Squash Appetites With This Better Butternut Soup

Butternut squash soup: it’s the original pumpkin spice before we pumpkin-spiced everything, a fall soup at its simplest, humble and elegant. Everyone has their own way of making it and that's the beauty of cooking: all roads lead to Rome. But here's my straightforward, no-nonsense take on this classic. There are no fancy maneuvers here, just roast, cool, blend and that’s it. For texture, I add beet and fennel chips. You can bake the chips, by all means, but I prefer to fry them for that added crispiness. I love to use the candy cane beets now in season, since their cheerful, colorful, and graphic pattern contrast brightly with the warm, golden hue of the butternut squash.

Makes 6 cups

For the soup:

  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2-3 lbs.)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 3 cups chicken stock

For the beet and fennel chips:

  • 3-4 candy cane (chioggia) beets, trimmed
  • 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed
  • Corn or vegetable oil, for frying
  • Kosher salt, for seasoning

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed 18-by-13-inch baking sheet with non-stick foil or a silicone baking mat and set aside.

Cut the butternut squash in half, lengthwise, and remove the seeds (set them aside for future use). Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil over the squash before seasoning with the ground fennel and 3 teaspoons of kosher salt. Place the squash on the prepared baking sheet and roast in the oven for an hour. Remember to rotate the tray after 30 minutes, halfway through roasting.

Line a tray or plate with crumpled paper towels. Set a deep enamel cast iron pan fitted with a candy thermometer over medium heat and add enough corn or vegetable oil to leave 2-3 inches between the oil and the lip of the pan. Heat the oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the meantime, using a mandoline, slice the beets and fennel into 1/8”-thin slices. Working in small batches, carefully add a handful of beet or fennel slices to the hot oil and cook until crispy, about 2-3 minutes. Using a spider, remove and transfer to the tray or plate lined with paper towels before seasoning with kosher salt. Repeat the process for the remaining vegetable slices and set aside until ready to serve.

After roasting for one hour, remove the roasted butternut squash from the oven and let it stand at room temperature until it's cool enough to handle. Scoop out the flesh or, if it's cool enough, remove the skin with your hands and transfer the chunks of cooked pumpkin to the container of a blender. If the blender is small, work in batches. Add the chicken stock and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately with the beet and fennel chips.

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Food, travel & forks in the road: Culinary & Digital Media | Food Stylist | Recipe Tester | Former Social & Digital Media Coordinator, USA Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015