I’ve loved butternut squash since I first encountered it as a kid growing up in southern New England. My father, skilled at farming, tried the then new vegetable in our family garden, where I used to tag along and “help.” Butternut seed had just become available about 1950 (please don’t do the math), and butternut quickly replaced the traditional Hubbard as the favorite winter squash. Butternut is now grown throughout the world because of its excellent eating and storing qualities.
As its name indicates, the squash is both buttery and nutty in flavor. These features are most pronounced when the fruits are fully mature, with the skin thick and uniformly tan and the stem hard and dry. The flesh is then rich orange and sweet. Its luscious intensity is further enhanced by baking.
Not exactly a “heritage” or “heirloom” variety, butternut (Cucurbita moschata) was actually developed by an amateur farmer, Charles A. Leggett, in Stow, Mass., in the mid-1940s, reportedly by crossing old fashioned gooseneck squash and pumpkin varieties. The name “Waltham,” which became associated with butternut, is the location of the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station where Mr. Leggett brought his new vegetable. A researcher there worked with the squash and standardized it.
Where I grew up, we ate most winter squash boiled, mashed, and slathered with butter, or occasionally baked with brown sugar or maple syrup, butter, and spices. My mother was a skilled cook but who, with four kids, didn’t spend time on complex dishes (“if it takes more than one bowl or one pot it’s too fussy”). By contrast, I’ve made soups with butternut, as well as curries, gratins, ravioli filling, other pasta, and rice dishes, and even a roasted butternut salad.
Here is an evocative favorite for the fall season, roasted butternut soup. It is not too difficult and shows the squash off to advantage.
The recipe serves six, but extra soup stores well and seems even better after a day or two. While typically served hot, butternut soup can also be eaten cold like its non-relative, gazpacho.
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
- 1 large or 2 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), ideally ripe and hard
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- A 6-inch piece of celery, finely diced
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 5 cups chicken broth (low salt) or vegetable broth
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon oregano
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- A small pinch of ground cloves
- (3 tablespoons cashew butter or ground cashews, optional)
- Minced parsley or tiny sprouts (leafy parts) for garnish
Set oven for 350 degrees.
Cut butternut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place squash, cut side up, on a baking sheet and roast it until tender when pierced with a toothpick. Let cool.
Meanwhile prepare the onion and celery and fry them gently in the butter using the pot in which you will make the soup. Stir frequently and fry until the vegetables are tender but not browned. Remove from the heat.
When the baked butternut is cooled somewhat, scoop all the flesh out from the skin. Place it, along with the fried onion-celery mixture and its butter in a food processor or blender (this may need to be in two batches), adding a little of the chicken or vegetable broth. Puree the mixture. Transfer it back into the pot. Add the remainder of the broth, the salt and spices (and cashew butter if used). Simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for salt, and add a little, if needed, to taste. The soup can be served now or refrigerated and served hot – or cold – later. Garnish with a little finely minced parsley or tiny leaves from baby sprouts.