This last Thursday was the official first day of spring. In my head, I like to think that this is some magical day where as soon as the rosy faced sun comes up a’whistling and a’dancing, the dark clouds run away shrieking, with their skirts hiked up over their white ankles, and the newly sprouted flowers bop and flail about in celebration as if in a Steamboat Willie cartoon. Sadly this day isn’t as cute and conclusive as all that. The clouds remain and so does the chill. However, this day is still a lovely turning point in the season that can be used as an opportunity to air out the literal and figurative mothballs in your home and life. To me this means stowing away the heavy boots and coats, opening the windows to let in the fresh air, dusting the dusty the things, updating my short and long terms goals lists (as well as my shopping list to accommodate the changing produce selections), and preparing my final pot of winter soup.
I had picked up a butternut squash on my last trip to the grocery store, intending to roast it along with a few other root vegetables and serve it as a side dish. But after looking at the calendar and browsing my cupboards I opted to make a soup instead so that I could give a proper and delicious farewell to the winter season. I’ve had butternut squash soups before and they tend to be on the sweet side. While this type of squash does contain some good natural sugars (and roasting it really brings out the caramelized nuttiness locked inside) the addition of salty bacon and spicy chili oil help to balance out the sweet notes.
Butternut Squash Soup with Pepitas, Bacon and Chili Oil
Serves about 6
1 Butternut squash, peeled and cut into large cubes
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 quart of chicken stock
pinch of cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup cream (optional)
2 T plus 1 T of olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
6 strips of bacon, fried until crisp and chopped
Heat the oven to 400F. Spread cubed squash onto a sheet pan (lined with foil for easy cleanup, if you like). Drizzle the squash with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Toss it around to coat the pieces evenly with the oil and then roast for about 30 minutes. At around 15 minutes, give the squash a stir to keep one side from getting too dark. At around 20 minutes, feel free to poke your squash with a fork to see how tender it is. If it’s soft and caramelized, take it out. You can either use the squash right away, or, if planning ahead, simply let cool off and store in a container in the fridge until you want to make your soup.
Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to a large pot and heat over medium. Add the onions and saute until soft and translucent. Add the stock and give the pot a stir. Bring the liquid up to a boil then turn the temp down to medium-low so that it remains at a steady simmer. Add the cooked squash, cinnamon, turmeric, oregano, a good pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper. Stir and cover, letting simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the pot from the heat. Add the soup to a blender and pulse until smooth. Return to the pot. At this point you can either stir in the cream or leave it out for a more low-fat dish. It’s great either way.
Dish soup into bowls. Spoon about a tablespoon of bacon into the center of the bowl. Sprinkle on some pepitas and drizzle the top with a little chili oil.
Eat up and say a prayer of thanks that winter is finally over. It will only get sunny from here on out, right? RIGHT?!**
*I made my chili oil by infusing olive oil with dried chili flakes. You can either buy an infuser or simply combine a spoonful of chili flakes and some olive oil in a mason jar and let it steep for a about a week before using. It keeps for a very long time.
** Along with this being the last bowl of winter soup that I make until the next season, I promise this will also be the last time I passively complain about the weather.