Let me tell a little story about a rainy Saturday in Martinsburg, West Virginia. One chilly fall morning, when I still lived in Baltimore, I visited my good friend and incredible cook, Kristen, way the heck out in Martinsburg, Wild Wonderful West Virginia. It was an icky morning: cold and wet and not the best driving weather. But I knew, as I left I-81 at the Martinsburg exit, that it would all be worth it, because one of Kristen’s gourmet wonders would await me (which I already knew because when she invited me over I asked her to make me lunch too–subtle, I know).
When I got there, Kristen told me she had made butternut squash soup. What a perfect day for soup, I thought. I would love a nice, warm bowl of sweet, nutmeg-spiced goodness! Oh, but I was completely caught off guard! Now, I had made butternut squash soup maybe a half dozen times before, and I thought I knew what to expect. But OH NO, this was no ordinary bowl of soup…this soup had texture! it had fruitiness! it had sausage!!
This butternut squash soup is by far the best I have ever had, and I make it every year as soon as I can get my hands on the first squash. Glenn brought the first one home from the farm the other day and it was absolutely beautiful: sweet smelling, orange as a pumpkin, and big, weighing in at 4 pounds, 11 ounces. Perfection. Because the squash takes so long to roast through, I usually roast it the night before, put it in the fridge, and remove it from the skin the next day. Not only are you not still waiting to eat at 10:30 at night, but by the time you cut up the squash, it’s nice and cool and comes out of the skin easily.
When Kristen served me this soup, she used a hot Italian sausage. I just happened to have some turkey and spinach sausage in the freezer, so I used that, and it was great. Also, she made her soup with apples. But we still had some pears left over from my brother-in-law’s tree, and they were fabulous.
What else goes great with butternut squash? Sage. Sage and butternut are an absolutely perfect pair, and I finally got to use some of the sage leaves from my own garden–holes and all–that I started from seed last spring.
Anyway, back to West Virginia, which, by the way, might be my favorite state in this whole country. Why? First, it exists because it was not afraid to go its own way during the Civil War–what other state can you think of that formed out of another state because it didn’t like the way the first state was handling things? Nope, I can’t think of one either. Secondly, it is beautiful and kind of mysterious looking. The Blue Ridge Mountains are not only nice to look at, but let’s face it, they’re kind of creepy looking too. I mean, they really are blue and foggy and, can you say Blair Witch? Next, I love the song Almost Heaven, West Virginia, by John Denver. And finally, my uncle tells me there might be a small possibility that my ancestors sewed up John Brown’s pants. I don’t know exactly how he knows that, but I’m going with it.
That day at Kristen’s ended up to be so nice. It stopped raining after lunch, and she and I went to buy apples and pumpkins at a local farm. We ended the afternoon with dessert at a local soda-fountain–yes, a real one, still operating in downtown Martinsburg. What a great day! But the best part of the day was that I stole this recipe and now it is mine mine mine!!
Enjoy! And thanks Kristen!
Kristen’s Butternut Squash Soup with Sausage and Pears
Makes enough for 4-6 people (or 3 regular people plus one Glenn)
4-5 lb butternut squash
6 Tablespoons butter
2 yellow onions, diced finely
8 fresh sage leaves, chopped
6 cups fresh chicken stock
1 cup apple cider (optional)
salt and pepper
though Kristen’s original recipe didn’t call for it, I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. Let’s call that optional.
3 links sausage (I used turkey spinach sausage)
1 pear sliced (Kristen’s original recipe calls for apples, but I had a pear. Whatever floats your boat!)
Preheat the oven to 400. Wash and thoroughly pierce the squash with a fork. Place in a large baking pan and roast until tender (could take 1-2 hours). While the squash cools, saute all but 1/4 cup of onions in the butter; add the sage; slice open, remove the seeds from the squash, and add the flesh to the sauteed onions. Add the chicken stock and nutmeg and simmer for 45 minutes. Puree with a hand blender or cool slightly and process batches in a standing blender (serioulsly, folks, blend it in small batches…I made the mistake of putting too much in at once and, well, we don’t like to talk about what happened–it’s to painful to relive). Add apple cider and salt and pepper to taste.
Brown sausage, add pear or apple and remaining onions and cook until soft. Use as a garnish.