Butternut Squash Soup

By Elisabetta Ciardullo

Today is the perfect day in Los Angeles to switch to fall recipes: it is raining, which means one of the few days were you really feel the need for a nice, warm soup.

Even if you can find butternut squash 12 months a year, it is a typical winter produce: ripe by the end of the summer, it can be kept for weeks or months in the dark at (cold) room temperature (think cellar). The bright orange color of its pulp indicates a high level of carotenoids, which will be converted by our bodies in Vitamin A. And it is also rich in Vitamin C and other nutrients. Easily available and cheap, it is an amazing resource for many different dishes.

I like to prepare this soup on Thanksgiving Day, as it is the perfect marriage between the traditional menu for the American festivity and the Italian tradition from Mantova, in Northern Italy, where the cuisine is divine. There, the first use for squash is a filling for Tortelli, but with a twist. The first time I tried it, it just left me without words: some Amaretto cookies are added to the filling, enhancing the natural sweetness of the squash and adding a little bitter aftertaste that comes from the kernels of the apricots used in very small quantities as an ingredient for the cookies (large quantities are poisonous).

I adapted the idea to make a thick soup that is intense in flavor, surprising, and satisfying.

2 medium butternut squashes
3-4 small shallots, peeled and cut in chunks
A bunch of sage leaves
EV Olive Oil as needed
Salt and pepper
10 amaretto cookies
Some pomegranate arils for decoration
1. Turn on the oven on convection roast at 360 F.

2. Put the washed Squash, whole, on an aluminum tray or deep hotel pan.

3. Cook until a fork can be inserted without effort, about 60 minutes, depending on the size. The squash should look a little amber in color and soft to the touch.

4. Peel, remove the seeds, cut into chunks. Add salt and pepper, sage leaves, shallots, Olive oil. Stir.

5. Transfer the mix in a large non-stick skillet, in batches, if necessary; sauté on high until you see that the squash starts to caramelize. It will have the consistency of mashed potatoes by now. This step is absolutely necessary to add depth to the flavor! Do not hurry, take the time to caramelize properly each piece of squash!

6. Turn off the flame. Add all the amaretto cookies except four.

7. Transfer the mix in a food processor or Vitamix. Pulse until you have a puree. Add hot water if necessary to reach the preferred consistency.

8. Transfer to a pot and heat it up just before serving.

9. Presentation: crumble one amaretto on each soup bowl, sprinkle some pomegranate arils for the color, drizzle with Extra Virgin olive oil.

10. ENJOY!

A Few Notes:

  • When in a hurry, I buy ready to use butternut squash cubes and substitute the roasting step with the microwave: cook in a large Pyrex bowl tightly covered with plastic film for 10 minutes on high. No water needed, the squash will release its juices, which you can add to the soup after sauteing.
  • OR you can mix the cubes of squash with olive oil, shallots, salt and pepper, and sage.
    Cover one or two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread the cubes of seasoned butternut squash in one layer. Roast for 30-45 minutes
  • For a brighter orange color, remove the sage leaves before pureeing – you can add them again after, they are perfectly edible and exquisite!
  • For once, I believe the soup is perfect as it is without adding Parmigiano cheese: but of course, feel free to sprinkle some on top before consuming!
  • If you want to make a dinner with the soup: toast a couple of slices of rustic bread and pour the soup on top; add Extra virgin olive oil more generously and you have a great dinner dish.

And always remember: Italian cuisine is made for cooks at heart, follow your gut feeling and add or reduce quantities as you like!!

Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.