Butternut squash. Some love it, others can’t stand it. The dictionary will tell you that butternut squash is a popular winter squash producing a bell-shaped fruit with sweet orange-yellow flesh. For those falling into the ‘can’t stand it’ group, some might guess that they haven’t been treated to the fruit’s marvelous versatility. Depending on the mood, butternut squash can be roasted, toasted, mashed, used in casseroles, breads and muffins or puréed for soups; it can be grilled or stuffed with a variety of ingredients.
Squash has been around for a very long time, found even in the tombs of ancient Egypt. A staple for Native Americans for more than 5000 years, it became a dietary mainstay for early Europeans who settled in America. But the story is a little different for butternut squash. The man who reportedly first developed this variety of squash was Charles A. Leggett, neither farmer nor scientist but an insurance man living in Waltham, Massachusetts. He began with a small garden in the late 1930s but it wasn’t until the mid 1940s that he developed the strain we call butternut squash. Basically, Leggett’s focus was on a crossing of the gooseneck squash with a variety called the Hubbard squash—another winter squash but with a green or yellow skin and hard-to-cut flesh. During the years of 1942-45 Leggett faced some challenges, but finally satisfied, he took his squash to the Waltham agricultural field station to show scientists there what he’d developed. They were delighted with the new variety of squash and asked Leggett to come up with a name for it. Feeling the squash was “smooth as butter and sweet as a nut,” Leggett decided to call it butternut squash.
I owe my fondness for butternut squash to my good friend K, who introduced it to me in a version she calls five-star squash using the Chinese inspired Five Star Powder, a combination of fennel seeds, star anise, ginger, cloves and cinnamon. Without doubt a mix that ignites an eye-opening jolt of the exotic, but not really a flavor that anyone would condemn as weird and foreign. But let’s expand the exotic by imagining butternut squash in a soup with curry. Those who like curry and eat it on occasion have probably already figured out that the flavor derives from a blend of turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, and fenugreek, all made pungent by the addition of ginger, chili, and pepper. It only gets better with the addition of butternut squash.
CURRIED BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 butternut squash (2½ pounds), peeled, seeded and cubed*
6 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon salt, more to taste
2 tablespoons honey
4 teaspoons plain low-fat yogurt for garnish
*Peeling a butternut squash, removing the seeds and cubing it is a troublesome task. An easier method is to use Marketside Butternut Squash in the 12 ounce bag. It comes ready to use without the hassle of wrestling with a whole squash. Two of the 12 ounce bags is sufficient.
Putting it all together
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a 6-quart stockpot. Add onions and garlic and sauté until soft but not brown—6 or 7 minutes. Add the butternut squash, chicken broth, curry powder and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until squash is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the honey and puree in a blender (in batches) until smooth. Season with salt to taste. Ladle into serving bowls and add a swirl of yogurt as garnish.
Serve it with some warm French bread and a green salad. Family and guests will be wowed.