FARGO — We are moving into fall flavors and the season of warm, comforting foods. Tony and I have been planning our fall and winter topics, and while sifting through a hoard of recipes from my mother for inspiration, we came across one that fused butternut squash and bacon together. Duly inspired, we modified it to our taste and the result is a savory, hearty Chunky Butternut Bacon Soup.
The recipe originated in a cookbook called "When You're Entertaining," which was written by the editors of Sphere, a luxury lifestyle magazine produced by Betty Crocker in the 1970s. So often the memories in our life are tied to food experiences, and this was no exception.
My mother is a collector of recipes, and upon finding this one she remembered making it when she and my dad were part of a gourmet club in the '70s. Together with four other couples, they would meet once a month with copious cookbooks and clipped recipes to plan the menu for the next event. Each couple would be assigned a part of the menu, and then a few weeks later they would gather for the feast. Through this experience, these five couples bonded over food and friendship to create memories that would last a lifetime.
I have my own fond memories of those days, because the dinner party would often go late enough that my sister and I could hang out in my parents' bed to watch "Saturday Night Live" and "Sherlock Holmes" (with Basil Rathbone) before it was over. Those were the days.
This chunky butternut bacon soup is a departure from the traditional Butternut Squash Puree recipe we shared with you two years ago. Instead of rich, velvety smoothness, this soup boasts great chunks of butternut squash, which have been cooked in a bit of bacon fat, with bacon.
Butternut squash is more savory than pumpkin and other squash varieties, and is packed with vital nutrients that promote good health, both physically and emotionally. It is an excellent source for tryptophan, an essential amino acid known for creating a feeling of well-being, as well as vitamins A and B6, protein and fiber.
This is a quick and easy fall soup, with the lion's share of effort taken in preparing the squash. To peel a raw squash, cut both ends off and place the squash upright on a cutting board. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin, and then cut the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.
Once your mise-en-place is ready--meaning that all your ingredients and equipment are "in place"--it's time to cook the bacon. The bacon is diced into pieces before it's cooked, and Tony simplified the recipe by using the same pot throughout the process, as opposed to frying the bacon in a separate pan.
Once the bacon is done, he added onions and garlic and cooked them until tender.
Next, stir in a large can of whole tomatoes, including the juice, along with the squash and other remaining ingredients, including dry sherry. For added flavor, Tony used beef stock instead of the 2 1/2 cups of water in the original recipe, and you could also use bouillon cubes if preferred.
Once the soup is brought to a boil, reduce the heat and allow it to gently simmer for 25 to 30 minutes until the squash is fork-tender. Rich, hearty and comforting, with just enough bacon to make everything better, this soup is the perfect way to welcome in the autumn season.
Chunky Butternut Bacon Soup
1 medium-large butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
6 slices bacon, diced
1 1/2 cups yellow onion, medium-diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
1 carton (48 ounces) beef broth or use bouillon cubes according to package instructions
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped, stems removed
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup dry sherry, optional
To peel the squash, cut both ends off and place upright on a cutting board. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin, then, with a sharp chef's knife, cut the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cut into 1-inch cubes and set aside.
In a large stockpot, cook the diced bacon until crisp. Stir in the onion and garlic and cook with the bacon until onion is tender. Stir in the tomatoes (including juice), beef broth, squash, parsley, bay leaf, basil, thyme, pepper and sherry; bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook for about 25 to 30 minutes, until squash is fork-tender. Remove and discard bay leaf. Serve hot and enjoy.
To store: Keep in airtight container in refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.
Note: The beef broth provides the salt for the soup; if using water or vegetable stock, add salt as desired, starting with 1/2 teaspoon.
Sarah and Tony Nasello own Sarello's in Moorhead, Minn., and lives in Fargo.