternut squash? Nah. But I followed the basic recipe and got a little creative with the spices. I’ve made the soup several times over the years and it’s been pretty consistent.
The general recipe follows, but this is where you can get creative. The first time I made the soup I added spices that were orange because I thought they would blend nicely with the color of the squash! If I had saffron I would have used it. Look around your pantry for unique flavors. I wonder how a little truffle oil might work, or a nip of brandy? And chives could enhance the flavor of the leeks, or you can sprinkle them on top with a dollop of sour cream.
To serve hot, I blend the soup in a blender or use a handheld mixer on low. I add a thick slice of homemade bread for a complete meal. I’m not comfortable winging it with every recipe, but I’ve discovered it’s hard to go wrong with a cream soup.
As for dessert that night at the Blue Strawberry, it was a plate of large, succulent strawberries with a mound each of sour cream and brown sugar for dipping. Simple. Elegant. Creative. Delicious.
- 1 stick of butter
- 2 leeks, chopped
- 1 medium butternut squash cut into 1-2 inch cubes
- 1 quart of heavy cream or half and half, depending on your taste
- 1 cup dry white wine—I like chardonnay but you can use lighter whites such as sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, or even something a little sweet like marsala
- 1 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- ½ tsp. white pepper
- 1 tsp. parsley
- 1 tsp. tarragon
- perhaps a pinch of cumin, cayenne pepper and paprika or [br]other flavors you have on hand such as maple syrup, truffle oil, brandy or chives.
- In a large pot, melt the butter.
- Add leeks and sauté until soft.
- Add squash cubes, cream and wine.
- Simmer until the squash is soft.
- Add spices during simmering.
- Serve warm with your choice of simple garnish
Tracy Rud is constantly looking for ways to introduce more veggies to her picky palate. When not writing technical documents for clients, she writes fiction and is currently working on the sequel to her pirate novel, SEA BEGGAR (Nightbird Publishing, 2010). Tracy has always been interested in spinning a yarn, from a good joke to a good adventure. Growing up on the New England coast and now spending as much time as possible on Cape Cod and the Florida coast has provided many story backdrops, and fuels Tracy’s fondness for pirates and tales of the sea. Visit her website at www.tracyrud.com, and join her on Facebook.
Val’s Note: Y’all be sure to give Tracy a warm, creative veggie welcome! Besides a great writer, she’s a great friend of mine. And remember that everyone who comments is entered into a random drawing to win one of several great foodie books this month! Increase your odds by sharing via the Rafflecopter link below. Thanks!