Collegiate Cuisine: Butternut-than-your-mom’s Squash Soup

Maricela Murillo, Staff Reporter

Last year, when I was a high school senior, listening to my classmates brag about their acceptances to schools like UPenn, Rensselaer and Yale, I loved to shut them up by saying “Yeah, but I’m not going to be freezing every winter at Tulane.” I didn’t make a lot of friends in high school.

Anyway, all it took was one weekend last November to destroy my expectations of a mild New Orleans winter. Coming from San Diego, California, where anything below 60 degrees might as well be freezing temperatures, I was completely unprepared for the frigid rain and wind I encountered on days as recently as Mardi Gras.

So really I had no other option but to spend a few particularly chilly weekends making my favorite butternut squash soup and curling up under my favorite Star Wars blanket with a bowl and my Netflix account—no way was I going out in 45 degree weather if I didn’t have to. This weekend, because I was tired of the orange cardboard cubes Bruff likes to pass off as “butternut squash” and because my favorite gourd is nearly going out of season, I decided to whip up some soup.

First, I biked to Whole Foods to pick up a medium size squash and a can of evaporated milk. Somehow, I’ve managed to reconcile Whole Food’s sucker punch to my bank account at the checkout by telling myself that I’m saving two and a half dollars by not taking the street car to Fresh Market and saving at least two hours by not taking the shuttle to Walmart.

Next, I preheated the oven in my dorm to 350 degrees as soon as I got back and was ready to cook. I took out the rest of the ingredients from my makeshift pantry: salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic, unsalted butter, and extra virgin olive oil. I also took out my hand-blender, a vegetable peeler, a large knife, a large pot and wooden spoon, and a cutting board.

Peeling and cutting the squash is the hardest part of this whole endeavor, which is why I outsource it to my boyfriend. Make sure you dry it completely before even attempting to peel or cut it, or the knife or peeler could slip and possibly injure you. You can peel the squash the way you would peel any vegetable, it just takes a little more force and control. Once it was all peeled, he cut the ends off and cut it in half lengthwise. If this is too difficult, separate the circular half of the gourd from the elongated top half, then cut the circle down the middle, exposing the squash’s guts. 

This is the part where I get to feel like a kid scooping out seeds from a Jack-o-lantern on Halloween—it’s just one of the many reasons I love this homemade soup. After I scraped out all the guts, I chopped the squash into 1 to 1½ inch pieces—the width doesn’t matter as long as they’re all roughly the same size—and poured them into my roasting pan. Then I coated them in one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and salt, pepper and paprika to taste—all together this came out to ½ tsp salt and pepper each and ¼ tsp powdered smoked paprika. I also like to add two intact, medium-size cloves of garlic and roast them along with the squash, but this is completely optional.

It only takes about 30 minutes for the squash to cook through. I check to see if it’s ready by poking it with a fork or knife: it’s ready as soon as it yields to the touch and is tender and easy to mash.

The squash is usually too hot to handle (much like I am on Friday nights) for a couple of minutes, so while I let it cool I got out my soup pot and poured in ½ tsp of extra virgin olive oil and ½ tsp of unsalted butter and cooked them on low heat for about five or so minutes. Then I poured in the squash and got out my favorite kitchen appliance ever: the hand blender. It cost me fifteen bucks off Amazon and was worth every penny.

I usually blend the squash right in the pan until it resembles orange mashed potatoes. Then I add in the evaporated (note that condensed and evaporated milk are VERY different. Make sure you get evaporated, or you will have a cloying, sticky mess on your hands) milk in three parts, incorporating it thoroughly between each addition.

Try not to wear anything you don’t want getting covered in flecks of pale orange soup at this point—the soup is very likely going to splash everywhere when you first start blending in the milk. Once that’s done, taste the soup and make sure it doesn’t need any extra seasoning. I like a very thick soup, so I usually cover it up after I’ve added the milk and let it simmer at very low heat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. You can thin out the soup with a bit of low-sodium chicken broth or water, and while I’ve never tried it before, I’m sure low-sodium vegetable stock would work too.

If you’re lucky enough to have a real blender, I envy you and your superior kitchen appliances.

On a more serious (but still envious) note, pour the cooled squash into your blender instead of a pot, and blend it and add the milk and/or other liquids of your choice as described above. Once you’ve reached your desired consistency, heat up the butter and the oil in the pan and pour the soup in, adjusting the seasoning and letting it simmer like I mentioned earlier.

I always reward an hour-and-45-minutes worth of cooking by cleaning up the kitchen, but you can go the more conventional route and serve yourself up a bowl of warm, creamy soup garnished with something like parsley or toasted pumpkin seeds, and of course—served up with warm bread. This recipe makes four servings, so you can invite some friends over and have a sophisticated Netflix marathon in your PJs. 

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