Have you ever tasted roasted garlic? If not, you should try it. Seriously, you really should, as in before-you-die try it. Whenever you find yourself using the oven for an hour or more, tuck in an extra foil-wrapped head of garlic (I cut off the tops of the cloves first). This simple gesture of roasting makes it the far more nuanced, elegant and milder cousin to garlic in the raw. So while I plan to use some of the ail confit in tonight's soup, the rest, creamy and beige, gets squeezed out of the papery clove casings, into a glass jar, topped with olive oil to cover, and slipped into the fridge. I use it in sauces, salad dressings, marinades, soups, dips, on toast...As long as you use a clean spoon when serving from the jar, and top as necessary with more olive oil, the roasted garlic keeps indefinitely. (I haven't ever had to actually test this statement because mine has the tendency to be...devoured). But coming back to the butternut. Mmm, what's not to love? As far as squashes go, it looks rather modest--on the outside. But the inside is a color-saturated revelation. Furthermore, it is a dream to cook (I always roast it, cut side down, so that I never have to bother with hacking off the skin while it's still raw), it has a natural sweetness that is only enhanced with roasting. It goes into soups, stews (as chunks), muffins and cakes. It's a nutritional powerhouse to boot, bursting with vitamins A and C, and minerals such as magnesium and potassium, and fiber. Even the seeds are delicious, rinsed and baked in the oven. I'm nearly as passionate about butternut as I am about sweet potatoes. For the love of Mike, don't get me started on sweet potatoes.
But squash is for fall or even winter, no? At least that's the association I always make. Going to the open air market does teach you a few things, like what's really in season when, and butternut is a case in point. I have seen this squash in the stalls for a month now, from well before the autumnal equinox. And for a late evening meal, even in indian summer/early fall, nothing will leave you more satisfied. At least that's what I hoping for tonight.
Note: if you have more time than I did (or are more organized than I was), make the soup a day in advance, to give it time to mellow and deepen in flavor.
Velouté à la courge (Butternut Squash Soup)
1 smallish butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
3 cloves roasted garlic
2 large mild and sweet onions, chopped
3 cups rich chicken broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven 180 C. Split the squash down the middle, seed with a spoon, and place it, cut sides down, on a baking sheet. Roast (along with that head of garlic!) for an hour.
Meanwhile, roughly chop the onion and saute over medium heat with some olive oil, until the onion has given up some of its liquid and volume and translucent. Sightly browned is good, if you have a few more minutes. Splash the white wine over the onions, allow to cook briefly, then add the broth. Add the spices, a generous couple of pinches of each.
Remove the squash from the oven and allow to cool. You should be able to easily peel away the now-brittle skin of the squash. Add the squash and the contents of three roast garlic cloves to the soup. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes, tasting and adding spices as you go. Don't be shy with flavor, and add 1/4 teaspoon of salt or so as well if you find the taste somewhat uninspiring. Add the soup to the food processor in two batches, but do so carefully, as there will be a good amount of steam. This will serve four to six people, depending on appetites.