Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
This is one of the first dishes I introduced to the menu at Anabelle's, on New York City's Upper East Side, the restaurant where I became head chef for the first time. I don't recall why I thought to scatter blue cheese and walnuts over a squash soup, except that all of these flavors are closely associated with fall cooking. You can make this with other squash such as acorn, pumpkin, or Delicata.
3 lb butternut squash (1 large squash)
PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Cut off the ends of the squash. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and strings, using a tablespoon or small scoop. Rub the cut sides lightly with 2 tablespoons of the oil, season with a total of 1 teaspoon salt and 4 grinds of pepper, and place cut-side down on a cookie sheet. Roast until tender to a knife-tip, approximately 1 hour. Remove from the oven and, when cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh. You should have 3 cups of roasted squash.
MEANWHILE, put the nuts in an 8-inch sauté pan and toast over medium heat, shaking constantly, until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
POUR the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil into a large, heavy-bottomed pot and heat over medium heat. Add the onion, pear, and a pinch of salt and cook without browning for 20 minutes. Pour in the Riesling and cook, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot, until all of the wine has reduced by two-thirds, approximately 5 minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the roasted butternut squash. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
WHEN the soup is done, pour it into a blender in batches and blend until smooth. Season with the salt and add the honey. Strain the soup through a fine-mesh strainer; if it seems too thick, add a few tablespoons of water to thin it slightly. (It should just coat the back of a wooden spoon.)
DIVIDE the soup among 4 warm soup bowls. Garnish each bowl with 1 tablespoon crumbled cheese and one-fourth of the crushed nuts. Serve.
VARIATION: In the early fall, replace the pears with apples.
EMBELLISHMENTS: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat and let cook until the butter turns brown. Add it to the soup while blending one batch.
ADD sautéed wild mushrooms to the bowl and spoon the soup over them, or pile them in the center of the bowl and carefully ladle the soup around them.