Late fall in Portland begs for soup. It pleads for steaming bowls, big spoons and a leisurely dinner spent slurping. It commands us to spend extra time and care in front of a hot stove, stirring, smelling, tasting until we achieve, night after night, the perfect blend of warmth and silky satisfaction.
It’s the wet and the cold and the drafty windows that do it. The chill brings bone-numbing shivers, demanding that we pull out the raincoats and the rain boots and the umbrellas (for the non-natives). It makes us run inside to bars, coffee shops, movie theaters and creative combinations of the three. It causes us to complain, but it also makes us stronger.
Lest we forget, it’s the long months of rain that bring us the red and the yellow of carrots and squash and apples demanding to be transformed into comfort. It’s the long months of rain that bring us rows upon rows of hearty winter greens, the mysterious stalks of Brussels sprouts and the fractal beauty of romanesco.
If we can brave the soaked markets and the puddle-filled parking lots, it is with pleasure that we should take a few more minutes to roast that squash, caramelize that onion and stew those greens, melding all of these wonderful autumnal flavors to create a bowl of goodness more special than even the sum of its parts.
Take first, for example, warm cabbage salad (for which I am eternally indebted to Heidi Swanson):
Bitter, raw, crunchy vegetables take a warm dip in oil, vinegar, raisins and spices to emerge just ever so wilted, ever so sweetened, ever so royal.
Or next, pile warm stewed kale on top of a thick slab of homemade toast and drench with the runny yolk of a just-cooked over easy egg (oh, Orangette, you are so very wise):
Yet my favorite this November has been the bowls upon bowls of winter squash soup. I’ve made it with whatever orb strikes my fancy–pumpkin, butternut, acorn, delicata–stewed with everything from apples to sage to shallots, sometimes with water, sometimes with chicken stock, sometimes with leftover bean cooking liquid. I’ve found that the best soups come from a roasted squash, a single fresh herb profile, a bit of apple and a splash of acidity. The flavor lingers, complex but not overwhelming, and matches perfectly with all of the above.
Roasted Winter Squash Soup
Very loosely adapted from Serious Eats
Serves about 4, depending on sides
1 medium or a couple smaller winter squashes (I like the combination of acorn and delicata), cut in half with the seeds scraped out (save to roast for a snack!)
½ sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
about ¼ cup dry white wine
2 apples, on the tart side, cored and chopped
about a 1-inch segment of fresh ginger, smashed with the side of a kitchen knife
1 clove, stuck into the segment of ginger
about 6 cups chicken (or veggie) stock
pinch red chili flakes or cayenne pepper
juice of half a lemon
kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously salt the halves of squash, rubbing the salt into the flesh. Place on a baking sheet, cut side up, and roast for about 20-30 minutes (depending on size), until the tines of a fork can pierce the flesh easily.
Meanwhile, heat a good glug (about 1 tablespoon) of olive oil over medium heat in a good soup pot (I use my Le Cruset). Add the onion, sprinkle with salt, and sauté until softened. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, or until you can smell it. Add the wine and let it reduce until almost evaporated.
At this point, if the squash isn’t done, remove the pot from the heat. Once the squash is cooked, let it cool just until you can handle it without burning yourself (this has never happened to me…). Gently peel the skin away from flesh, trying not to smash up the soft squash all over the counter (again, never happened…). Cube the squash and add it to the soup pot along with the apples, ginger, clove and stock (I usually just add enough to cover all of the other ingredients. You can always add more back in at the end if the soup is too thick). Gently bring up to a simmer, cover, turn down the heat to low-ish and simmer until the apples are cooked all the way through.
Once everything is cooked to your liking, remove the pot from the heat and (carefully, in batches!) puree in a blender or food processor. (Make sure to only fill up your blender/processor about 1/3 of the way and make sure to blend slowly. You do not want a soup-covered kitchen–trust me. It helps to have another bowl or handy for your pureed soup. If you are lucky enough to have an immersion blender, use it!) After pureeing the last batch, return the soup to low heat. Add chili flakes/cayenne to taste, lemon juice and extra stock if the soup is too thick. Taste for seasoning and add salt if it needs it.
Serve with wilted salad, stewed greens or a grilled cheese sandwich.
Drink a hot toddy. Cuddle.