In my extended family, Thanksgiving dinner is on a rotational basis. That is to say, each year another family member cooks dinner for upwards of 25 people. It’s been two years since I had my turn to host dinner for the whole family. With J on duty at the fire station for most of the holiday week and my last minute weather-related cancellation of travel to Lake Tahoe, I enjoyed a blissfully mellow Thanksgiving with just my kids and my parents. Preparing a meal for 5 was still a lot of work and produced a ton of dishes to be washed, but I did most of it ahead of time which left me with very little to do aside from roasting the turkey, preparing the green beans with browned butter and almonds and making an apple crisp.
So on relatively short notice, my mom and I pulled together a full spread with our traditional favorites. We started with a cheese and salami tray followed by roasted butternut squash soup. I made this soup for the first time a few years back. I used Rachel Ray’s recipe which called for frozen pureed butternut squash, and while that was certainly convenient, the flavor was flat. I spent a lot of time adding to it to try and get more depth of flavor. I eventually got there, but I had to fuss with it more than I wanted.
Over time, I played around with the soup recipe and added some other touches. I decided to roast the butternut squash. Knowing the natural sweetness of the squash would caramelize, I decided to toss the carrots onto the sheet pan and roast them as well. I left the onions to cook in the pot, allowing them to slowly cook and lightly caramelize on their own. I deglazed the pot with fresh squeezed orange juice and allowed it to reduce and concentrate the flavors. I added the roasted butternut squash and carrots along with chicken stock, a couple splashes of pure maple syrup, a few grates of whole nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Then I grabbed my immersion blender and pureed the entire pot of vegetables and stock into a golden orange soup that was enhanced into a velvety deliciousness with the addition of a small amount of half and half.
I poured the entire pot of soup into plastic containers and placed them in the refrigerator for the next day. When it was time to serve it, I simply warmed up half the amount of soup and served it as an appetizer studded with fresh lemon-scented thyme and crisp applewood smoked bacon crumbles. When I am serving this to a large group along with other appetizers, I use small coffee cups which provides just enough without overdoing it before dinner.
But since it was just a small group of us this year, I served it by the bowl and we enjoyed it as a late lunch while the turkey cooked.
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Loosely adapted from Rachel Ray
1 3 or 4 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced into 1-inch cubes
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
4 to 6 cups chicken broth
2 to 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg, or to taste
1/4 cup half and half
Salt and pepper, to taste
Garnish with crumbled bacon, chopped thyme leaves or orange zest (or a combination thereof)
Place cubed butternut squash and carrots in a single layer on two sheet pans. Do not crowd the vegetables as they will steam instead of roast. Drizzle with olive oil, a couple of tablespoons per sheet pan, and toss well to insure even coating. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in a 425 degree F preheated oven and roast for 25 to 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter to a soup pot set over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the onions to cook and lightly caramelize, about 15-20 minutes. Deglaze the pot with orange juice, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen up the browned bits. Allow the orange juice to reduce and thicken, about 2 or 3 minutes. Add about 3 cups of chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add the roasted butternut squash and carrots. Remove from the heat and using an immersion blender, puree the mixture adding additional broth until desired thickness is achieved. Return pot to low heat and add maple syrup, grated nutmeg, half and half, and salt and pepper. Taste for seasonings, adjust if necessary, and serve with crisp, crumbled bacon, chopped thyme leaves or grated orange zest for garnish.