In my post college poverty years frozen vegetables, not ramen packets, were my go-to meals. If you looked in my freezer, bricks of squash (with “squash” as the only ingredient listed) was the clear favorite. Words cannot adequately explain how satisfying it was eat a bowl of earthy warm squash dotted with puddles of melted butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper. The simplicity of the squash was somehow reminiscent of home, where I grew up close enough to the country that farm fresh vegetables were treated with respect and care.
On a recent visit to Ellijay, GA for our annual apple picking trip we ended up with equal amounts of both apples and squash. With our kids out of the equation, my husband and I no longer queue up for apple picking with hordes of like minded city folk. Instead I try to buy every apple variety I can find by stopping at every orchard I can.
We also look for interesting roadside stands selling items like muscadine slushies and elephant garlic. This year a quirky stand with big piles of birdhouse gourds and just off the vine butternut squash ignited ambitious cooking fantasies.
Once home, I realized I may have overbought…mainly because my husband and HS son don’t even like squash! After cooking and freezing much of the butternut squash for fall and winter baking projects, I made myself a batch of homey Cider Braised Butternut Squash Soup as an ode to my days of squash and butter.
In keeping with the fall season, the soup includes apple cider and apples as well as ginger (mine was from the Red Earth Organic Farms stall at our local farmers market). The intense flavors of ginger, white wine, pomegranate molasses and apple cider vinegar cut the richness of the squash. Nutmeg and maple syrup give warmth without veering into the kind of pumpkin pie territory cinnamon might. Butter and cream swirled in at the end make and extra creamy soup.
I often skip garnishes because they can make soup too fussy for everyday eating, even though the additional taste and texture the offer is always appreciated. When making soup for a crowd, I make the time to put together a fun mix and match Soup Garnish Bar.
In the recipe below, I’ve included prepared garnish ideas and directions for making my top three squash soup garnishes. The garnishes complement without competing with the butternut squash flavor. Even thought the garnishes are truly delightful, they are optional. The Cider Braised Butternut Squash Soup is comforting and wonderful all by itself!
Vegetarian Cider Braised Butternut Squash Soup with Garnish Bar
makes 8 cups – serves 4 as main course or 8 as appetizer
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 ½ – 2 ¾ lb)
1 ½ cup apple cider
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into ½” slices
1 clove garlic
generous 3-4 inch sprig of thyme
6 cups water
½ cup dry white wine (sauvignon blanc works well)
1 cup peeled and medium chopped yukon gold potatoes
1 cup peeled and medium chopped apples
1 Tbs minced fresh ginger 2” knob)
1 tsp pure dark grade maple syrup
1 tsp pomegranate molasses
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp grated nutmeg (preferably fresh)
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbs sweet unsalted butter
2 Tbs heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- Rub 9”X13” baking pan with 1 tsp olive oil.
- Wash and cut squash in half lengthwise. Scrape out pulp and seeds. Rub all over with 1 tsp olive oil and place in baking pan skin side up.
- Arrange onion slices, garlic and thyme sprig around squash.
- Pour apple cider vinegar in pan. Cover pan with foil and bake for 1 hour or until knife easily cuts through squash.
- Let rest until cool enough to handle.
- Scoop out squash flesh into large heavy saucepan. Discard squash skin. Add rest of ingredients except butter and cream to saucepan.
- Over medium high heat bring to boil and reduce to low. Simmer for 40 minutes until squash, potato and apples are soft and well broken down.
- Remove soup from heat and discard thyme sprigs.
- Swirl in butter and heavy cream.
- Let soup cool to room temperature.
- Puree soup in blender until completely smooth.
- Garnish with Spicy Roasted Pepitas, Roasted Kale Chips or Apple Bites
- The butter and cream can be omitted. Soup will still be smooth and silky, just not as creamy.
¼ cup pepitas (green hulled pumpkin seed)
¼ tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch grated nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
½ tsp pure cane sugar
½ tsp extra virgin olive oil
Mix all ingredients well. Roast in 400 degree oven on parchment lined or lightly oiled baking sheet until slightly puffed and golden brown. This will take about 8-10 minutes. They tend to quickly go from underdone to overdone, so they need to be watched carefully.
Crispy Kale Strips
4 leaves lacinato (dinosaur) kale, ribs removed, sliced lengthwise and cut into ½” by 3” by 4” strips
1 tsp olive oil
¼ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
Mix kale, olive oil, salt and pepper until well kale is well coated. Roast in 400 degree oven in a single layer on parchment lined or lightly oiled baking sheet until crispy at the edges.
Roasted Apple Bites
1 cup peeled, cored apples, cut into 1/8” half slices or ½” diced cubes
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp maple syrup
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp grated nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
Mix apples, olive oil, maple syrup, salt, pepper and nutmeg until apples are well coated. Roast in 400 degree oven in a single layer on parchment lined or lightly oiled baking sheet until the edges brown and the center is dry to the touch. The bites are meant to be crunchy at the edges and soft in the middle.
Other Soup Garnish Ideas:
- Dried carrot or beet slices
- Salted and roasted unshelled pumpkin seeds
- Roasted and chopped nuts: walnuts, pecans, almonds, or pistachio
- Pomegranate seeds (also called arils)
- Roasted chickpeas
- Edible Flowers