It’s teeth-chattering cold in my San Francisco apartment. That makes it a perfect night for using some freshly roasted, pureed and frozen butternut squash leftover from one of these to make butternut squash soup. It’s also a good time to wonder why I always visit Boston and its bone-chilling weather in January.
Usually, we venture back East for the New Year, excited to experience that magical bit of winter wonderland that snow-less San Francisco can never quite achieve. But this time around, Christmas decorations have already been re-packed and my cute tabletop rosemary Christmas tree has made its way into soups and stocks and even an aromatherapeutic bath or two. With the holiday season so utterly behind me, except the extra pounds that have chosen to stick around, I wonder how the blistering cold and the post-blizzard, muddy snow could possibly retain their charm. Regardless, I look forward to visiting with Jay’s grandmother, checking in with the Tarves family, and eating some of the best food Boston has to offer, from Frank McClelland’s sophisticated New England-French fare at L’Espalier to authentic Italian and hand-made pasta dishes at Francesca’s. And this time, when Francesca asks why Jay hasn’t made an honest woman of me yet, as she has every visit for the last several years, I’ll flash the bling her way.
But back to the soup: onions, marjoram (or oregano!), and garlic add aromatics and a delicious depth of flavor to roasted butternut squash puree. But two other ingredients really transform this vegetable soup into something luscious. Cream cheese blended with the seasoned puree creates a sumptuous, velvety texture, and a kick of cayenne adds an unexpected, utterly delicious spiciness to balance the rich creaminess of this soup.
This soup can be made thick and decadent, or, for a lighter soup, I sometimes halve or quarter the amount of cream cheese (and also reduce the chicken stock so the soup isn’t utterly thinned out – you can always add more later). It will be delicious and deceptively filling either way, but promise that you’ll try it with the full amount of cream cheese at least once just for the experience.
As for serving options, I often ladle it into a bowl alongside a simple salad and toast drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with fresh garlic, but it also works well as an appetizer or even as a taster served in shot glasses. However, if you go the taster route, I’d recommend having a round of refills ready, as experience has shown me that guests are apt to request another taste.
Creamy Butternut Squash Soup with a Kick of Cayenne (adapted from Anna Garcia)
Serves 4 as main course, 8 as starter
2 lb. butternut squash, roasted and pureed
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. butter
1 to 2 c. stock or water
1 tsp. ground marjoram (can also use sage or oregano)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper, plus more to taste (3 tsp. if you’re Kristen)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
salt and black pepper to taste
If you haven’t already prepped the squash, preheat oven to 400F. Chop squash into 1-inch cubes. Toss squash cubes with 1 Tbsp. oil and 1 tsp. salt. Roast squash on a baking pan until slightly caramelized, about 45 minutes. Blend squash in food processor (or with hand-held immersion blender) until it forms a smooth puree.
In large pot, saute onions and butter until onions turn translucent. Add 1 c. stock, marjoram, garlic powder and cayenne pepper, and bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes. Add squash puree and cook another 10 minutes. (If using a regular blender, allow to cool 10-20 minutes; no need to do this if using a food processor or immersion blender.)
Blend squash mixture with cream cheese until smooth, in several batches if needed. Before serving, return soup to pot, add more stock if necessary to achieve desired thickness, and cook just until heated through (do not boil). Serve sprinkled with a little oregano and cayenne (or sweet paprika for some color if you’re not into the spice), and pair with garlic bread and light salad.
Do ahead: squash puree can be prepared in advance and kept in refrigerated, airtight container up to 5 days or frozen, airtight container up to 6 months. Butternut squash soup can be kept in refrigerated, airtight container up to 5 days or in frozen, airtight container up to 3 months; defrost frozen soup, reheat in microwave or on stove until it just starts to boil, and stir well before serving.