Winter is really having issues about letting go where we live. One day it’s a mix of sun and clouds, the next it’s raining the entire day. Yesterday began nicely warm in the morning but by afternoon had turned cold and dark with heavy, ominous looking clouds.
A hearty, warming soup was on my mind for dinner, something that used both end of winter (one can hope, can't one?) and beginning of spring veggies. In the market, I found end-of-season butternut squash that was surprisingly heavy – a good sign. Fresh basil, beautiful fresh ginger, organic garlic, fresh shitake mushrooms and organic vegetable broth all went into my basket. Yum!
This soup takes about 1 hour to prepare, from start to dinner. I loved the rustic look and the chunky texture that I got from chopping the veggies and aromatics rather coarsely, but if you prefer, it can also be pureed to a silky smoothness. The spices can be varied too. This would make a heavenly curried soup. The addition of roasted celery root intrigues me...
One more note: I have a new camera, a Canon PowerShot SD 450 that I am still learning to use. Please bear with me as I ramp up.
Butternut Squash & Shitake Mushroom, Ginger Soup
2 medium butternut squashes, heavy for their size, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
10 (or so) shitake mushrooms, bottom part of stems removed, sliced
2 tablespoons each, good olive oil and butter
Several tablespoons sweet vermouth or sherry or Port to deglaze (optional, but adds nice flavor)
32 oz. (4 cups) organic vegetable broth (store bought or home made)
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
4 large leaves fresh basil, coarsely torn
1-2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, depending on the saltiness of the broth
Place squash chunks on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and roast in a 375-degree oven for about 40 minutes, covered with foil the first 20 minutes, foil removed the last 20 minutes. You want the squash softly cooked through and slightly caramelized.
Meanwhile, using 1 tablespoon each of the butter and olive oil, in a stock pot or large saucepan, sauté the onion over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté 1 minute more. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until they are soft. Add the vegetable stock, baked squash, torn basil leaves, grated nutmeg, freshly ground pepper and stir to blend over medium low heat.
Still over the heat and using a potato masher, gently mash the squash until the chunks break up and smooth out slightly. You don’t want to mash the mushrooms, so do this carefully. When the soup is the consistency you want, if you would like, stir in the other tablespoon of butter and olive oil to add richness. Add salt and more grindings of pepper to taste. Leave the torn basil leaves in the soup.
I just happened to have a leg of duck confit in my fridge, so I served this soup by shredding the duck meat evenly into 2 soup bowls and then topping with the hot soup. Leftover chicken could also be used. Grate a dusting of nutmeg over each serving and artfully place a small basil leaf as a garnish. Serve with a crusty artisan bread.