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.

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