BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

Fall is hands down my favorite season of the year.  Everything about it gives me goose bumps; vibrant earth tones take over the trees, football season brings out the best in people, and the inevitable annual craving for pumpkin-flavored rarities suddenly surfaces.  Fall, especially early in the season, is also one of the best times to subscribe to a local CSA.

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For those curious as to what a CSA is, here’s how the World Wide Web defines it:
“CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farming operation where the growers and consumers share the risks and benefits of food production.  CSAs usually consist of a system of weekly delivery or pick-up of vegetables and fruit, in a vegetable box scheme, and sometimes include dairy products and meat.”
Or in other words, a big box of locally grown fruits and vegetables so fresh the dirt is still on them, dropped off at your doorstep.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  In Atlanta, it was the Riverview Farms CSA which gave me my first at-home, local-grown food experience.  Recipe sharing (admittedly sometimes during work), dinner and brunch parties, and cooking challenges with unfamiliar vegetables became a regular occurrence for me and my new food community.  Many great recipes were discovered and created because of the CSA, including the one I have chosen for this post, for which I give credit to my very close friend, Erin.
This butternut squash soup is perfect for sharing with others, as the CSA vegetables are, or just to eat curled up on a chilly night at home while watching a movie.  It has become one of my favorites and my go-to soup recipe when I start to feel the unmistakable chill of Fall.

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BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
Makes 6 servings
Ingredients:
1 small to medium yellow or Vidalia onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
3 medium butternut squash (or 2 large), halved and seeded
2 ½ c. low-sodium, fat free chicken broth or vegetable broth
salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
4-8 oz. cream cheese
Sour cream, for garnish (optional)
Variations:
Gluten-Free – None needed.  All ready to go!
Spice level – If you don’t like your soup spicy, try substituting 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage for the cayenne pepper.  Add a fried sage leaf on top for a pretty and impressive garnish.
Sides – Cornbread goes great with this soup.  My mother would kill me if I gave away her recipe…but what I can let you in on the fact that it’s on the sweeter side.
Instructions:
*HINT: Before halving the butternut squash, place in a large pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes.  This will soften them just enough to make slicing them in half much easier – OR – Poke some holes in the squash with a fork (don’t forget this part!) and throw it in the microwave on HIGH for 5-10 minutes.
  1. Apply olive oil to flat sides of squash with a silicone basting brush (similar to this one) and dust with salt and pepper.  Roast the squash face down on a baking sheet at 400˚F for 45 minutes.  Scoop out the pulp and toss the skin.
  2. In a large saucepan or stockpot, sauté onion in butter until tender.  Add squash, chicken broth, salt, pepper, and cayenne.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Turn off the heat.  Add the cream cheese, starting with 4oz. and adding more if desired.  Puree with an immersion blender until smooth.  Reheat if necessary, but do not allow to boil.
  4. (Optional) Add a scoop of sour cream when you’re ready to serve.
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