As I said a few days ago, I love winter squash. Really, I love fall cooking in general. I love the deep, rich flavors. I love root vegetables. I love anything roasted. Hell, I love that I can turn on the oven without making the house unbearably hot. I love the hearty, comforting foods. I love soup. I love the Maillard reaction. I love that somehow, when the weather gets cooler, I can add more butter and not feel (as) guilty. I love coming in from a crisp day to a house that smells like cooking. This soup is a great example of why I love fall food. Rich, earthy butternut squash, sweet pears and warm spices, all in one steaming hot bowl (with a chill streak of crème fraîche to make you grateful to be sitting in a warm kitchen.)
This soup was a bit of an accident, actually. I’ve been making a similar soup for years with maple and jalapeño in place of the pears and spices. (I’ve been told half-jokingly that I’m not welcome at the family Thanksgiving without it.) I was planning to make that soup again. Then my last CSA box appeared with these dessert pears. I tried one and it was very firm, but also a bit mealy and VERY sweet. I knew they needed to be cooked somehow. I thought the pears and winter squash would complement each other nicely, so figured I might as well make a squash-pear soup. Add a few spices to brighten the flavors and we’re in business. All it needed was some freshly baked bread to call it dinner.
I used dessert pears for this recipe. They’re small, firm and very sweet pears. I’m sure the recipe would work well with other types of pears, but you’ll probably want to add some brown sugar or honey if you use a less sweet pear.
You could easily substitute onions, or better yet shallots, for the leeks; I just happened to have leeks on hand.
3 whole star anise
6 pods green cardamom
1/4 tsp coriander
1/2 cup crème fraîche (or sour cream)
2 tsp honey
2 Tbsp butter
1 small leek (white and light green parts only), chopped
1 butternut squash (about 3 lbs whole), peeled, seeded and cubed
about 1 1/2 lb pears, peeled, cored and cubed
salt to taste
Grind the spices together in a spice/coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. If you have large pieces left, either grind it more or sift it to remove the pieces. You should have about 1 Tbsp total once they’re ground.
Mix together 1 tsp spices, honey and crème fraîche. Refridgerate until the rest of the soup is ready.
Brown the butter in a medium saucepan. (Heat over high until it foams up, then the bubbles subside.) Turn the heat down to medium-low, add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are translucent. Add the rest of the spices. (This should be about 2 tsp.) Add the squash and enough water to barely cover the squash. Increase the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the pears and simmer an additional 10-15 min, until the pears and squash are both very tender.*
Puree the soup in batches in a blender. Add salt to taste. (Start with about 1 Tbsp and add from there to your taste.) Depending on how sweet your squash and pears are, you might want to add just a bit of brown sugar at this point; I did not, but I was using very sweet pears.
Serve the soup hot with a dollop of the cold crème fraîche in each bowl.
* This timing assumes pretty firm pears. If you’re using softer pears, wait until later to add them.
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