Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Pancetta

Ah, soup.  I’m a big fan.

What’s not to like?  You throw everything in a pot, and whether it simmers slowly all day or is done in an hour, you still only have that one pot to clean.  So easy.

This soup is one of my favorites –  butternut squash is draped with pancetta and roasted in the oven, then pureed.  Its hearty and flavorful, and practically screams autumn.  Plus, it so deliciously, gloriously golden-orange – there is some serious beta-carotene going on here.

A word about how much squash to buy – you’ll need about 6 pounds of the flesh for the recipe, and you won’t be using the stem, seeds, or skin.  I find it best to buy by weight, rather than number of squash.  Approximately six and a half pounds of whole squash on the grocer’s scale will yield the proper amount, usually four small or two medium-sized butternuts.  I usually make the soup with homemade stock, but purchased low-sodium chicken broth from the market is a good stand-in.

The original recipe indicated it would serve twelve, but in reality, even with sides or served as a a starter, ten servings is the maximum.  I’ve served it as the soup course for a traditional thanksgiving meal, and for a starter with practically everything (from a crown roast of pork to stuffed cornish game hens) – all with fantastic results.  The soup is also terrific starring as the main attraction, with a mixed platter of sandwiches, a spinach salad, or a simple kale tart on the side.  Served in a big tureen, it is a warm, welcome addition to any fall or winter buffet.

If you happen to have leftovers, mix any remaining pancetta crumbles right into the soup and pop it in the freezer – it will last for up to two months.

 

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Pancetta
Makes 10 servings.  Slightly adapted from Food and Wine, here.

6 pounds butternut squash (about 2 medium-sized or 4 small)
6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces (dependent upon number of squash used)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 ounces of thinly sliced pancetta*
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2  tablespoons dried thyme, crushed
1 bay leaf
2 quarts chicken broth or stock
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400℉.  Line rimmed baking trays with parchment. Halve the squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and place on prepared baking trays, cut side up.  Place a piece of butter in each squash cavity, season with salt and pepper, and drape evenly with sliced pancetta.  Roast in the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until tender (squash should pierce easily through with a fork).

Transfer crisped pancetta to a paper towel to drain, then crumble and set aside.  Scoop the squash flesh from the skins into a large bowl.  Set aside.

In a large, heavy stockpot, heat the oil until shimmering.  Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook on medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until softened.  Add garlic and thyme, and heat for 2 minutes more.  Stir in the reserved squash, the chicken stock or broth, and the bay leaf and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently.  Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Reduce heat to low and remove the bay leaf.  With an immersion blender, puree soup in pot until completely smooth. Alternately, carefully transfer soup to a heatproof bowl with a pouring spout and, working in batches, puree in a blender or food processor until smooth, then return to pot.  Stir in the heavy cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer on low until heated through.

Transfer soup to bowl and garnish with reserved crisped pancetta crumbles.  Serve immediately.

* Pancetta:  If you don’t have pancetta on hand, bacon is a fine substitute.

Note:  Soup can be made up to two days ahead.  Reheat the soup on medium temperature, covered.  Reheat pancetta separately.  If soup has become too thick, thin with a tablespoon or two of stock or water while reheating.

Tip:  Poured into a jar, individually-sized portions make great thinking-of-you gifts for friends and family, especially during cold and flu season.

Toasted Coconut Shortbread Owls

Things are getting spooky.

This month, which celebrates all things creepy, crawly and downright scary, you may find yourself eating and drinking some weird-looking stuff.  Halloween revelry can go a little looney that way.  Along with all the dry ice cauldrons of witches’ brew, there will be party fare that, visually speaking, veers on the morbid side – bugs and mold, blood and guts, severed limbs and spiderwebs. And, sometimes, eyeballs free-floating in your glass. Suddenly, black and orange and gross all over is in. Deliciously fiendish.

For the most gloriously macabre confections you’ve ever seen, check out Lou Lou P’s Delights.   While the Halloween Lovers fruitcake and the Classic Horror red velvet cupcakes are eerie, the Women in Horror cake pops (via Laughing Squid) are truly frightening.  Plus, they are heads impaled on sticks… how very Vlad!

Dialing down the terror and turning toward the whimsical are these toasted coconut shortbread owls.  Light, buttery and crisp, with a lovely coconut accent – and without the overly chewy texture often associated with coconut. Toasting and grinding the coconut enhances the flavor, while eliminating the “grit”.  If you don’t have pure coconut extract on hand, you can double down on the vanilla in its place.      

With shortbread,  it is fair to say that butter is the star, so use the very best you can.  For this recipe, I used Straus Family Creamery European-Style Organic Unsalted Butter.  The high butterfat content (85%) is just perfect for this cookie, yielding an excellent, crumbly composition and uniform light golden brown color.

These are very good plain, but here I’ve topped the cookies with a little melted chocolate drizzle for some extra sweetness.  Just because I give a hoot.   

     

Toasted Coconut Shortbread Owls
Makes about 36 cookies.  Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, here.  Original recipe from Bon Appetit, here.

Cookies:
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure coconut extract
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/3 cup flour

Chocolate Drizzle:
4 – 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the cookies:  Preheat oven to 325℉.  Line a rimmed baking tray with parchment and spread coconut on top.  Bake about 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until coconut is light golden throughout. Allow to cool completely, then pulse in a food processor or blender until coarsely ground. Set aside.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Mix in extracts and salt.  Stop mixer, add in half of the flour, and beat on low speed until incorporated.  Repeat with remaining flour.  Add reserved toasted coconut, mixing until just incorporated.  Remove dough from bowl, flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least one hour*.

Preheat oven to 325℉.  Line two rimmed baking trays with parchment and set aside. Lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin, and roll out dough disc to a scant 1/4-inch thickness.  Using cookie cutter (the owl I used was about 3 inches tall by 1 1/4 inches wide), cut dough into owl shapes.  Transfer cookies to reserved baking trays, spacing about an inch apart.  Gather dough scraps, roll out dough again, and cut out remaining cookies.

Once all cookies have been cut, place trays in the oven and bake until light golden, about 15-17 minutes, rotating trays halfway through the baking process.  Cool on baking trays 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the chocolate drizzle:  On the stovetop, heat a small saucepan of water to simmering.  Place chopped chocolate and one tablespoon of the butter in a small, heatproof bowl.  Set the bowl on top of the simmering water and heat, stirring frequently, until chocolate is completely melted, adding more butter as necessary (up to 2 tablespoons) to achieve piping consistency (chocolate should be smooth and shiny). Remove from heat.

Spoon chocolate mixture into an icing bag fitted with a small tip, and pipe over cooled cookies immediately.  Allow chocolate to set completely, about 30 minutes.

Cookies will keep for up to one week, stored between layers of parchment in an airtight container at room temperature.

*  Refrigerated dough can be prepared up to two days in advance.  Allow to soften slightly, for a few minutes, at room temperature before rolling out.