Monday, June 1, 2009

Last Chance Roasted Garlic and Butternut Squash Soup

Every year in Southern California, we endure a horrific and debilitating catastrophe of disastrous proportions: slightly lousy weather. For a few odd days in May and June, the skies are an uncharacteristic pale gray, the reliable golden rays unable to break through a layer of haze to our sun-accustomed faces. We call it "May Gray" and "June Gloom": cute and rhyme-y monikers for an otherwise gruesome ordeal.

During these intolerable days of doom, the most docile of California folk find themselves behaving drastically out-of-sorts: yogis mutter curses while in Downward Facing Dog, fights erupt in line on the sacred grounds of Starbucks. And as for me? I commit violent offenses in my very own kitchen, casting aside seasonal strawberries and asparagus in an unscrupulous pursuit of comfort food.

In other words, I make soup. Winter soup.

The truth is, I like these days. They're a Last Chance Excuse to stay in my sweats, stirring up something soul-satisfying to accompany a good book before the relentless perfection of summer besieges us. Knowing that months will pass before the weather will give me
permission to be sloth-like, it feels luxurious and merited to enjoy one last day indoors.

Soon, the warm nights will be underscored by the hum of the fan as I sleep under a single cool sheet. There will be late dinners on the patio, the lingering sun eager to stay up late with us like a kid on summer break. The joyous shrieks and splashing from neighbors' pools will echo through our streets; the solo "Marco" followed by the chorus of "Polo." We'll pack watermelon for day-trips to the beach, and marshmallows for overnight camping. Dry winds will bring wildfires, and white ash will fall on our cars like eerie summer snow. I'll turn another year older, a new generation, including my niece, will start kindergarten, and we'll find ourselves grasping onto the last perfect day of summer.

All of this is just ahead of us, on the other side of that haze. Which is why I made this soup while I could.

This recipe is quite simple, which allows you more time to squander your day away in your pajamas. Most of the work is done by the oven, since almost all of the ingredients of this soup are roasted... have I mentioned here my love of roasting vegetables? Roasting makes the flavors of vegetables deeper, more determined and robust. For this particular soup, you roast the squash, tomatoes, garlic and peppers until you can almost taste them wafting through the vent of your oven.

Then it's just a little simmering and some blending, and you have the most decadent and soothing soup.

In a few days, I'll likely have a new recipe for you, probably something fit for an early summer picnic. But for today I'll stay in my pajamas, curl up on the couch, and savor my last bowl of warm soup while I can.

Adapted from Anne Sheasby

This soup is rich and toasty, and tastes like it is filled with sinful butter and cream, but miraculously is not. I doubted the salsa when I read the recipe; having tasted it, it would be a shame to leave it out. It is an essential part of the soup, and any leftovers you have of it would be delicious in scrambled eggs, or (my favorite) drizzled on a corn tortilla with melted cheese.

2 garlic bulbs, outermost skin removed (the skins around the cloves should remain intact)
5 tablespoons olive oil
A few fresh thyme sprigs
1 large butternut squash, halved and seeded
2 onions, chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or marjoram
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salsa:
2 large ripe tomatoes, halved and seeded
1 red bell pepper, halved and seeded
1 jalapeno
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon caster (superfine) sugar
Salt to taste
Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Place the garlic bulbs on a piece of foil and pour over half the olive oil. Add the thyme sprigs, then fold the foil around the garlic bulbs to enclose them completely. Place the foil parcel on a baking sheet with the halved butternut squash. Brush squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the halved and seeded tomatoes, red pepper and jalapeno to the baking sheet (for the salsa).

Roast the vegetable for 25 minutes, then remove the tomatoes, jalapeno and red pepper. Put red pepper and jalapeno in ziplock bag and seal (this will help release the skins). Reduce the temperature to 375 and cook the squash and garlic for 25 minutes more, or until the squash is tender.

Heat the remaining oil in a large, heavy-based pan and cook the onions and ground coriander gently for about 10 minutes, or until softened.

Skin the pepper and jalapenos (but do not rinse), removing the seeds, stem and ribs from the jalapeno and process in a food processor or blender with the tomatoes and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in the vinegar, sugar and salt to taste. Add the remaining oil if you think the salsa needs it.

Squeeze the roasted garlic out of its papery skin into the onions and scoop the squash out of its skin, adding it to the pan. Add the stock, 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in half the oregano or marjoram and cool the soup slightly, then process it in a blender or food processor.

Reheat the soup without allowing it to boil, then taste for seasoning before ladling it into bowls. Top each with a spoonful of salsa and sprinkle over the remaining chopped oregano or marjoram. Sprinkle with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, and serve immediately.

Yields four small bowls.


  1. I was talking to one of my coworkers in Boston yesterday, and telling her about how cold and foggy it is, and she said, "Oh, so this is when you have winter." I guess you could call it that. But I'm sitting here shivering thinking some butternut squash soup would really hit the spot right now!

  2. Ha! I know just what you mean. Lately, we've had some "May gray" and "June gloom" here on the east coast, too. I've never tried roasted garlic in my squash soup. Sounds delicious! Thanks for the great idea.