Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Butternut Squash-Leek Soup with Fresh Apple, Orange and Spiced Creme Fraiche

You certainly can't walk into any market produce section, roadside stand, or farmers' market right now without seeing squash...galore. They're colorful and visually interesting...to say the least. And they definitely say "autumn."

Thinking I might serve a butternut squash soup with our Thanksgiving dinner, I figured this was as good a time as any to try to get the recipe right! The recipe I tried around this time last year wasn't a hit. It kind of tasted a bit plain and too much like...well...squash. I know, I realize this sounds like a silly statement, but I wanted the soup to have more depth of flavor than it did...and a bit more sweetness. Strangely enough, I have three different butternut squash soup recipes in my file, all untested, and all offering just a little twist from the next -- with leeks or onion, pumpkin puree or carrots, apple, orange, sage...even bacon. In looking at these three recipes that interested me enough to warrant a "save," I realized I liked various components of each but couldn't fully commit to any one. So...I used bits and pieces of all three, thinking of the apples in both the salad and stuffing I'll be serving, and the fresh orange I always add to my homemade cranberry sauce.

This soup definitely has the natural sweetness I want from a butternut squash soup, and offers a great depth of balanced flavor -- with a bit of pumpkin puree, leek, apple, orange, and honey. It all comes together so well. And...the cool, fresh, spiced creme fraiche really adds the perfect, complimenting, final touch -- a must, in my opinion!

Butternut Squash-Leek Soup with Fresh Apple, Orange and Spiced Creme Fraiche
adapted from Barefoot Contessa, Bon Appetit, and Oregonian FOODday recipes
Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-1/2 to 2 cups leek, thinly sliced (about 2 large leeks)
5 - 6 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (1 medium squash)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix!)
1 apple, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I used a Gala apple)
3 - 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (see note)
1/2 to 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (see note)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (adjust if not using low-sodium broth)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons creme fraiche
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch cayenne pepper

french baguette and grated Gruyere cheese...if you want to make broiled cheese toasts to accompany soup (recommended!).

1. Heat butter and olive oil in a heavy stockpot over medium-high heat. Add leek and saute for about 5 to 7 minutes, until tender. Add squash, pumpkin puree, and apple. Saute another 1 to 2 minutes. Add 3 cups chicken broth, 1/3 cup orange juice, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer over low to medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until squash is fork-tender. Add honey and simmer another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Transfer mixture, in batches, to blender to puree. Puree with tap released from top of blender to allow steam to escape. Return pureed batches to pot. Place pot on stove to reheat/maintain heat.

Note: Taste pureed soup. Add additional chicken stock and/or orange juice, to taste, to thin to a silky, smooth consistency. Add additional salt and pepper, to taste. Add additional broth and/or juice with each reheating, as necessary, to maintain consistency.

3. Mix creme fraiche with nutmeg and pinch of cayenne. Serve soup with a dollop of cream mixture on top and Gruyere cheese toasts along the side!

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