It’s not about the temperature outside. Whether snow already blankets your street or the sun still shines a balmy 70 degrees, these are the shortest days of the year and nothing warms evening’s early arrival like a bowl of hot soup. Serving soup is also one of the easiest ways to mix vegetables, fruit, spices, grains and beans in combinations that help your body draw more nutritional benefits from their phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals.
Happily, making soup from scratch can be nearly as easy as boiling broth. Soups that start with butternut squash are among my favorites because the preparation is a snap. Although you can buy butternut squash already peeled, diced and ready to use, I prefer the more economical route of buying a whole squash.
To prepare squash for soup: Pick out one with a long, straight neck; remove its thin skin using a swivel-bladed peeler (like you are peeling a carrot); slice the column into thick rounds, then stack and cut them into generous cubes. Although it sounds like an arduous process, it truly takes about five minutes once you have done it a couple of times.
One of the reasons I love to use squash in soups is that it plays well with so many other ingredients. From mushrooms and tomatoes to pears and cinnamon, there’s a combination for every mood, a fix for every craving.
True to form, here is a comforting, velvety butternut squash puree with orange bell pepper, leek and paprika. Crunchy pumpkin seeds and an optional smoky note of Spanish paprika round out the surprising and delicious flavors.
Winter Squash and Sweet Pepper Soup – Makes 4 servings.
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium leek, white part only, chopped
1 large orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
4 cups diced butternut squash
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
3 cups fat free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds, crushed (for garnish)
1/8 tsp. Spanish paprika, smoked or dulce (sweet), optional, for garnish
Heat oil in medium Dutch oven or heavy, large saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté leeks until translucent, 4 minutes. Add bell pepper, squash and pinch of salt, stirring to coat with oil. Reduce heat, cover and cook vegetables gently to release juices, 10 minutes.
Stir in garlic and paprika for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add broth, increase heat and bring liquid to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer soup until vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes. Uncover, and let soup cool for 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Transfer soup to blender, cover and whirl soup to a velvety puree. Or, using an immersion blender, puree in the pot. Blend in orange juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, divide soup among four soup bowls. Place pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet over medium-high heat and cook, shaking and swirling the pan, until seeds are plump and mostly golden. Crush seeds and add to soup as garnish. If using, sprinkle Spanish paprika. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 250 calories, 10 g total fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 37 g carbohydrate, 9 g protein, 7 g dietary fiber, 430 mg sodium.
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