A favorite winter soup

This is the best time of year for a warm bowl of soup. All those big holiday feasts are receding into the past, and we yearn for simpler meals. Our New Year's resolutions about eating more healthful foods and getting fit make us want to focus on simpler ways to satisfy our hunger. And those dark, chilly January nights demand dishes that can really warm you up from the inside.

Soup is a perfect solution. Make a robust soup and add a hearty side salad and some crusty bread, and dinner is served. Prepare that soup with the best produce from the farmers' market, and you're eating with good health in mind. And a soup that's thick and velvety seems almost to glow with warmth, bringing you cozy comfort with every spoonful. My recipe for Roasted Winter Squash Soup with Red Bell Pepper Swirl is a very satisfying example of what I mean.

Hard-shelled winter squashes are abundantly available in farmers' markets and supermarket produce departments right now. I've called here for two of the most common kinds, butternut and acorn, which combine to give the soup a more complex flavor and a rich golden-orange color. But you could also substitute other good varieties you might find, such as banana squash, Delicata, Hubbard, or kabocha. You might find some of the larger types being sold already cut up into skin-on chunks. But the two I call for usually need to be cut in half before roasting, a task that will call for a sharp, sturdy knife, a slip-proof cutting board, and -- most important of all -- carefulness!

Those squashes, plus some broth and seasonings, make up the majority of the ingredients. Yes, there's also some butter and cream. But, when you divide them by the maximum number of bowlfuls you get, 12, you see how healthy the soup really is. There's just 1/2 tablespoon of butter and 2 teaspoons of cream per serving. You see, even a little touch of richness can help deliver so much satisfaction with every spoonful.

The final touch, a simple puree of roasted red bell pepper, makes each bowlful more beautiful and flavorful. If you like, substitute a scattering of toasted nuts or some dried cranberries or cherries.

I would happily serve this healthful soup to my family and friends for a casual dinner any day of the week during winter. All you need to do is add a loaf of hot whole-grain bread and a salad of winter greens -- perhaps hand-torn pieces of kale tossed with some toasted nuts, a few dried cranberries, and a warm balsamic dressing.

Doesn't that sound delicious? I feel warmer just thinking about it!


Roasted Winter Squash Soup with Red Bell Pepper Swirl Recipe

Makes about 2 quarts, 8 to 12 servings

3-3/4 pounds organic butternut squash

1-3/4 pounds organic acorn squash

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra as needed

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper, plus extra as needed

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 organic red bell peppers

1 small white onion, peeled and finely diced

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

4 cups organic chicken broth or vegetable broth, heated, plus 1/4 cup extra

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 sprig fresh rosemary


Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Meanwhile, cut the squashes in half. Scoop out and discard the seeds. In a small, microwave-proof bowl, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and brush it over the cut sides of the squashes. Season with salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. Arrange the squash cut side down in a roasting pan. Put the peppers in a separate small pan or baking dish. Put the two pans in the oven. Roast until the bell peppers are uniformly blackened and blistered, about 30 minutes, and the squash is tender, about 1 hour. Remove both pans from the oven and leave at room temperature until cool enough to handle.

With a large spoon, scoop the flesh from the squashes into a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade. Pulse until pureed. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. You should have about 4 cups.

In a medium soup pot, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter over low heat. Add the onion and saute, stirring frequently, until tender but not yet browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low, add the squash, and cook, stirring occasionally, just until heated through. Stir in the ginger, cardamom, and salt and pepper to taste.

Raise the heat slightly to low, pour in the 4 cups broth, and bring to a boil, stirring often. Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and discard the blackened skins from the peppers. Slit them open and remove the stems, seeds, and veins. Put the roasted flesh of the peppers in a blender, add the remaining 1/4 cup of broth, puree, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a plastic squeeze bottle or to a small bowl.

Stir the cream and rosemary sprig into the pot of soup and continue simmering gently until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Remove the rosemary.

Ladle the soup into heated serving bowls. Garnish each bowl with a swirl of bell pepper puree, squeezed from the squeeze bottle or spooned from the bowl. Serve immediately.

Vegetarian Soup Recipe, American Cuisine


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Roasted Winter Squash Soup with Red Bell Pepper Swirl

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