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Butternut squash soup with vanilla, pears hearty and tasty

The flavorful Butternut Squash Soup With Apple Cider and Vanilla comes together quite easily.

Ileana Morales | Special to the Times

The flavorful Butternut Squash Soup With Apple Cider and Vanilla comes together quite easily.

After many dinners together, I can tell you Danny is a soup hero.

He is always willing to whip up soup, and though it may seem unlikely, the soups we've shared are some of my favorite meals. They're modest, as he'll tell you. Nothing too fancy. Soup is not necessarily made to impress; it's simply a homemade meal to feed, comfort and nourish you, and to let you know that you are loved. When it's raining all afternoon or you've caught the inevitable cold, it's all you want.

Early on, there was a shrimp bisque. He deftly peeled shrimp and used the skins to make his own stock. We ate this when our first dining room was still bare and we had only patio chairs to sit on. Whenever we have that soup again, it takes me back to those sweet early days of living together.

There was a cream of celery soup with matching celery bread that was all his idea. We raved about a French white bean and ham stew that simmered until nearly midnight. He stayed up stirring after I fell asleep.

One of our favorites is a butternut squash soup with a few unexpected ingredients: apple cider, pear and vanilla. The last one isn't so odd if you remind yourself that vanilla is a spice. These all work together to perk up a soup that always shows up around this time of year, but this version boasts more than heavy cream to keep it interesting.

Unlike the ham stew, this bright orange number comes together fairly quickly on a weeknight, and that only adds to its appeal. Leftovers for lunch somehow taste even better. Pull out this recipe on a gray day and you'll feel like your own soup hero.

Ileana Morales is a writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. She can be reached at alittlesaffron@gmail.com.

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Butternut Squash Soup With Apple Cider and Vanilla

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 (2-pound) butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups) with seeds reserved for another use

2 ripe yet firm pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 cup apple cider or unfiltered apple juice

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup heavy cream or half-and-half

1 vanilla bean

Finely chopped fresh chives

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Stir in the squash, pears and onion to coat with oil. Cook and stir occasionally until the onion is soft and transparent and the pears are starting to fall apart, 10 to 15 minutes.

Pour in the cider and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the broth, reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer partially covered until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup until very smooth. (If using a regular blender, work the soup in batches and only fill the blender jar up to a third of its size because hot liquids expand.) Add the salt and cook soup uncovered over medium-low heat until the soup reduces to about half or a third of its original volume. Stir occasionally. The soup's ready when it's a consistency that looks right to you, not too thin or thick.

As the soup continues to cook, pour the cream into a small saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise with a small sharp knife and use the spine to scrape out the tiny beans. Place the vanilla beans and the pod in the saucepan with the cream and warm it over low heat until it steams, swirling occasionally. Do not let it boil. Remove saucepan from the heat and discard the pod. Whisk if necessary to break up any clumps of seeds.

Stir the vanilla-infused cream into the soup when it's thickened enough to your liking. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Serve soup with a sprinkling of chives. Store any leftovers in the fridge knowing the soup will taste even better in the next day or two.

Serves about 4.

Source: A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

Butternut squash soup with vanilla, pears hearty and tasty 09/30/13 [Last modified: Monday, September 30, 2013 2:19pm]

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