Friday, December 11, 2009

Creamy butternut squash soup with a side of...

Here's a weeknight dinner you're all probably familiar with, especially those of you with immersion blenders: the pureed soup. While the husband is only marginally interested in them (he craves more texture), these soups are a cook's best friend. You can make them out of nearly anything, use up all kinds of vegetables, use broth or water, add cream or don't, etc. See where I'm going with this? You can always make a delicious, creamy soup with what you've got on hand.

What I had on hand recently was a couple of small butternut squash, some leeks, sage, and (don't tell the husband) some fennel. He's not much for fennel but we often get it in the produce box, so I hide it in soups and he's none the wiser. Guess we'll find out if he's actually reading this blog.

Had I been a bit less lazy I might have fried up the sage leaves, but "short cut" is my middle name.

Looks pretty good, right?

"Hey, Hungry Dog," you're saying, "what's that next to your bowl of soup?"

Oh, just some cornbread...with ham.

Yeah. Ham. Check it out. Cornbread is a bestseller no matter what; add some ham, as my friend Irma Rombauer suggested, and you've really outdone yourself.

I love how cornbread has that nubby texture. Do you know what I mean? It's gritty but in a good way. Last night I was wishing I had some canned corn on hand so I could surprise the husband with the cornbread of his childhood, which he lovingly refers to as "corny cornbread." Yep. But, I don't think I've ever bought a can of corn in my life. I do, however, often have Niman Ranch ham lying around. And since Irma suggested it...

I baked it in a cast iron skillet, which gave the bread a nice crispy edge.

It was a delicious accompaniment to the pretty orange soup, which we held in warm bowls over our laps while watching the finale of "Top Chef." Not to run off on a tangent, but wasn't that the best season ever? I wanted Kevin to win, so was a little disappointed, but Michael was clearly an excellent chef, so it wasn't as traumatic as when Hosea the Cheater won last year, or that idiot Ilan from season two. 

So, do a quick inventory of your fridge and pantry, and I guarantee you'll find you have the makings of a beautiful, seasonal soup. And if you've got some cornmeal on hand, you can whip up a little batch of (ham) cornbread to go with.


  1. Ham in cornbread? What a great idea! I love pureed soup, too. I do a potato one fairly frequently in the cold weather. They both look great, that's a particularly good shot of the soup, too.

  2. I will make it tonight. My butternut squash had no purpose until today.

    And I agree about Top Chef!

  3. That's what I love about making soup. Almost anything can be turned into a pretty good tasting soup. You just have to let your imagination take charge.

  4. I have a big knobby celery root in my pantry right now, and I'm thinking it's destined for the soup pot. But what to serve with it? CORNBREAD! Yesss! Like your TH, I'm a southerner by birth and here in Europe I miss my cornbread. I've learned to make it with polenta in place of cornmeal and yogurt in place of buttermilk. I put jalapenos in it to give it that little kick. Ham, though. That would be another level all together.

    Guess what's for dinner at MY house today? (thanks)

  5. great idea pairing it with cornbread!

  6. I love that gritty texture of ground corn too along with the sweetness and then of course melted butter... and I have never heard of adding either corn or ham but it sounds delicious! Your pictures are lovely too.

  7. Bob: It was good indeed. I think bacon would be even better!

    Cee: did you end up making soup last night?

    Food Gal: the versatility and ease of soup are what make it one of my favorite things to cook.

    Kate: celery root soup, I would love that. I love the flavor of celery...something about it I just find irresistible--clean, aromatic, delicious.

    pigpigscorner: It's a good combo. Thanks for visiting!

    foodhoe: I think you can pretty much add anything to cornbread. Next time I might do jalapenos and cheddar cheese, spice it up. Thanks about the pictures!

  8. Thanks for visiting my blog, which gave me the chance to see yours! I love a good soup and you're right; what better way to use leftovers then to blend them into a soup? I should actually do that more often!

  9. 1. i loved kevin and was really pulling for him. i've accepted his loss because i know he's gonna go far anyway...i mean, come on--bacon jam! (i also detest hosea and ilan.)
    2. sneaking little nibbles of ham in cornbread is a GREAT idea--my family would really enjoy that, and i would too!

  10. Nice looking soup, and a little ham's always a good thing in my book! Here's my new butternut soup invention next time you want to mix it up: Saute onion, ginger, garlic, red curry paste in canola oil. Add squash chunks (peeled), 1 peeled cubed potato, lemongrass tied in a knot and smashed, chicken stock. Simmer, remove knot, puree, and add coconut milk, if desired. Garnish with cilantro, scallions, lime juice, chopped peanuts.

  11. Junglefrog: thanks for coming by! I love how versatile and satisfying soups are, especially in the winter.

    Grace: I know, bacon jam is genius. And pork belly...? I love that guy!

    MisterJary: thanks for the recipe! I've done curried squash soup before but never thought to add coconut milk, which is a great idea.

  12. Oh how I wish I had butternut squash and could make this right now or at the very least that I could sample some of yours! This looks just delicious!

  13. Oh my goodness, that ham really started my tastebuds drooling! Unlike you I always have creamed corn at hand - some sort of childhood comfort food throwback, so maybe I'll give "corny" cornbread a go. With ham of course :) And the soup looks ultra comforting too!

  14. cookbookapprentice: Definitely pick up some squash and give it a whirl :)

    egg to the apples: thought this might be right up your alley!

    shaz: let me know how the corny cornbread turns out!

  15. 1) I love my hand blender, so I make creamy soups all the time. Yours look fantastic and reminds me I need to make some more butternut squash.

    2) Cornbread with ham? Brilliant! I bet if you used bacon you could sell it and make millions. (Be sure to cut me a percentage for giving you that idea.;-)

    3) I wished Brian won just because he seemed nicer of the two brothers, but Michael was more creative. I don't know if this was the BEST season of Top Chef but it was definitely the most fair. Except for Padma's bangs near the end. That wasn't fair to anyone.

  16. Ben: Joy of Cooking DID suggest bacon (sorry, Irma beat you to it), but I didn't have any cooked and wasn't in the mood for frying. But bacon would be better than ham.

    I was definitely rooting for Brian over Michael (in our house, we referred to them as Good Brother and Evil Brother). As for Padma's bangs...horrible. But kind of nice to know that there are some things even SHE can't pull off!

  17. Love the pureed soups! That's a staple at my house as well. I'm all for the orange soups (sweet potato, carrot and ginger, squash, etc), but also do pureed tomato, red pepper, celery root (got one in the fridge now, too, like Kate!), and leek. So easy and always delicious. Plus, they're warming and filling. I'm curious, though: do you use stock or plain water in yours?

    I LOVED Top Chef this season! Such a high caliber of cooking. I liked Brian the best - mostly because he's humble and nice - and also Jennifer and Kevin. I admired Michael's culinary cajones a lot, and think he deserved to win. The last five chefs will all go far, that's for certain.

  18. nightowlchef: I prefer to use stock, but if I'm in a pinch, I use water. I do think chicken broth leads to better soups, though.

    I really liked Brian, too. In our house we referred to him as "Good Brother" and Michael as "Evil Brother"--not that he's evil, but he seemed dark and brooding. I wish Jennifer had gotten to the finals too.

  19. Hungry Dog, you use chicken broth? Not stock?? Hmm, I haven't used broth in a long time, but I'll happily try it with your testimonial!

    I think Brian was just more serious than Michael (did he ever smile during the show??), but both were equally reflective.... I tell you - I've learned a lot from that show! Like Michael, I'm inspired to cook much more seasonally. I'd also like to work on making my dishes more pretty.. :)