While I’m generally opposed to the “secret combinations” decried in the Book of Mormon, I have to admit that I have created and benefited from one of my own. I’ve kept my own oath of secrecy on this for years, but now it’s time to come clean and expose it for what it is–a delicious (IMHO), comforting soup where the essence of the secret combination is butternut squash mixed with base notes from sauteed onions and spices. Everything is blended and thinned with half and half (or milk and cream) plus chicken broth to give a relatively thick, smooth, creamy soup with flavors you don’t find in typical butternut squash soup, thanks again to the secret combination revealed below.
Every batch is a little different (read: I hate to follow recipes), but here is my general procedure.
1. Ripe butternut squash, 2-3 medium or 1+ large. Best in the form of fresh produce, but frozen butternut squash packages can work (may impact texture and flavor, though). A mixture or turban squash and a little pumpkin can work reasonably well, especially when blended with butternut squash (I tried this last year with good results). If you use summer squash or other squash species, the result can be good but definitely inferior to the rich, smooth tones from ripe baked butternut squash. But feel free to experiment.
2. One large red onion or 2 small onions (yellow or white can work).
3. Olive oil (butter works, too).
4. One quart of half and half (or a pint of cream and one or more pints of milk).
5. 1-2 16-oz cans of chicken broth (roughly 24 ounces).
6. Maharajah curry powder (my favorite product from Penzey’s spices, a rich slightly hot yellow curry with cardamom and a touch of saffron). Sweet yellow curry can also be used.
7. Other spices: garlic (I like both fresh garlic and good garlic powder), dried basil, paprika, cinnamon (prefer Ceylon cinnamon), tarragon (optional), nutmeg (optional), turmeric (yes, it’s already in the curry, but I still use it directly in preparing the spiced onions), Aleppo pepper or cayenne (optional), cardamom powder (optional but good), fresh ground black pepper (optional – maybe white pepper if you want to reduce black specks), dried dill greens (garnish for serving).
8. Optional ingredients: mushrooms and grated cheese. I prefer it with a little cheese built into the soup and on top when served. For cheese, I prefer a flavorful white cheese than can melt well, such as a not-highly-aged Wisconsin Gruyere, Muenster cheese, medium to sharp cheddar, Gouda, or Monterrey Jack. I don’t think Ementhaler or US “Swiss” works well, and don’t use Parmesan or Asiago. Please don’t use so-called American cheese – don’t use it ever. Gag.)
Equipment: good blender, large pot, frying pan (cast iron skillet is great for this).
A. Bake the squash. Slice the squash lengthwise to prepare for baking. Cutting off the top and bottom parts can make the vertical slice easier and less risky. Or cut into whatever shapes you can manage. Be careful! Knives can slip – cutting a squash sometimes can be difficult, especially for large specimens. If you have any trouble, rather than risk slicing a finger, have your teenage son hurl it onto a clean portion of your driveway and wash off the pieces. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just baked–bakes faster if open. Once sliced open, remove the seeds. Place opened-side up on a cookie sheet. I can’t resist adding a little brown sugar and butter into the hollowed-out regions that held the seeds. That is the filet mignon region of butternut squash and you have to enjoy a few spoons of it after baking. I then cover the squash sections with aluminum foil and bake in the center of the over at 350 F for about 2.5 hours. If not covered, the exposed surfaces may become dried out and hard. We want nearly the whole thing to be succulent and tender.
B. Prepare the secret onion mush. The idea is that you’ll fry onions with a lot of spices to create an oily, soft mass of very flavorful translucent onions that will go into the blender and become part of the smooth soup. (You may wish to add a few mushrooms to the mush–their earthy base notes can go well with the mix.) Key spices are garlic, a turmeric-heavy curry, basil, paprika, and some cinnamon. Salt, too, and I usually grind some pepper as well. There are many variations possible, but I think cardamom should be present either in the curry itself or in a couple small pinches of added powder. So, dice the onion (slices are OK). Heat a frying pan with three of four tablespoons of olive oil in it (I sometimes use a mix of olive oil and butter – butter is what I use when I fry mushrooms if I’m adding them to the mush). Add salt to the onions and sprinkle in about 1 teaspoon of turmeric to give a yellow color to the onions as they cook. During the frying, add about 1 tablespoon of dried basil. Grind the basil between your fingers to turn it into powder–this improves the aesthetics of the final product, in my opinion. Add a lot of garlic – I’ll smash up five or so large garlic sections (maybe a whole clove of garlic) and add a teaspoon or two of garlic powder. Don’t use ultra-cheap bitter garlic–get the good stuff. As the onions are becoming well cooked, blend in almost a tablespoon of the Maharajah curry or a sweet curry. Add a pinch or two of cardamom to taste. You want the onions to taste strong with rich earthy notes so that blending them in with the butternut squash imparts some real flavor. Shake in paprika and let it blend in with the oil. Add cinnamon, maybe 1 teaspoon or a little less. If the spices soak up too much of the oil, add a little more. Cook until the onions are soft and the spices well absorbed. Maybe 20 minutes on low to medium heat.
C. Blending time. We’re going to blend up the onion mush and the squash in three or four batches. I’ll assume 3 batches, but it depends on the size of the squash and the capacity of your blender. I use a typical, small blender. S assuming 3 batches, add about 1/3 of the onion mush (around 1/4 of a cup, I think) to the bottom of the blender. Add a little half and half and some chicken broth to help it blend. Blend it for a few seconds. Then scoop out about three cups of soft, warm butternut squash and put it in the blender, too, and add about a cup each of chicken broth and half and half. Turn the blender on. Stop immediately. Clean off the ceiling and now put the lid on the blender and try again. There should be enough liquid so that the mix will blend with flow occurring throughout the mass. It should be thick, somewhat like a rich fruit smoothie. Blend it for 60 seconds or so and check to make sure that onion pieces have been completely disintegrated. You will see some specks of spices, but that’s OK. Take the liquefied contents and poor them into a large pan for final preparation. Repeat this process for the other batches: onions, broth, milk+cream, butternut squash, and blend until thick and smooth. Now combine it all into one large pot (or split between two pots). At this point you may wish to thin it with additional broth and milk and make final adjustments to flavor as you stir and heat the soup to serving temperature. The only adjustment I make at this stage is possibly adding more Maharajah curry, salt, cinnamon, and grated cheese so that the hot soup has a rich, comforting flavor. Stir regularly or you’ll get boiling at the bottom with big burps of steam that splatter.
D. Serve. I put a cup or so of hot soup in bowls and garnish the soup. My preference is to put three bands of color across the top of the soup with a little thin line of sprinkled paprika, a thin line of green dill particles, and a line of white grated cheese for a red, green, and white theme across the middle of the bowl. That’s optional, of course.
Oh, since this is a religious blog, be sure to pray before your meal. Naturally, following the example of Alma when he dined with Amulek in the Book of Mormon, you’ll also want to follow the old Hebrew practice and pray after the meal–that’s how grateful I hope you’ll be. Oh, and when serving the soup, place the bowls on plates with a compatible color. Yes, I suppose gold plates will do.
Finally, as you explore what can be done with the amazing flavors of baked butternut squash, seriously take a moment to reflect on the majesty of the Creation and the wonderful foods and rich flavors that we are blessed with. Be grateful to the Lord who created such splendor for our benefit.