Salt and Stone: Come in from the cold to butternut squash soup

butternut squash soup

Butternut Squash Soup with Crispy Sage and Bacon

I dragged my children away from their bickering and wrestling matches, the iPad and the snack drawer to find some fresh air and perspective. We drove up to Cowiche Canyon, parking at the upper parking lot off Scenic Drive. The kids and dog tumbled out of the car, grumbling about sweatshirts and untied shoes, sudden hunger and the fact that a sibling happened to be breathing near them.

I rolled my eyes and did some deep yoga breathing before setting off on the trail ahead of my brood, hoping and praying the kids would rally and we could salvage the day. I walked quietly, enjoying the panoramic views of our Valley, looking out at Mount Adams in the distance, pointing out the few tiny patches of snow dusting the rolling hills. The kids fell into line, walking and kicking rocks, calling the dog; slowly, slowly the tension lifting.

We wound our way around the trail system following the north uplands trail until we caught the loop down to the riverbed. We traversed the canyon, reaching the river at the very east end of the trail, walking through a canopy of trees while listening to the river bubble and gurgle. We picked up red and yellow leaves along the way, laughing about the craft we probably won’t do but picking up the leaves anyway.

When we finally made it back to the car two hours later, we were happy with slightly sore legs and cold fingers. We decided soup was the only thing that sounded good for dinner. And when we arrived home, I dug through the freezer and fridge to pull together something warm and comforting.

This recipe is perfect for a cold fall night and weary bodies. Butternut squash, apple, onion and celery come together to make a silky smooth soup. Topped with crispy bacon and crumbled fried sage brings all the flavors together. Extremely adaptable, you can easily make your own version of this recipe. I made this same soup for a friend but used crumbled chicken-apple sausage* instead of bacon and it was delicious.

• Andrea McCoy writes the column Kitchen Captivated for Yakima Magazine and at The Salt and Stone, a home cooking blog. The Salt and Stone is a nod not just to the essence of cooking, but also to the Yakima Valley. Read more at www.thesaltandstone.com.

Butternut Squash Soup with Crispy Sage and Bacon

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

4-6 leaves fresh sage

4 pieces center-cut bacon, diced into thin strips

1 medium sweet onion, diced

4 stalks celery, diced

1 Honeycrisp apple, diced

1 carrot, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 bay leaf

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon dried parsley

3 10-ounce packages frozen diced butternut squash (about 8 cups)

1 32-ounce container organic chicken stock or bone broth

1/4 cup low-fat sour cream or creme fraiche (optional)*

In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add bacon to the pot and stir constantly until the bacon cooks through. Add sage leaves to the pot and cook with the bacon for 2 minutes. Turn the heat off to the pot and, using a slotted spoon, remove sage and bacon, transferring to a paper-towel lined plate. Set aside.

Leave bacon grease in the pot unless it’s more than about 2 tablespoons. Drain excess grease and return pot to stove. Add the onion, apple, celery and carrot to the pot, cooking over medium heat until onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Add butternut squash to the pot along with the thyme and bay leaf, stirring often. Add chicken stock to the pot and simmer on low for 30 minutes.

Using an immersion blender or regular blender, work in batches, pulsing the soup mixture until desired texture. Make sure to remove bay leaf before blending soup. Pour soup back into the pot and stir in nutmeg and parsley. Taste soup and add additional salt and pepper if needed. Stir in sour cream.

To serve, crumble fried sage over bacon pieces. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with crispy sage and bacon pieces. Serves 6.

* If you decide to use chicken-apple sausage, feel free to stir into soup instead of using it as a garnish. Also, the sour cream is completely optional. The soup doesn’t NEED it, so feel free to skip it if you prefer.

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