Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Oh Snap!

We had a cold snap last night. And when the temps drop, I go for two things: a fire and soup. OK and maybe a hot toddy.

I decided the perfect Rx would be the bourbon butternut squash bisque I served at my bourbon tasting party a few months ago. While I often think of butternut squash soup as over-rated, this version is definitely off the hook. Seriously, when I served it at the party, I felt like a drug pusher, forcing a cup of this soup on anyone with—or without—a spare hand.

What makes it so different? It isn't overly sweet. It actually isn't really sweet at all. Well, I gave some to my friend's 4-year old daughter who inhaled it but said it tasted "just like watermelon." Well, she is only four so has a somewhat limited palette, but she also just consumed a hearty helping of vegetables so what mom would complain? Well, there was a healthy dose of bourbon in it so maybe that explains the strange proclamation?

Anyway, the roasted butternut squash for the base does get all lovely and caramelized, but it surely doesn't taste like dessert (or fruit). It's perfectly rounded out by a generous addition of leeks, onions, garlic and cumin. The nutmeg adds a little somethin' somethin' that no one can ever put their finger on. It's almost always the secret ingredient in a recipe but this time I beg to differ. This recipe called for soy sauce which added a nice note of saltiness to the sweetness of the vegetables, creating more depth to the soup than I think it would have had otherwise.

Then there was some "flair" added in because really who wants to eat boring soup?! I'm talking about a little maple syrup, some dry sherry and, of course, bourbon. It's been well documented that I like the eat my bourbon as much as I like to drink it, but it's for good reason. When done well, it gives a slight hint of vanilla, caramel and even smoke to a dish, transforming simple ingredients into a three-diminsional tasting experience. In short, it takes a dish from ordinary to memorable, which is just what occurs here.

This really does come together in a snap There's no breaking down of fatty proteins or tenderizing beans for hours. Once the squash is roasted, you're basically just adding a few finishing touches and heating it up to bring all the flavors together. The pureeing is not even necessary but the silkiness of a pureed soup just feels so indulgent. The finished color is gorgeous and the taste positively swoon-worthy.

So cook this up and stay toasty, my friends!

Butternut Squash and Bourbon Bisque
from FoodNetwork.com

8 cups cubed butternut squash
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced leeks
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp chopped fresh garlic
1 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger
2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup bourbon
1/2 cup dry sherry
1/4 tsp grated whole nutmeg
5 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup evaporated skim milk
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 Tbsp water

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place cubed squash in a roasting pan and bake for approximately 45 minutes or until tender when stuck with a fork.
2. In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat and add the onions. Cook until lightly golden brown (approximately 8 - 10 minutes) and add the leeks and cumin. Cook for 2 minutes and add garlic and ginger. When the garlic is fragrant, add the maple syrup, soy sauce, bourbon, sherry and nutmeg. Add the squash and stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook gently for about 15 minutes.
3. Using an immersion blender (or a regular blender), puree soup until very smooth. Add the evaporated milk, salt, and pepper. Cook for two minutes; do not bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir until thickened, about 5 minutes.
Note: Serves 6 but easily doubles.

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