Up until about a year ago, butternut squash was firmly on my no-go list, along with puff pastry and canning. Way too much trouble, I figured. Hollowing out a pumpkin once a year is about all the large, stringy, gooey, seeded orange vegetable I’m interested in tackling, thank you very much.
Then I read in some culinary tome or other about a quick and easy way to prepare the butternut squash and it became so simple, that swear, I’m turning orange! Butternut squash is inexpensive and surprisingly easy to find in Moscow most of the year around. I get mine at the Farmer’s Market, where it lurks in a corner with the pumpkins, acorn squash and other vegetables of its ilk. What it’s called is a source of confusion. Some Russians call it a тыква, which is pumpkin, and others a кабачок, which to me is more like yellow squash, but pointing to it wordlessly works just as well. It’s the beige one that looks like an overgrown mushroom or a nuclear missile.
Butternut squash is a wonderfully versatile: great for soups and risottos, and delightful as a side dish for meats and poultry. High in vitamins, it’s also low in fat, making it a great option if you’re trying to watch your caloric intake. Filling and comforting, it is the perfect thing as the cold weather moves in. This soup always gets rave reviews, and I think it’s due to the extra step of slowly cooking the onions unti
Sage (шалфей) is the classic accompaniment to butternut squash, and therein lies the problem. I’ve yet to find a store in Moscow where fresh sage is consistently reliably available the year around, and, sadly, the market vendors don’t tend to stock it at all. Azbukha Vkusa is the best bet, but you can’t always count on it. Dried sage doesn’t really pack the same amount punch as the fresh, but if you are determined to use it, look for it in the chain supermarkets under it’s French name “sauge.”
If you can’t find fresh sage and you can’t bear dried, don’t despair! There are plenty of options to flavoring this easy soup, which freezes beautifully, and can be dressed up with cream and calvados for a rich first course, or just heated up with some skim milk for a quick and a satisfying lo-cal lunch.
To Finish (optional)
Reheat the base over moderate heat, then whisk in Greek yoghurt or heavy cream (crème fraiche if you can find it!). For a dinner-party finish, add a splash of Calvados and a dollop of whipped heavy cream and sprinkle with chopped parsley or chives.
To Garnish (optional):
Compliment the vibrant orange with contrasting chopped herbs – sage, thyme, chopped parsley or chives. Float apple slices on the surface, or spike with a wedge of blood orange, or a curl of orange peel and a sprinkling of sumac.
Variation: Taking it East (optional):
Indian spices are a great variation for this soup. Add a tablespoon of both curry powder and turmeric (both available in most supermarkets, the farmer’s markets, and the Indian Spice Shop) as you sweat the onions.