Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tom Valenti's Butternut Squash Soup with Crisp Pancetta

I love autumn. Once the calendar turns to September, I'm at the store, in search of pumpkin, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, butternut squash. I'm ready to bake cinnamon rolls, to stand over a pot of risotto, to roast whatever is at hand.

Even though the weather hardly ever cooperates and is usually warm and sunny, we try to squeeze a little bit of autumn into the menu for our annual pumpkin carving party. We always serve a lunch of soup and maybe sandwiches, maybe cornbread, before the carving commences. For a big crowd, my husband's chili will be simmering in the slow cooker. But the one thing that must be on the menu is Butternut Squash Soup with Crisp Pancetta, a recipe I discovered in Food & Wine a few years ago. One year we cooked a different butternut soup, and our guests nearly mutinied. And, being a party where jack-o-lanterns are born, the guests have sharp things, so we don't change up the main course anymore.

It is hard to improve upon a soup that begins by roasting squash swathed in pancetta (or bacon, in a pinch). We have noticed, in fact, that most of the vegetable soups we make begin with some form of cured pork. We love the extra layer of flavor it adds. And here it also is the perfect garnish, although it was all consumed by the time I took my photo. Sometimes we add a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar, sometimes olive oil. This year, a friend spooned in a dollop of bacon-leek-goat cheese dip and declared it a successful pairing.

This recipe is ideal for entertaining this time of year because the soup can be made ahead and reheated the day of your gathering. When we do so, we wait to add the cream until the soup is heated through and we are ready to serve. We've never found it necessary to add sugar.

Welcome, November!

Copyright 2011

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