Some people just have the knack for making things look effortless, but you know it’s not. Dinner at this friend’s house is an occasion where you know it’s all going to be done right.
I loved walking into the dining room and seeing a dimly lit table festooned with bittersweet atop an ethnic table runner. The only thing upsetting was that she wouldn’t tell me where she got the bittersweet!
To cleanse our palettes before dessert was a salad with roasted golden and red beets, two of my very favorite veggies, and local goat cheese. And, yes, there was dessert, two as a matter of fact, but they disappeared before it was possible to grab my iPhone! By the way, taking food photos with a phone camera in dim light doesn’t yield the best results, but I hope you’ll get a feel for our hostess’s knack for creating a perfect dinner party.
Since I am still thinking about butternut squash soup, here is one of my favorites which is adapted from a Williams Sonoma soup cookbook. You may even have touches of your own to add.
- 2 large butternut squashes, each 1 1/2 to 2 lb.
- 1/3 cup hazelnuts
- 6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
- 2 yellow onions, chopped
- 8 fresh sage leaves, shredded
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock or canned broth
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Ground nutmeg, to taste, if needed
- Pinch of sugar, if needed
While the squashes are cooling, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant and the skins have loosened, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and, while still warm, place the nuts in a kitchen towel. Rub the towel vigorously to remove the skins; do not worry if small bits of skin remain. Chop and set aside.
In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and half of the sage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the stock and squash pulp, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for a few minutes to combine the flavors. Remove from the heat.
Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Return to a clean saucepan. Alternatively, pass the soup through a food mill placed over the pan. Reheat gently over medium-low heat. Season with salt and pepper. If the squash is starchy rather than sweet, a little nutmeg will help. If the nutmeg does not give the proper flavor balance, add a pinch of sugar.
Ladle into warmed bowls and garnish with the hazelnuts and the remaining sage. Serve immediately.
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