What do you most crave when the season turns towards fall? Every household has its own traditions, rhythms, flavors and favorites but for us, nothing signals that autumn has arrived like a bowl of steaming butternut squash soup. When pumpkins start appearing on doorsteps and come morning when glistening gossamer webs decorate fenceposts and dewy patches of grass, I know it’s time for me to break out the cast iron enamel pot from the back of the cupboard and to get stirring. It’s been hibernating there all summer but now it’s time for soups and sauces again and it’s got a job to do.
Maybe this particular soup seems perfect because like it, everywhere you look here in late September parts of the landscape are slowly changing to muted yellows and golds. Gone now are the vibrant greens of summer. They’ve made way for ambering maple leaves, tawny stalks of cow corn in the fields, and flowerbeds filled with chrysanthemums in saffron hues. Even the schoolbuses buses match ths palette, a fleet of them fanning outwards from the local school every afternoon heading into increasingly tan-colored surroundings.
And of course squash and cauliflower are pretty easy to come by these days. Farmstands are bursting with them and weekends are full of festivals planned to pay hommage to these harvest vegetables. Whatever the case, whatever the season, whaterver the reason to make it, it tastes delicious. When I announced it was on the menu last night, my teenage son pumped his fist and exclaimed “Yes!” I took that as a good sign and kept stirring, feeling glad that fall had arrived and clanging the spoon extra loud on the side of the pot, the sound and the aroma filling the kitchen with yet more signs of of the season to come.
Autumnal Butternut Squash and Cauliflower Bisque
This soup is velvety and subtle, a perfect marriage of sweet squash, mellow cauliflower and a healthy dose of shallots. It tastes very authentically French, like something you’d find at a country bistro or made by a “grandmere.” And, there’s no dairy involved in the initial cooking though when it’s pureed it looks like a bisque. Topping it with fresh herbs, a dollop of creme fraiche and a handful of candied walnuts really takes it into the realm of the sublime. Serves 6
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4-5 large shallots, minced
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
1/2 head of cauliflower, cubed
5 cups of chicken or vegetable broth (or more if you desire a thinner consistency)
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
Salt and pepper to taste
Creme fraiche (sour cream will also do in a pinch)
Minced flatleaf parsley
Candied walnuts (avaialble at supermarkets and specialty stores or make your own!)
To make the soup:
Place the butter and olive oil in a medium sized pot and heat over medium until the butter is melted. Saute the shallots until they are transluscent (3 to five minutes) and then add squash and cauliflower. Stir the vegetables to coat them with the oil and butter, being careful not to let them stick to the bottom of the pot. Let the veggies saute a bit until they just begin to soften, about 3-5 minutes (again, be careful not to let them or the shallots burn). Pour in the broth and bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and soft when pricked with a fork. To puree, use a hand blender, mixing until the soup is smooth or carefully pour the hot vegetable-liquid mixture into a blender in batches until processed. Add maples syrup, salt and pepper to taste.