Two Dramatically Different Squash Soups

A creamy winter squash soup is one of my favorites this time of year, but the mention of pumpkin chili the other night had me thinking about other ways to use winter squash in a soup.  Today I prepared a classic creamy butternut squash soup spiked with brandy and cloves as well as a pumpkin chili with kidney beans, tomato, chiles, garlic, cinnamon, and finished it with a little dark chocolate.

Squash Soups

Butternut Squash Soup with Brandy and Cloves:

2 Tbsp. butter or ghee

1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped

3 stalks celery, roughly chopped

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

1/2 C. brandy

6 C. chicken or vegetable broth

1 small butternut squash (or other winter squash), cut into 1” pieces, about 8 C. squash total.

3 whole cloves

1/2 C. heavy cream (optional)

Salt

In a large stockpot, saute the onion, celery and carrot in the butter over medium heat for 10-12 minutes stirring regularly.  Allowing the vegetables to get some color will make for a more rich and flavorful soup. Season the vegetables with salt while they cook.

Once the vegetables are starting to brown and stick to the bottom of the pan a bit, pour in your brandy to deglaze and stir to bring up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes until most of the brandy has evaporated.

Add the squash chunks, the broth, and the cloves as well as another pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 25-35 minutes, or until the squash is very tender.

Let the soup cool for 30 – 60 minutes, and remove the cloves. Puree in batches in a blender and transfer pureed soup to another pot to reheat or to a storage container to cool and serve later. Stir in the heavy cream and taste for salt.

A tip for pureeing hot soup in a blender: Use a large measuring cup or mug to transfer soup to the blender.  Fill the blender no more than 3/4 full and be certain to start on a low speed to prevent a disaster. Once the blender is going you can increase the speed. I also cover and hold the lid with a dish towel just to be safe.

Pumpkin Chili with Cinnamon and Chocolate:

1 – 2 dried chiles, toasted and soaked in hot water (I used guajillos).  Or, substitute 2-4 tsp. chile powder.

1 Tbsp. grapeseed or canola oil

2 medium yellow onions, medium dice

1 large bell pepper, any color, medium dice

5 – 7 large cloves garlic, chopped

1  28 oz. can diced tomatoes

1 Tbsp. cinnamon

1 can lager beer (optional)

1 – 2 C. chicken, beef, or vegetable broth (you’ll use only about 1 C. if using the beer, too)

3 C. kidney beans, from two 15 oz. cans or from about 1 1/2 C. dried beans, soaked overnight.

4 C. fresh pumpkin or other winter squash, cut into 3/4” cubes

1 – 2 oz. good quality dark chocolate, chopped or grated

1-2 Tbsp. brown sugar (if necessary)

S & P

Warm a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.  If using the dried chiles, toast them on the hot pan for about 20 seconds per side, pressing down on them firmly with a spatula. They should begin to brown, but not blacken.  Place them in a bowl, cover with boiling water, and set aside.

In the same pot, saute the onion in the oil for about 5 minutes until translucent.  Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and bell pepper and continue to cook about 5 minutes more, stirring regularly, until the onions begin to brown.

Add the broth, the beer (if using), the cinnamon, and about half of the tomatoes. 

While this mixture comes to a simmer, pour the remaining tomatoes into a blender.  Clean your soaked chiles to remove their seeds (unless you want the chili very spicy), and add them to the blender as well.  Puree the chiles and tomatoes together, and then add this mixture to the pot.  If not using dried chiles, add all of the canned tomatoes and the chile powder at this time.

If using soaked beans, add them now.  You will need to simmer the mixture without the pumpkin until the beans are soft, anywhere from 30-90 minutes. Otherwise, let the tomato and onion mixture simmer for 20 minutes to develop flavor while you prepare your pumpkin and rinse your canned beans.

After the initial simmer, add your pumpkin and your canned kidney beans.  Simmer an additional 30-40 minutes, or until the squash is just tender, adding a little more broth if necessary.

Add your dark chocolate, a little at a time, stirring to melt.  Add the chocolate to your taste – some like just a hint and others want to really taste it. If the chili tastes too acidic even after adding the chocolate, balance it with 1-2 Tbsp. of brown sugar. Season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve with tortilla chips, avocado slices and/or sour cream.

Also: This chili would be GREAT with ground meat.  Just brown and season the meat first, remove it, and then add it back with the liquids!

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