I was in my favorite market last week in the middle of a produce buying frenzy (I hadn’t cooked for a while) when I had a flashback to college which froze me in my tracks. No, not that kind of flashback. What brought me back to the mid eighties, was a stack of ruby colored fruit and suddenly, there I was with my sophomore college house mate, “L.”, eating pomegranates.
I’m not sure I’d ever eaten a pomegranate before I met L, but I have memories of sitting in the tiny, funky, living area of our on-campus apartment (dubbed “Farenheit 451″ due to our address), making a mess of eating pomegranates, and laughing our asses off. Now, I can’t see this fruit without thinking of her.
Butternut squash soup is one of the easiest and most satisfying fall soups to make. It’s also very adaptable to different flavors and additions. Dress it up with a little truffle and cream, or make it an easy meal with a salad and bread. Other flavors which pair well are Parmesan cheese, cinnamon, apples, sage, or even chiles and curry. I’ve made many versions of this soup depending on my mood.
I had a wedge of home-made pancetta so I decided to add that in for a bit of salty, porky flavor, but you could certainly leave it out, along with the chicken stock and make this soup Vegetarian (see substitutions below). I like the sweetness of squash in contrast to the salt of the pancetta and the sweet-tart flavor of the pomegranate seeds. Pomegranates are also a fall fruit, usually available in October and November.
It’s been almost two decades since I graduated college. My friend L is now a professor at a university far, far, away and has two beautiful little girls, some cats, chickens, and a possum problem. We don’t get to see each other nearly enough and I miss her.
I wonder if she’s introduced her daughters to the joy of eating pomegranates yet?
Butternut Squash Soup with Pancetta and Pomegranate
3.5 lbs butternut squash
6 oz pancetta or bacon
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1/2 pomegranate, seeded (see cleaning instructions below)
Note; if you want this soup to be vegetarian, omit the pancetta and cook the vegetables in olive oil. Omit the chicken stock and use vegetable stock or water. You may need extra salt and seasonings.
Peel and dice the squash into 1″ chunks.
I usually cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and cut it in half again. Then I cut off the thin skin with a very sharp knife and cut the squash into chunks. Be careful because it can be slippery. You can also use a regular potato peeler.
Dice the other vegetables.
Cut up the pancetta or bacon into small pieces. Add the pancetta to a large, heavy bottomed soup pot and cook slowly over a medium/low heat until the fat begins to render out. Do not let it burn. I did this very slowly so I could cook the vegetables in the bacon fat, but I didn’t want any burned flecks in my soup. It took about 20 minutes for the pancetta to get crisp.
Remove the cooked bacon from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Reserve.
Note; I left a few pieces in the pot for extra flavor.
Add the onions, carrots and celery to the bacon fat and cook until soft.
Note; If you don’t want to use the bacon fat, then use 2 Tbsp of olive oil.
Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes.
Add the chicken stock and the squash and simmer until the squash is very soft, about 1 hour. Puree. I used a stick blender (similar to this Cuisinart CSB-76 Smart Stick Hand Blender)but you can also puree in a regular blender, just let the soup cool a bit first.
Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste. Garnish with the reserved crispy pancetta and pomegranate seeds on top of the soup.
How to clean a pomegranate without making a mess:
With this method you will not get the juice (which stains!) all over yourself, your hands, and your cutting board.
Fill a large bowl with cold water and place it in the sink. Cut the pomegranate in half and then the half into quarters. Put the quarters into the bowl of water and break them apart with your hands, while under water. Use your fingers to push out the seeds. As the seeds come out, discard the shell.
The white membrane will float to the top and the red seeds will sink to the bottom. Drain, and you have the seeds without the mess.