I have been talking a lot recently about the end of summer. Get the last great bbq done, Labor day cook-offs and so on. And of course, in Los Angeles, fall doesn’t exist as it does in New England. This time of year, New Englanders get excited about fall. Cooler evenings, apple picking, looking for the perfect pumpkin, the foliage in the Berkshires and Vermont. The changing of the seasons is always an amazing thing.
For chefs, that means we get to change menus. Instead of the summer stone fruits and berries, we begin looking toward squashes, apples, and heartier things. Pork braised in apple cider, osso bucco in a rich red wine and mushroom sauce. And my personal favorite, butternut squash bisque.
I love making the bisque, I love eating the bisque, but what really gets me is other people’s reactions to the bisque. In restaurants, I used to make a very thick version and use it as a base sauce, and pile sauteed mushrooms, greens like tat-soi, and seared smoked fish on top. Garnish with pomegranate seeds. It never missed.
The soup is not hard, but entails more steps than, let’s say, chicken soup. The squash is roasted first (flavor building), and the soup is made in a series of reductions (flavor layering) and is finished via puree and strain. In reality, most cream based or bisque style soups are made this way, which is why we let restaurants make them.
For you New Englanders, of those of you who love butternut squash bisque, or have never tried it and are curious, here you go:
Butternut Squash Bisque
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 2 hours
Makes 10 portions
10 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cut into 2 in pieces
2 yellow onion, rough chop
2 stalks celery, rough chop
1 carrot, rough chop
prepared vegetable or chicken stock
2 qt heavy cream
1 750 ml bottle of dry sherry
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
cracked black pepper
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
4 leaves sage
2 sprigs of thyme
Heat an oven to 400 degrees. Evenly coat the squash in the oil, salt and pepper and roast until tender and slightly colored. Let drain.
In a heavy bottom stock pot, begin sweating the onion, carrot and celery in a little oil. Season with salt and pepper. Do not color. When fragrant and translucent, add the roasted squash and continue to cook. Increase heat to high and add the sherry and vinegar (acid is great contrast to the sweet squash). Reduce by 1/2. Cover with stock, reseason and reduce by 1/2 again. Add the cream and dry spices and cook until slightly reduced. Puree, either with an emersion blender, or in batches in a bar blender. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove all grit. Reseason. If soup is too think, add additional stock. If too thin, return to the stove and reduce, slowly, until desired consistency. Serve.
My favorite garnishes would be a dollop of creme fraiche, fresh parmesan croutons, pomegranate seeds, chives or micro greens (chefs blend).
This soup will not only warm you on a cool fall day, but it will also warm your soul.