I can’t remember when the first time I had butternut squash soup was, but I do recall with fond memories my first taste of leek soup. I was an international student at Edinburgh University and I lived in an international student housing, which is a great way to meet people. On either side of my flat was a student who happened to be colleagues enrolled in the MBA program; a gal from Beijing, and a guy from Shanghai. Since they were enrolled in the same courses, I would often hear them talking through either side of my walls or right outside my door. Since I enjoy meeting new people and the challenge of speaking Mandarin, I quickly befriended them and from them blossomed a lifelong friendship.
Their MBA program directors had organized a fancy dinner reception at the University hall, which was stunning in architecture on the outside and full of character on the inside (like most traditional buildings in Edinburgh are by nature). By that time, I was like a little sister to them, and they spend an afternoon each week in my room as I tutored them in French. They invited me as their guest to this reception, and I remember feeling so underdressed as all the men were in their formal Highland dress and all the women were classy with their stoles and wraps. I’ve never seen so many different kinds of cheese on one table of hors d’oeuvres!
It was then that I had my first leek soup. Cock-a-leekie soup, as it was called. Back then I was more of a novice to cooking, and I wasn’t familiar with leeks! Anyway, that weekend I trekked the Royal Mile towards the Castle and I bought myself a cookbook of traditional Scottish recipes. And a tartan!
Looking back on my journeys, I often like to experiment with ingredients that I remember once being completely unfamiliar with but turned out to be love at first bite. Since my first bite of this ingredient, from time to time I find a way to sneak them into my recipes and appreciate their aroma. So this recipe of butternut squash and leek soup is my latest creation inspired by my experience at that MBA dinner reception. I found a way to create lovely little stars with herbed butter which can be stirred in right before digging in to add flavor and some color. This was one of the best butternut squash recipes I’ve done in a long time – since before I launched my food blog!
4 cups chopped leeks, white part only
8 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups homemade chicken broth, or low sodium chicken broth
Ground white pepper
Chopped fresh chives for garnish
To make herbed butter
1 shallot, finely diced
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
Ground white pepper
Make the herbed butter ahead of time, up to 2 weeks before using. Heat a small non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. Add shallots to the pan and sauté for about 30 seconds until they start to release their aroma.
Remove the pan from heat and add the sherry. Put the pan back on the stove and heat for about 8 minutes so that the liquid reduces to about 2 tbsp. Let cool completely.
In a small bowl, blend the butter, chives and shallot mixture. Add in 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper.
Line a baking sheet with wax paper or parchment and spread the butter so that it is 1/4 inch thick. Cover and chill.
After it has hardened, use a star-shaped cookie cutter and cut out 12 small shapes.
You can make the soup up to 2 weeks ahead of time. Firstly put the leeks in a heavy 8-quart stockpot. Set the butternut squash on top of the leeks. Add the wine and chicken broth. Cover the stockpot and bring to a boil.
Once it has started boiling, reduce the temperature and simmer for another 25 minutes, until the butternut squash is tender when checked with a fork. Let cool for 15 minutes.
Add 2 1/2 tbsp salt and 1 tsp pepper or to taste. Put the soup into a blender or food processor, working in batches, and puree the soup.
Cover the soup and refrigerate for up to 3 days, or store in freeze for up to 2 weeks.
When serving the soup, thaw the herbed butter. Reheat the soup on low to medium heat while stirring frequently. Put one or two ladels of soup into shallow bowls and garnish with the herbed butter star and fresh chives.
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