October is more than half done and I’m moving ever more swiftly into fall. Late summer has faded. My small flower bed is cleaned and tucked away under fresh bark chips to wait out the months till spring. Pumpkins and gourds are the centerpiece for my dining room table, and my taste has turned to hearty foods. Sweaters have come out of storage and back into my drawers. Flannel sheets are on my bed.
The light fades pretty quickly this far north. Just a few weeks ago the sun rose way too early. Now it’s tempting to stay snuggled in past the call of my alarm. It’s so dark out at 5:00 am. Definitely not time to get up.
In honor of the month, and the iconic pumpkin, in all its orange glory, I’m celebrating the color in food.
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” ~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
I was late to appreciate the value of squash in my life. I grew up with yellow squash and zucchini, as a Southern girl should. But other varieties did not grace my mother’s table. Gradually, curiosity overcame timidity, and I began buying unknown squashes to see what I might be missing. I tried acorn and butternut and spaghetti, the deep greens and variegated and lemon yellows adding a charming and rustic touch to my kitchen display, the squashes doing double duty, first as still life, and then, after a run in the oven, making a second appearance as star of dinner.
The focus of this post is butternut. It’s the right color (!) and one medium size squash makes a lovely pot of soup, enough to serve six people with normal appetites, or four quite hungry people, or one or two ravenous souls.
I began, as much of my recipe searching does these days, by scouring the internet to see what’s out there already. I had an autumn squash soup recently at Panera‘s, and it inspired me to create my own version, since the closest Panera’s is in Seattle, an expensive flight away from Ketchikan. I found several knock-off recipes. The one I chose is good, but different than the one I had at the restaurant…not as thick, and not quite as sweet. But of course you can easily adjust to your own taste. I would bet the Panera soup includes a touch of sugar, and probably has a roux base. This soup is just a hearty rendition of squash, onion, seasonings, broth, and cream. It’s tasty and couldn’t be easier. And my favorite thing is that it needs to simmer on the stove….a perfect fall afternoon activity! I put my soup on and just come back to check it now and then.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (1 teaspoon dried)
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped
6 1/3 cups chicken stock (50.4 ounces)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream (or use half and half, or milk)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Hot pepper sauce to taste
Melt butter over moderate heat in large saucepan. Add the onion and rosemary and cook until soft (approximately 5 minutes).
Add chopped squash, chicken stock, heavy cream, salt, white pepper and hot sauce. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for approximately 2 hours – or until squash is tender.
Use blender (or immersion hand blender) to puree the hot soup. Toast walnuts to use for garnish.
Note: you can puree the soup to a creamy consistency, or blend minimally for a more rustic dish. (I used an immersion blender. This makes the job much easier than pouring hot soup into a blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, I highly recommend buying one; you’ll find lots of uses for it to justify space in your kitchen.)
Serve with a hearty bread or grilled cheese. Mmmmm!
In keeping with my orange theme, I tried another recipe this week, this one a no-bake pumpkin dessert.
No Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake
For the crust
1 sleeve graham crackers (about 9 crackers)
½ stick (4 tablespoons) butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
For the filling
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 3.4 ounce package vanilla flavored instant pudding mix
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
Whipped cream, (in place of 12 oz container of Cool Whip) how to make your own whipped cream here
Place the graham crackers in the bowl of a food processor and pulse the crackers into fine crumbs. Add the melted butter, sugar and brown sugar and pulse until combined.
Spoon the crumbs into individual dishes for serving. Place in the refrigerator to set while you are preparing the filling.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until light and creamy.
Add the pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, and pudding mix and beat until completely mixed, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure that all ingredients are well combined.
Add the sweetened condensed milk and mix again until well combined.
Change your stand mixture attachment to the wire whisk. On slow speed, fold in whipped cream until well combined.
Allow the mixture to sit in the fridge for about an hour to firm up.
Using a large pastry bag with a large tip, or a spoon, top the graham cracker crust in each dish with the pumpkin mixture and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Garnish with additional whipped topping if desired.
Note: Feel free to use Cool Whip…I prefer real cream, and it holds up well. I find that this is one area that I’m a bit of a food snob. Notice I’m perfectly happy to use a pudding mix for this recipe. If you really want to be a purist, you could make a recipe of homemade vanilla pudding and use that in place of the instant mix. I might try that next time, but it was a busy day, and I had a mix in the pantry, so I was content to go with that.
I couldn’t resist trying this little treat. Any recipe that combines cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk is not to be missed. And this one is delicious.
I will also admit…an astonishing amount of the filling did not make it to the finished dessert. I tasted my way through a couple of servings, and will be required (!) to put in an extra session or two at the gym to offset my calorie intake for the day. But this is a price I’m willing to pay to enjoy a yummy treat and still be able to wear the new jeans I just bought 🙂
Happy stirring, tasting, and nesting!