The hard-skinned, knobby squashes of fall and winter can be a bit confusing to shop for. A variety of names--the exotic-sounding delicata and kabocha, the more tame and familiar butternut and acorn--different colors and various molted patterns make it seem like cooking each variety might be as different and particular as their appearances. Not to say that there aren't differences in taste, but these winter squashes are largely interchangeable in recipes. The important to thing to consider though is ripeness when picking out a squash, a factor that is easy to over look when facing these sometimes bludgeon-like vegetables. The tell-tale sign of a ripe squash is a well-developed ground spot, the name given to the small bumps--easily mistaken for imperfections--that form on the bottom side of a squash from sitting on the ground long enough to fully mature. So the perfectly smooth squash, with no knobby "blemishes" on one side is in fact the unripe squash.
Squash season coincides with the decidedly less delicious decorative gourd season, which McSweeny's can give you a tip or two on for taking advantage of.
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Brown Butter and Sage
1 Butternut Squash (approximately 3 pounds)
3 sprigs fresh sage
2 onions, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3 cups water
3 cups dry white wine
4 tablespoons butter
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Leaving the squash unpeeled, cut in half and scoop out all of the seeds. Rub each half with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Tuck a sprig of sage inside the hollow of each half and place cut side down on a baking sheet.
3. Roast the squash in the oven for an hour or until the flesh is completely tender.
Allow the squash to cool enough to handle and scoop the flesh out of the skin.
4. Sauté the onion with 2 tablespoons of oil in a soup pot over a medium flame, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Add the roasted squash to the pot, along with the water and white wine and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Reduce the heat, bringing the soup to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.
6. Puree the soup, in batches, with a blender, and return to the soup pot. Check seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.
7. Pull the sage leaves off of the remaining sprig of sage and chop finely. In a sauté pan, melt the butter over a medium-low flame until it browns. The butter is ready when it has a light brown color and smells nutty. Remove from the heat quickly so it does not burn and add the sage.
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8. Ladle the pureed soup into bowls, adding a drizzle of brown butter and sage to each bowl.