Tuesday, January 20, 2015

butternut soup with brown butter and nutmeg crème fraîche

Before you make a Thomas Keller recipe, you will read through the recipe and think to yourself this is insane. Thomas Keller recipes are absurdly particular, some may even say anal in their instructions.   Your immediate reaction will be to think you can cut corners - that it doesn't really matter how thick you cut your leeks and onions.  Roasting and cooking my squash isn't actually necessary. But, resist the urge to cut corners.  While the recipe may seem absolutely mad, you will be rewarded for your ability to follow instructions to a T.   

I was apprehensive of this particular squash soup recipe.  It seemed too finicky and particular for my tastes.   But the commentators raved and I remembered that Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc chocolate chip cookie recipe is my absolute favorite so I decided to give it a go.   

In short, this soup is kind of amazing.  

I've made a lot of squash soups in my day but this one is killer.  Impossibly flavorful, absurdly beautiful, and incredibly comforting.  It works for both an up-scale dinner party and a lazy Sunday evening dinner at home in your PJ's.   Despite all of the steps (and particulars of the recipe) it's kind of easy.  I don't know how such flavor is coaxed out of the simplest of ingredients, but somehow, someway it happens and it's a beautiful thing.     

Butternut Soup with Brown Butter and Nutmeg Crème Fraîche
Recipe adapted from Food 52 and Thomas Keller

Serves 6 

My inability to read a recipe properly left me roasting the entire squash and not just the bulb.  The soup was still killer so I don't think I harmed it any way but I imagine it is better to cook it as written.  Oh! A sprinkle of smoked spanish paprika at the very end is a very killer addition.   

One 3 to 3 1/2-pound butternut squash
2 tablespoons canola oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sage sprigs
1 cup thinly sliced (1/8-inch thick) leeks, white and light green parts only
½ cup thinly sliced (1/8-inch thick) carrots
½ cup thinly sliced (1/8-inch thick) shallots
½ cup thinly sliced (1/8-inch thick) onions
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons honey
6 cups vegetable stock, plus extra if necessary
Bouquet Garni made of 8 sprigs thyme, 2 sprigs Italian parsley, 2 bay leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, all wrapped in a packet made of 2 green leek leaves
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
¼ cup crème fraîche or sour cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
Canola oil (if using sage leaves)
12 sage leaves or 1 tablespoon minced chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

For the soup: Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment.
Cut the neck off the squash and set it aside. Cut the bulb in half and scoop out and discard the seeds. Brush each half inside and out with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the canola oil. Sprinkle the cavities with salt and pepper and tuck a sprig of sage into each. Place cut side down on the baking sheet and roast for about 1 hour, or until completely tender.

Remove the squash from the oven and let cool, then scoop out and reserve the flesh (discard sage).
Meanwhile, using a paring knife or a peeler, carefully peel away the skin from the neck of the squash until you reach the bright orange flesh. Cut the flesh into 1/2-inch pieces (you should have about 4 cups).

Put the remaining canola oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat, add the leeks, carrots, shallots, and onions and cook, stirring often, for about 6 minutes. Add the diced squash, garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook gently for 3 minutes, reducing the heat as necessary to keep the garlic and squash from coloring. Stir in the honey and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock and bouquet garni, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until the squash is tender.

Add the roasted squash and simmer gently for about 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Remove from the heat and discard the bouquet garni. Transfer the soup to a blender, in batches, and puree. Strain the soup through a fine sieve into a bowl (optional). Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning. Let the soup cool, then refrigerate until ready to serve.

To complete: Place the crème fraiche or sour cream  in a chilled small metal bowl and stir in nutmeg to taste. Whisk with a small whisk until the crème fraiche/sour cream holds a shape. Cover and refrigerate.

Reheat the soup. If it is too thick, add a little more vegetable stock. Heat a medium skillet over high heat. When it is very hot, add the butter and rotate the skillet over the heat as necessary to brown the butter evenly, scraping up any bits that settle in the bottom. As soon as the foaming has subsided and the butter is a hazelnut brown, pour it into the pot of soup. Be careful not to leave the butter over the heat too long, as it can change from rich brown to black in seconds.

Meanwhile, if using sage leaves (optional), heat 1/8 inch of canola oil in a small skillet. When the oil is very hot, add the sage and cook for 30 to 45 seconds, turning the leaves to crisp them on both sides. When the bubbling stops, the moisture in the leaves will have evaporated and the leaves will be crisp. Drain the sage on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.

Ladle the soup into six serving bowls. Top each with a dollop of crème fraîche. Grind some black pepper over the top and garnish each with 2 sage leaves or some minced chives. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top.

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