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8 & $20: Butternut Squash and Pear Soup

Indulge in this variation on a fall favorite, matched with a racy, expressive Chenin Blanc
Photo by: Samantha Falewée
Flavors of pear, baking spices, herbs and earthy squash come together in this warm treat for the cold weather.

Samantha Falewée
Posted: November 29, 2016

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

If you say “eating” and “after Thanksgiving” in the same sentence, chances are high that “leftovers” is in there too. Whether it’s casserole, turkey or stuffing, you’ve been dining on a lot of the same dishes since the holiday.

Maybe you have extra squash in your kitchen; certainly your cabinets abound with baking spices like nutmeg and cinnamon and herbs like thyme and rosemary. Using these ingredients, I like to cut through the familiar taste of leftovers with my take on a classic fall favorite: butternut squash soup.

The variations are endless. This recipe uses pears with the squash, plus a splash of cream Sherry. A small red onion, diced and sautéed on the stove with the squash cubes and pears, establishes the base for a soup that is savory and satisfying. This soup makes me want to drink it straight out of the bowl while sitting in front of a fire, then doze with a full belly and thick wool socks on my feet.

Before peeling and cubing the squash, you can heat it in the microwave to soften the skin. After you’ve sautéed the ingredients, you add a splash of Sherry, vegetable stock, heavy cream, honey and spices. If you have any leftover chicken stock from holiday cooking, that makes an excellent alternative.

The 20- to 30-minute window while this mixture simmers on the stove is the perfect amount of time to prep an already-on-hand accompaniment to add a bit of crunch to the meal. I’m talking about the seeds of the squash. (If you needed a reason not to buy pre-cut cubes of squash, here it is.)

Instead of throwing these seeds out, sprinkle them generously with your favorite home spices and bake for at least 10 minutes. My favorite spice mix has toasted sesame seeds (no such a thing as too much crunch!) with dried cayenne, red pepper and sea salt. Garlic powder, chile-lime salt, rosemary or herb-infused butter all make great options. The spiced seeds will add a boost of umami to balance out the pear sweetness of your creamy soup.

Use a blender to give the soup a smooth texture, then spice to taste. Nutmeg or pumpkin-pie spice are classic seasonings with squash, though you can also choose cinnamon. I prefer the soup with more herbal notes, so I add a hefty pinch of thyme.

For guests, dress up the soup by adding a sprig of rosemary and sprinkling the seeds—still hot from the oven—on top. After all the commotion of Thanksgiving, it can be a relief to enjoy a delicious, healthy meal without any need for carving, careful timing or intricate serving presentations.

You’ve undoubtedly enjoyed a fair amount of wine in the past week. Why stop now? Set aside your leftover Thanksgiving reds and opt for a white. The soup has flavors of fruity pear, spicy red onion, sweet baking spices, biting herbs and the earthiness of squash. A simple bubbly like Prosecco can be a fun pairing at this time of year, but this soup is complex enough to merit a white wine with vibrant acidity, depth and nuance.

Lip-smacking Riesling came to mind, but a zippy Chenin Blanc proved just as successful. It had an expressive nose of wildflowers, honeysuckle and a hint of fresh hay, with a toasty note suggesting more depth. The creaminess of the soup mellowed the wine's raciness, which in turn cut through the soup’s richness, creating a balanced pairing. I returned to this white wine again and again, while a delicious white Rioja sat neglected, its lush notes of lychee and almond lost amid the squash. In the background, my roommate advocated for the Prosecco.

If you like to think ahead, simply double this recipe and store half of the soup in the freezer. Otherwise, enjoy this rich treat in full—you’ll be back to the leftovers soon enough.

Butternut Squash and Pear Soup

Pair with an off-dry white such as Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2015 (88 points, $14).

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Total time: 70 minutes
Approximate food costs: $20

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and diced, with seeds reserved
  • 1 can of pears (in juice, not syrup), chopped, with juice reserved
  • 1 red onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Splash of cream Sherry
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Sprinkle of dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or pumpkin spice (add cinnamon if desired)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped rosemary, plus sprig for plating

1. Preheat oven to 400˚ F.

2. Sauté the butternut squash, pears and onion with the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot for 5 to 10 minutes on medium-high heat.

3. Add the Sherry and continue stirring for 1 minute.

4. Add the vegetable stock, heavy cream and remaining ingredients except the pear juice. (Don't overdo the spices here; you can always add more later.) Stir thoroughly, reduce heat and allow to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

5. As the mixture simmers, place parchment paper on a baking pan, spread out the squash seeds and sprinkle with spices of your choice. Place in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

6. Puree the soup in a blender or with a handheld immersion blender. Once the soup is fully blended, return it to the pot to keep warm.

7. Adjust consistency to your taste by adding more stock or water for a thinner soup or by continuing to simmer for a thicker version.

8. Add the reserved pear juice and adjust the seasoning to your preference. Serves 4.

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