It's fall in Seattle.
I realize that Los Angeles has been having crazy weather, with 110 -degree days and thunderstorms. But not here. Here, it really feels like October. It's grey, cool, crisp. Leaves are changing and falling, prompting storefronts to sweep them up into little sidewalk piles. I've picked the last of my backyard tomatoes' meager harvest. It's fall.
Which means that in addition to picking up tomatoes, peaches, and peppers at my neighborhood farmers market this week, I also came home with apples, pears, and a butternut squash. I love this time of year, when summer and fall collide and it feels like everything is in season.
I've already made some fall desserts this year, including a pear ginger pie and an apple tart. But autumn never feels quite real until I make my first cold weather soup. Here it is.
I recently read A Homemade Life by local author, successful blogger, and fellow Stanford grad Molly Wizenberg. She and her husband Brandon own Delancey, one of my favorite little pizza places. They were also two of the teachers from my Art of Food class this summer. I think they're just wonderful, and Molly's book confirms it. She writes in vignettes, sweet short stories of her parents, her travels through Paris, and falling in love with Brandon. Each mini-chapter ends with a recipe mentioned in her story, from espresso walnut toffee to bread salad with cherries, arugula, and goat cheese.
I've made a few modifications to Molly's butternut squash soup recipe. Where she adds pears, I used apples--mainly because I had a dozen in a bowl on my table that were approaching past their prime. Where she steeps a vanilla bean in half-and-half separately, I just added vanilla bean paste and half-and-half straight to the pot. The result is a thick, smooth puree with just a hint of sweetness. Don't skimp on the fresh chives on top, which are a nod to summer and provide good contrast to the mellow soup with their sharp green bite.
Sit down with a sweater and a bowl of soup, and say hello to fall.
Butternut Squash Soup with Apple and Vanilla
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg
3 tablespoons olive oil
one butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup apple cider (my favorite is from local producer Rockridge Orchards)
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup half-and-half or cream
1-2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste*
fresh chives for garnish
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-low heat. Add squash, apple, and onion and cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and the apple begins to fall apart. Add apple cider and broth and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to medium low, partially cover, and cook 30 minutes until squash is very soft. Completely puree the soup with an immersion blender (far easier, and a totally worthwhile kitchen investment) or work in batches in a stand blender. Simmer uncovered on medium-low until the soup is reduced to one-third or one-half its original volume. At this point it should be a bit thicker than you want the final soup to be. Stir in salt, half-and-half, and vanilla bean paste. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot with a generous portion of fresh cut chives on top.
*Vanilla bean paste is a thick, viscous liquid that's full of real vanilla bean seeds. It's more expensive and far more flavorful than vanilla extract, but it's much less expensive and easier to work with than whole vanilla beans. I found mine at Whole Foods, about $10 for a small jar that will last me through months of baking.