Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Autumn Bisque with Butternut Squash, Fennel and Onions A Taste of Fall's Bounty

When I was attending college in the the Shenandoah Valley at James Madison University there was an interesting collection of folks who lived there. I mean by that that there were University folks and then there were townies, or locals. This group was further splintered out into cultural and religious groups. Many of of who had been there since before the civil war. The largest and most visible of these groups was probably the Mennonites.

Mennonites like the Amish in the Pennsylvania countryside are a German religious group who fled Europe in the 1700's seeking a better life and the freedom to worship as they pleased. They settled into various areas but today are concentrated in lower Virginia and Southern Pennsylvania. They are peaceful and good natured people who are mostly farmers and such and who make their living off the land.

In the city of Harrisonburg where I went to college there was a local food coop run by the Mennonites. You could get the best produce and local milk cheese and baked products one could imagine. One of the things that was always available in the late fall once school was in session were sweet potatoes and squash as well as other root veggies. So I got into the habit of making soup which as a Student was very easy and cheap and filling. One of the soups I learned how to make was a butternut squash soup flavored with curry. It was a recipe from my roommate's mother and it was really delicious. But I sort of stopped making it because later on I really never lived in cold climate and warming soups were not a part of my diet as much.

When I first got into catering in New York city I was again exposed to the butternut squash and as it got more popular it started popping up everywhere. Soon every natural soup company was making a butternut squash soup. But still I only would make this soup or a version of it once a year during the fall normally for a dinner party. And this year I was asked for a soup as a starter for the dinner I was attending. So I pulled out this recipe and revisited it as a reference for making a new version. And I must say that with one exception I stuck with the original formula and that one change made the soup really a level above where it had been before. And gauging from the reactions at the dinner I hit a home run!!

So here is my recipe it makes about 10 cups and I suggest you make it all because you are going to want eat it for leftovers. Enjoy Ya'll

Forrest's Autumn Bisque with Fennel, Onions and Pistachio's

2 lbs of butternut squash cut up in cubes ( if you can buy this it makes life so much easier)
4 tablespoons butter (optional)
2 large onions diced
2 fennel bulbs ( white part) diced
6 cloves of garlic roasted in the oven till soft and caramelized
1 tablespoon fresh thyme chopped
dried sage, thyme, rosemary
dried cumin, Dharamsala ( Indian Spice mix you can buy or make this), turmeric
Salt and Pepper
Optional chopped pistachios and roasted pistachio oil
Creme fraiche or sour cream (for garnish)
1 small bunch chopped chives ( hold a few pinches for garnish on the side)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1 cup half and half


Place the butternut squash on a baking tray and toss with olive oil and the fresh thyme a good sprinkle of dried rosemary and sage, salt and pepper
Bake in a 350 degree oven for between 20 and 40 mins. At 20 minutes check to see if soft with a fork bake till soft but not really browned.
Remove and cool
Meanwhile in a large stock pot cook the onions and fennel with some oil and salt and pepper just till soft add butter till melted.
Add in the stock and the butternut squash and the garlic
Add 1 heaping Tablespoon cumin, 1 1/2 heaping Tablespoons Dharamsala and 1 heaping Tablespoon turmeric
Add 1 teaspoon dried sage and also thyme
Add 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
Add 1 teaspoon pepper
Add bay leaves
Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer cook for 30 mins
Turn off heat.

Cool slightly remove bat leaves and then working in batches puree soup in a blender
Or use a immersion blender if too thick add water to thin
Return soup to pot put on warm heat ( do not boil)
Add the half and half
Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed ( I find it needs it)
( note* at this point you can add more cumin, Dharamsala or turmeric as desired. The amounts I show are a good start but you may want more spice feel free to add more to your taste)

To serve:

Right before serving stir in chives
Place in a bowl and garnish with a dallop of creme fraiche, a few pistchios and a drizzle of the oil and some reserved chives

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