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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Roasted Acorn Squash Soup with Rye Crostini

In winter, I find that I'm prone to two distinct types of soup cravings. The first is for hearty chunky soups, like a loaded minestrone, and the second demands a thick pureed soup, like a smooth-as-silk squash. Possessed of the latter, I found the prettiest acorn squash at the Farmers Market last week (I have to brag, it was gorgeous!), and set out to make this Roasted Acorn Squash Soup with Rye Crostini.


I can't say enough about what an exquisite medium acorn squash is for a soup. It perfectly complements the flavors of so many soup-friendly ingredients. Apple, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves enhance the squash's natural sweetness, while autumn-rich notes like sage, ginger and onion tip the scale towards savory, balancing out the sweet. Beta-carotene rich carrots gives the soup a substantive texture boost while illuminating it's signature orange hue. The result: a melt-in-your-mouth maze of flavors, every bite as smooth as it is scrumptious—and nutrient packed too! In fact, this soup is so rich in taste that a generous dollop of Greek yogurt is recommended to mellow it out a bit pre-serving, adding even further creaminess along with a healthy protein boost.


Equipped with a a flattened, round loaf of Nordic Bread's Finnish Ruis bread—a dense, hoppy-tasting whole-grain rye from the Union Square Greenmarket —I set out to make croutons, but the bread proved too flat. Instead, I came up with something even better: crostini mini-spoons!  I toasted thin, slivers of bread, which crisped perfectly in the toaster oven thanks to a quick spritz of olive oil.  The crostini mini-spoons acted as the perfect vessel to sop up the pureed soup. Cut along a thin diagonal, the crostini slivers can also be made easily with a whole-grain baguette.

Upon serving, the dish was really beautiful: a vibrant tangerine-hued soup, laced with thin swirls of creamy white yogurt, accented with the floating crostini crisps on top. Add a thyme sprig for a final aesthetic touch, and this one-pot-wonder—a must-have starter for cold-weather dinner parties— will certainly turn heads. Warning: requests for second helpings will keep your ladle busy!
Time Saving Tip: The squash can be roasted up to a day in advance, and then refrigerated until you're ready to start the soup. Also, after removing the squash seeds, feel free to salt & roast them along with the squash, removing from heat after 30 minutes. They make a nice crunchy snack while waiting for the soup!

Roasted Acorn Squash Soup with Rye Crostini (derived from A Sweet Pea Chef)
Yield: serves 4 as main dishes; 6 as a side

Ingredients:

2 acorn squash, sliced in half and seeds removed
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 carrots, chopped
1 large gala, macintosh or jonah gold apple, cored and chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 tsp. dried sage
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 tsp. ground allspice (or even parts cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove)
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
salt & pepper to taste
balsamic or red wine vinegar
optional garnishs: rye crostini, Greek yogurt (non-fat or low-fat), thyme sprig

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Place squash, skin-side-down, onto baking sheet. Lightly sprinkle with salt and ground black pepper.  Roast in oven for 45-50 minutes, or until flesh is tender and skin is starting to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cool, remove flesh from skin by using a spoon and scooping out the flesh. Discard skin and set flesh aside.
3. In a large, deep pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add carrots, apple, and onions and saute until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Once tender, add ginger, sage, cayenne, allspice, squash and vegetable or chicken stock. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Remove pot from heat and puree mixture, either with an immersion blender (my fav!), a blender (in batches) or a food processor.
4. Once pureed, add salt & pepper, adjusting seasoning to taste. Mix in a generous splash of vinegar. Garnish with rye crostini*, dollop of Greek yogurt, and thyme spring, if desired.

*To make rye crostini, cut bread or baguette very thinly on the diagonal. Line a shallow baking dish with tin foil and arrange slices in a single player, mist with a generous spritz of olive oil. Bake in oven or toaster oven until brown and crispy.

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