This is my take on an excellent soup from The Old Vicarage in Sheffield, where Dan and I had the pleasure of eating several years ago. Its perfect as a starter for a festive winter meal, or served in small cups as a canap.
Cooking time: 40 mins
Serves: 6 as a starter
1 butternut squash (approx. 1 kg)
1 white onion
2 cloves garlic
80 g butter
1 bay leaf
small bunch of thyme
500 ml vegetable stock
1 small brioche roll
salt and pepper, to taste
- Split the butternut squash in half lengthwise with a large sharp knife. Peel with a potato peeler (I find this easier after splitting, flat side down on a chopping board) and scoop out the stringy parts and seeds. Dice the squash into ~1 cm cubes. Dice the onion, then peel and partly crush the garlic cloves with the flat of a knife.
- Preheat the oven to 180 C.
- Add 20 g of the butter to a large skillet over medium heat, and once it starts to bubble add the onion. Saut until translucent, then add the garlic cloves and the bay leaf. Season well with salt and pepper.
- After a minute or so add the butternut squash and the stock, topping up with water if necessary to just cover all the veg. Nestle a bundle of thyme in the pan and bring to a gentle boil (adding more water if needed) until the squash is fork tender, about 2530 minutes.
- While the squash is cooking, make the brown butter (beurre noisette). In a small saucepan over medium heat add the rest of the butter, swirling to ensure it all melts before it starts to bubble. Bring to a boil and keep a close eye on it; first the butter will split and foam with large bubbles, after which it will appear to calm down and produce very fine bubbles. Move the foam carefully with the spoon so you can see the bottom of the pan, where the milk solids will start to darken. Once the bits are brown and the butter smells of toasted nuts (about 5 minutes), kill the heat and pour into a glass measuring jug to halt the cooking, being sure to scrape any brown bits into the jug from the bottom of the pan.
- Cube your brioche into croutons (I prefer a sharp knife over a bread knife for this, as brioche can tear easily) about 1 cm wide. Toss the cubes in a couple of tablespoons of your brown butter then lay on a sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes until golden and crispy.
- Once the squash is very soft, kill the heat, remove the bay leaf and bundle of thyme stalks (a few thyme leaves are fine to leave in) and pour through a sieve, reserving the liquid. Add the solids to a blender and blend on high for 3060 s, adding a tablespoon of brown butter, and cooking liquid as needed until a thick, smooth consistency is reached: it should thickly coat a spoon, but not leave peaks on the surface of the soup.
- An optional step is to pass your soup through a fine sieve, and push it through with a ladle or plastic dough scraper. This ensures no vegetable fibres or unblended material makes it into the final dish, and will really improve the smoothness, but it can be a bit arduous.
- Serve hot in very small bowls or teacups, drizzle the top with a teaspoon or two of the brown butter, add a few croutons and finally a few individual leaves of fresh thyme.
This is my go-to Christmas dinner starter when Im trying to impress, it packs a lot of flavour into a small portion and will leave your guests wanting more. A splash of double cream after will up the opulence even more, but I find it can deaden the flavour of the squash a little. You will have an excess of brown butter left from this recipe, it keeps well in the fridge and is great on fish or potatoes (or just about anything).
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