As we head into the fall, our local markets are beginning to feature winter squash. Each variety has its charms, but one of the standouts is butternut squash. Like its brethren, it becomes creamy when cooked and pureed, with no need for cream or thickener. Flavor-wise, though, it wins.
Most butternut squash recipes tell you, first, to peel and cut up the squash, and then to steam or boil it. I’ve figured out a couple of different ways to get the job done. The result is a soup that’s safer to prepare and much tastier when you finally dip your spoon into it.
As anyone who’s ever tried to cube a winter squash knows all too well, these guys can be perilously hard to handle. True, the supermarket sells them already peeled and cubed, but they’re pricier than whole squash and likely not as fresh.
For Butternut Squash and Leek Soup with Gruyere Pesto Toasts, we halve and roast the whole squash without peeling or seeding it first. Typically, halving the squash requires slicing it through from stem to stern. Instead, I suggest laying the squash on the counter, sticking the tip of a chef’s knife all the way through the middle of the squash, then slicing from the mid-point to one of its ends. Rotate the squash 180 degrees horizontally, insert the knife tip back into the middle of the veggie and slice away in the direction of the uncut end. Done.
Now the halves are ready to be baked, cut-side-down, on a rimmed sheet pan. Baking squash concentrates its flavor and brings out the natural sugars — unlike boiling or steaming it, which makes it watery. And don’t bother to scrape out the seeds beforehand; it’s easier after the squash has been cooked.
You can prep and cook the rest of the ingredients while the squash is baking and then cooling. These include leeks, Canadian bacon (aka smoked pork loin) and gruyere pesto toasts — all of which contribute to what is a very substantial dish in the end. Round it out with a salad on the side, and this soup becomes a plausible entree. Vegetarians are welcome to substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock and leave out the bacon.
Butternut Squash and Leek Soup with Gruyere Pesto Toasts
Start to finish: 2 hours 5 minutes (50 active)
Servings: 4 as an entree, 6 as a first course
For the soup:
4 pounds butternut squash
Oil for oiling the sheet pan
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
6 ounces sliced Canadian bacon, medium chopped
3 cups thinly sliced white part of leek (about 3 large leeks)
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth