Even back then, I wanted to write cookbooks. I think that fan letter was probably something to that effect. How could I do what she was doing? I don't really remember. What I do remember is that she wrote back! She was kind and encouraging, and she made a fan for life. I think I have every cookbook she's ever penned and a year hardly goes by that my sister-in-law doesn't gift me one of her calendars.
With all the gloomy rain we've been having I decided to make an old comfort-food favorite from The Heart of the Home - Butternut Bisque. It is a simple, quick and satisfying soup. I've made it dozens of times over the years. The only thing that is difficult is peeling the butternut squash. The skin of the squash is so thick and tough that paring it away can be time consuming. I just wasn't in the mood to fuss with it on Sunday so I decided to buy some frozen squash instead.
My big box grocery carried a very generic, frozen squash - probably made from a combination of winter squashes. That's probably where things got iffy. Butternut squash has a natural sweetness, far sweeter than Acorn or Hubbard Squash. Anyway, I followed the rest of the recipe as specified and, frankly, it fell flat.
Not one to give up, I did a little tinkering I ended up with a fabulous new concoction that I'm calling Harvest Bisque. I added a few additional spices including little coriander and orange for sweetness. Frankly, no insult to Susan, but I think mine is a little better. Try it yourself and see!
Serves 4 to 6
1 large onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
1 celery stalk, diced
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 14-ounce packages of frozen squash, thawed
4 cups chicken stock, homemade if possible
2 teaspoons sweet curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/3 cup orange juice
a pinch of nutmeg
sea salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon good quality white wine vinegar, optional
sour cream for garnish, optional
freshly ground pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a large saucepan or small stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery and sweat the vegetables until they are soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the potatoes, squash, stock, curry powder, ginger, coriander, white pepper and bay leaf. Stir to combine.
Increase the heat to medium high, and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat immediately , cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
Remove the soup from the stove top and allow to cool slightly. Use an immersion or stick blender to puree the soup to a smooth and creamy consistency. If you don't have an immersion blender, pour the cooled soup into a blender and puree under smooth.
Add the orange zest, orange juice and a pinch of nutmeg to the pureed soup. Taste for salt and add as needed. If the soup needs a little brightness, you can add a little white wine vinegar. Sometimes adding an acid like wine vinegar and liven a dish.
Served the soup immediately. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and freshly ground black pepper if desired.
Chef's Note: You may substitute fresh squash for the frozen squash. If you do so, use a 2 1/2 lb Butternut or Hubbard squash. Peel, seed and cube the squash. Increase the chicken stock to 5 cups and increase the cooking time to 40 minutes.