Sunday, March 13, 2011

Roasted butternut squash soup

Sharing culinary ideas is one of the benefits of regularly meeting with other chefs. From the moment I walked in the Canby Grove Camp and Conference Center kitchen and met chefs Ira Krizo and Bob Vannigan, we talked shop. We enjoyed an informal chef's roundtable, especially after chef Leo Griego walked in.

Our main task was to prep for Monday night's dinner and lunch on Tuesday. Bob was removing pork tenderloins from a smoking skillet as I walked in the door. And Ira sauteed onions and mushrooms for his wonderful lobster strudel appetizer.

I quickly jumped in and cut vegetables for a roasted vegetable salad with black quinoa. The morning progressed as we moved from task to task. We talked about our jobs, challenges and asked questions of each other.

After we finished with Monday's prep, Ira handed us a case of butternut squash. I already knew that Ira's Roasted Butternut Squash Soup would be one of the takeaways from the conference as he had attached the recipe to the conference agenda.

After we cubed the squash, Ira tossed it with chopped white onion, sliced garlic, olive oil, salt, black pepper and Italian herbs. The two sheetpans of squash roasted in the convection oven for around 30 minutes.

Once the squash had achieved a deep brown color, Ira chilled the squash. The soup was finished on Tuesday in the hour before lunch.

The roasted garlic danced stood out when I sampled a bowl at lunch on Tuesday. The soup impressed me so much that I prepared it for the residents at work on Friday.

Chef Ira offer these modifications for Roasted Butternut Squash Soup:
  • If the soup tastes raw, either the squash wasn't ripe or the baking time was insufficient. Simmer until creamy before adding the heavy cream.
  • If you don't have chicken stock or wish to make a vegetarian soup, exchange the chicken stock with water or vegetable broth.
  • Try different types of winter squashes for different flavors and textures.
  • For a more pronounced herb flavor, use fresh herbs instead of dried. Oregano, sage, thyme and a little rosemary all work very well.
  • A sweet and spiced soup is created by replacing the herbs with ginger (chopped or granulated) and molasses.
  • Try different garnishing alternatives by using one or two of the following: toasted pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, fresh chopped herbs, creme fraiche or even croutons.
  • The soup can also be served chilled on a hot summer day.

The recipe is adapted the one Chef Ira handed out during the conference.

10 pounds butternut squash (around 2 large squash)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 white onions, diced small
6 tablespoons minced garlic
6 tablespoons dried thyme
3 quarts chicken stock
kosher salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
3 cups heavy cream

Peel, seed and dice squash into 1/2-inch cubes. Toss squash, onion, garlic and thyme in olive oil.

Spread squash mixture onto 1 full-sized sheet pan or 2 half-sized sheet pans. Roast in a 450-deg. oven for about 35 minutes, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes. When finished, squash will be thoroughly cooked and golden brown all over.

Puree squash in a blender or food processor, adding chicken stock until desired consistency is achieved. Soup should have the consistency of heavy cream.

Place mixture in a sauce pan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, stir in cream and return to a simmer. Serve hot.

Yield is approximately 6 quarts. Serves 25 (8-ounce) portions.

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