Well hello. I had squash for breakfast today – perhaps you too? I also had it for dinner tonight, though in a slightly different form. We’ll get there in a minute. But first can we talk about the fact that my little brother Gabe is – officially – engaged? (!) As in, engaged to be married? (!!)It’s true. Gabe is engaged, to an incredible woman named Amanda. We have known her for five years now, and she feels more perfectly like family every time we see her. We are all crazy about her, but Lucas is actually a little bit in love with Hi-Amanda (as he calls her, and that’s another story). Last time they stayed with us he asked her (right in front of me!) to be his mommy. Seriously: “I want joo to be my mommy,” he said, and he was all cuddled up in her lap and stroking hair. So I guess it’s lucky that Gabe asked Amanda to marry him and she said yes, because if he had waited a few more years Lucas might have beat him to it.
We’ve talked about Gabe’s World Famous Chimichurri Sauce. The kid (yes, still and always he will be my kid brother) can cook. He can also do esoteric economic equations in his head, lived the better part of four years in a cabin where he had to chop wood if he wanted hot water, had an offensive lacrosse play named after him in high school (“The Gabe” involved running full speed and steam-rolling over the defense; as he liked to say then, it was more tactical than strategic), has visited approximately ten times as many countries as I have (and on approximately 1/10th of the budget) and most defining of all, he gives the best hugs. Just the best.
I don’t think my mom had a favorite child, but if she had, I’m pretty sure it would have been Gabe. His easy laugh and awkward helpfulness and surprising maturity can appear on the surface as the classic youngest sibling’s charm, but with Gabe it is so much more than that: it is a warmth in his eyes and in his heart, a willingness to connect deeply and carefully. Gabe has never been afraid to ask tough questions, or to listen to their answers. He is a joyful person, a boisterous person even; but he is also wise. In Amanda he has found a partner who is not only beautiful inside and out, she is also beautifully present in the world and with the people around her. I’m continually thrilled by her warmth and generosity with all of us in Gabe’s family, as well as with her own (big! boisterous! loving!) clan. She is thoughtful, and funny, and kind-hearted, and while I’m glad she didn’t take Lucas up on his request, I one-hundred percent understand why he made it.
Gabe and Amanda bring out the best in each other, which is a cliche but what I mean is that the purest and truest parts of them seem to be in sync. We couldn’t be happier that they’re going to make it official; I have a feeling that my mom (who in the last weeks of her life got to chat with Amanda over Skype, and loved her) would be over the moon.
If you’ll allow me that, then, as a heavy-handed transition to this squash soup: consider it a reflection on how the right partner can make something special into something spectacular. In honor of Gabe and Amanda, I give you, with no further ado but possibly the world’s longest and ramble-iest headnote:
Squash Soup, with Herby Browned Butter Drizzle
Adapted from Heidi Swanson at 101cookbooks.com
One of the reasons I love Heidi and her blog is that she makes magic – actual magic – with the most basic ingredients. This soup is spectacularly simple, they type of thing I make all the time for a quick weeknight supper, but I have also served it to company with glowing reviews and “You must have spent hours!” type comments. Heidi makes hers with fresh squash meat, but having tried both I prefer using my slumpy roasted squash; it adds a bit of a deeper flavor, a sort of coziness that I love – and with a bowl of roasted squash in the fridge near-constantly, it is actually easier for me to use that than to do battle with a fierce and thick-skinned fresh pumpkin.
The heat on this from a chile is really nice for those of us who like spicy. But omit the chile and you still have yourself one hell of a soup.
It’s a tough call for me as to whether I like this better for dinner (fast! easy! crowd-pleasing!) or warmed in a mug for lunch the next day; the one definite thing is, don’t skip the browned butter. Plain browned butter would work, if you have nothing else handy. But the rosemary-and-lemon kicked one is unbelievable. It probably actually deserves its very own post. But since it is part of the crowd here, I’m going to call it out: it is so good that just the smell of it actually makes my mouth water. I have made no secret of my love for the rosemary-citrus-butter trinity; this soup gives me a way to partake, guilt free and veggie-laden, any time the urge strikes. Kyle said tonight, “This is The Squash Soup! You made this soup all last winter, at least once a week.” I took that to be a statement of excited delight, which is how it was intended.
A word about all that water: once, many years ago and before I had children, when I got to do things like galavant off to private parties at The French Laundry for lunch and behind-the-scenes tours of their kitchen and garden (no seriously, I actually got to do that) – once I had a carrot soup made by Thomas Keller. I told Kyle, euphorically, that it tasted so much like a carrot that it was almost as though he had captured the very idea of a carrot in the taste. So light and clean and clear was the carrot flavor in that soup, that these many years later I still think of it as the truest expression of pure carrotness that I have ever experienced. (Liam, am I right?) At the time I speculated that it had been strained exhaustively through subsequently finer mesh strainers – it was a barely-there mousse-smoothness on the tongue. The first time I made this soup though, I realized something: it is possible that all Keller did was add a little salt and a lot of water to those carrots, and then puree the heck out of them. By which I mean – this vibrant yellow-orange soup captures winter squash with the same impossible smooth that Keller’s soup captured carrot. All of which is to say: accept the water. Don’t make this soup too thick. And don’t you dare go using chicken stock.
The browned butter, with rosemary and lemon, is what catapults this soup from the realm of something you want a few perfect bites of to the stratosphere of something you want to guzzle bowls and bowls of. Butter is famous for its ability to pair inspiringly with the simplest partners (like butter on toast, right?) – browning that butter, infusing it with rosemary’s herby glitz and lemon’s bright zest – if ever a soup was better matched, I haven’t heard tell of it.
Cheers to one more perfect match, then. I’m hoping that you and this soup will have your own happily ever after.
2 tablespoons butter (or coconut oil)
1 large onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1/2 serrano chile, chopped (Optional: if making for my kids I omit the chile, and Kyle and I use cayenne on top of our bowls instead.)
1 inch ginger, peeled and microplaned (I do this directly into the pot, so as to capture the “ginger juice” along with the ginger)
1 1/2 pounds flesh from a roasted pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and seeded
Optional (but the butter is critical) for serving: brown rice, plain yogurt or coconut cream, toasted squash seeds or toasted nuts, lemon-rosemary browned butter drizzle (see below).
In a large soup pot, melt the butter or coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, shallot, chile and ginger, plus a generous pinch of salt. Cook until the onion is softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin and 6 cups of water (yes, six. No, don’t use chicken stock here.)
Bring everything just to a simmer, then cook gently until squash is completely tender throughout, about 15 minutes depending on your squash. Let it cool for a few minutes, then puree with a hand blender until very smooth (two minutes). If you like an even thinner soup or are going for something brothy and sippable to put in a cozy mug, add a bit more water. Salt to taste, then return to the stove for a minute or two to get it really warm.
Serve over a scoop of brown rice, with the brown butter drizzle. (Also yogurt, seeds, etc as you like.)
*Lemon-Rosemary Browned Butter: Melt 1 stick butter in a small saucepan over medium heat for about five minutes, long enough to let the butter start to brown. When it smells toasty and you can see it just barely darkening, add the minced leaves from two sprigs of rosemary, the zest of a lemon, and a good pinch of salt. Let it continue to cook for about a minute, watching carefully so that it doesn’t burn. You can strain the butter if you’d like, but we prefer it with the toasty flecks of rosemary and lemon zest. (Heidi also adds ginger pulp to her butter, but we toss that right into the soup pot. Your choice!)
* Photo of Gabe and Amanda by Mikayla Rinehart