Time to Warm Up With Adaptable Winter Squash and White Bean Soup
If this isn’t soup weather, I don’t know what is.
Between the hail, frost, snow-dusted city streets, and astonishing videos of people cross-country skiing through white-covered Wine Country vineyards, I feel like I need to pile on every wool sweater and down coat that I own just to walk out my front door.
The time is right to quash that chill — with squash.
With “Winter Squash and White Bean Soup” to be exact.
This handy-dandy book features more than 350 recipes and tips to teach how to better cook from your pantry, as well as recommendations for ingredients to always keep on hand.
What I especially love about this book is that each recipe features a specific “pantry improv,” so if you don’t have a certain ingredient on hand, there’s a suggested alternative. For “Bucatini with Peas, Kale, and Pancetta,” for instance, you can sub in spinach in place of the kale, and frozen fava beans or edamame for the peas. For “Skillet-Roasted Carrots with Spicy Maple Bread Crumbs,” use honey or agave syrup for the called-for maple syrup or let parsnips stand in for the carrots. For “Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken,” feel free to mix it up and use pork tenderloin instead. And for “Tahini-Banana Snack Cake,” peanut butter or sesame paste can replace the tahini.
I know that “Winter Squash with White Bean Soup” doesn’t sound very sexy. But this soup is surprisingly alluring. It isn’t one-note sweet and starchy like so many butternut squash soups. Instead, this one gains depth, thanks to two genius ingredients — soy sauce and tomato paste — that balance the butternut squash’s inherent sweetness plus add a boost of umami.
The squash is divided, with each half cooked a different way. First, chunks of the squash are simmered in chicken broth with the soy sauce and a little butter. Once tender, the squash is mashed with a potato masher right in the broth, creating a flavorful “squash stock,” if you will, that also lends more body to the overall soup.
The remaining cubed squash cooks in this squash stock, along with tomato paste, leeks, and garlic. Finally, canned cannellini beans get stirred in, along with a splash of white wine vinegar.
I may not always have canned beans on hand, but I routinely have bags of Rancho Gordo beans. So, I cooked a pound of its small, Spanish-style Alubia Blanca beans instead for this soup. I also didn’t have leeks, so I took the recipe’s suggestion to use a whole onion instead. Rather than a basic butternut squash, I used two organic honeynut squashes that I purchased via GoodEggs. They are a new variety of butternut with that’s even sweeter with a nuttier taste. Hubbard, red kuri or kabocha also would work well.
The recipe suggested ways to level up the soup when serving by topping with fresh herbs, a dollop of pesto, sour cream or Greek yogurt, or a handful of croutons. I went for grated Parmesan instead.
As you can tell, this soup is quite adaptable and versatile. It’s also exactly what you want on nights like these when the wind howls mightily.
Winter Squash and White Bean Soup
(Serves 4 to 6)
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and seeded
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth, plus extra as needed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 teaspoons soy sauce
8 ounces leeks, white and light-green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Cut bulb section of butternut squash (about half of total squash) into rough 2-inch wedges or pieces. Bring squash pieces, broth, 2 tablespoons butter, and soy sauce to boil in large saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and simmer vigorously until squash is very tender and starting to fall apart, about 20 minutes. Remove pot from heat and use potato masher to mash squash, still in broth, until completely broken down. Cover to keep warm; set aside.
While broth cooks, cut remaining squash into 1/2-inch pieces. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are softened and tomato paste is darkened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add squash pieces, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add squash broth and bring to simmer. Partially cover and cook for 10 minutes.
Add beans and their liquid, partially cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Adjust consistency with extra hot broth as needed. Stir in vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
Pantry Improve: Use what you have. Substitute other varieties of winter squash such as buttercup, hubbard, kabocha, or sugar pumpkin for the butternut. Substitute 1 thinly sliced onion for the leeks. Other canned white beans will work here.
Level up. Top with fresh herbs, a dollop of pesto, sour cream or Greek yogurt, and/or croutons.
From “The Complete Modern Pantry” by America’s Test Kitchen
More Soup Recipes to Warm You Up: Cauliflower Soup with Aged Cheddar and Mustard Croutons by Heidi Swanson