It is officially Turkey month in the US. I live in the south of France so my love for all that gobbles is slightly lost on my neighbors and friends. The fourth Thursday of November in France is just like the 2nd or the 3rd, just slightly colder. We go to school and to work without the smell of turkey or the sound of football in the background. No cranberry sauce bubbling on the stove, no family arguments boiling in the living room – just a normal, hum-dum Thursday.
However, a few of my very closest friends are……simply put…..very lucky to know me. Not one of them hails from the USA and yet for the past few years they have enjoyed one of the finest American traditions – Thanksgiving – on a Saturday in France. My friends come from all over – England, Brazil, Belize, Australia, Sweden, South Africa and France have all been represented at my Thanksgiving feast. Those friends have begun to look forward to the 4th Saturday in November as if they’d been pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes their whole lives.
On the 4th Saturday in the south of France we eat, we drink, we laugh. We talk, in many different accents, about food, family, friends and tradition.
In essence, we are modern day pilgrims and indians in Europe. Some of us came from here. Some of us, quite literally, arrived by boat. We are not sure if we belong here or if we want to go back to where we came from but, at the moment, this is our home. Our children will call this country home. So while we are here, at my table, we embrace friends and our new lives in a foreign place. We eat too much and we drink even more. We give thanks to all we have and to the journey that brought us here.
We may be more prosperous than the first pilgrims and indians but we are no less thankful and I hope our children will say the same one day……wherever that may be…..
On that note, I will share the recipes from my Thanksgiving table in France over the next month……they are good ones, believe me……..or ask my non-American friends…..
And I start with………Butternut Squash Soup…….. Can there be anything better? I love butternut squash. I love soup. But for years I made, in my opinion, a mediocre butternut squash soup. That is a bold statement coming from someone who is known for her soups. I have a killer carrot soup, a sweet potato soup to die for and a mushroom soup that could ignite a When Harry Met Sally moment. But my butternut squash soup……ehh…..ca va,….comme ci comme ca. I tried adding curry, I tried adding apples, and of course I tried cream. They were all good but I wanted mine to be GREAT.
Finally I came across this recipe. Ironically it has been in my possession for years. I have an old notebook where I used to keep recipes when I worked on sailboats . The pages are stained and tattered and remind me of days when I cooked at a 45 degree angle, soaked in the heavy weight of the Caribbean air. Why I saved a recipe for butternut squash soup while living in the tropics can only explain how new to cooking I was back then. Nevertheless, I saved the recipe. And boy, am I glad I did! Because I found it again, 15+ years later, just in time for one of my European Thanksgiving feasts.
We are no longer in the Caribbean. I am now living in the south of France with my girls, preparing Thanksgiving for a motley crew of non-Americans but always starting with this soup. Try it and you will see why. Don’t skimp or cheat. The devil is in the details. It makes the difference between an ok butternut soup and a great one.
- 3 pounds (1.3 kg) butternut squash
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter (28 grams)
- 2 cups sliced shallots (about 4 handfuls)
- ⅓ cup garlic cloves, smashed with the back of your knife
- 1 teaspoon fine himalayan sea salt
- ½ teaspoon crushed black pepper
- 1 spice purse made out of cheesecloth and stuffed with 1 bay leaf, 1 thyme sprig, 1 star anise & 4 whole peppercorns) tied closed with kitchen twine
- ½ cup white wine (118 ml)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 8 cups (2 liters) vegetable stock
- ½ cup (118 ml) heavy cream or creme liquide
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- For Spiced Creme Fraiche:
- 1 cup creme fraiche
- ¼ teaspon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- Set the oven to 350F/180C
- Peel the butternut squash and cut it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Place the squash on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Roast in the oven about 30 minutes, until soft and caramelized.
- In a large soup pot melt the butter and add the shallots, garlic, slat and pepper and spice purse. Cook until the shallots are soft and translucent - about 3-5 minutes.
- Add the wine and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.
- Add the squash, sugar, stock and cream and cook until the flavors blend, about 25-30 minutes.
- Remove the spice purse and add the cinnamon and nutmeg.
- Puree the soup with a handheld blender until smooth.
- For the Spiced Creme Fraiche:
- Stir all ingredients together in a bowl and top the soup with the creme fraiche.