Most people enjoy a good bowl of soup. It’s no wonder that soup recipes abound in books and online. There is nothing more comforting and soothing than a big, welcoming bowl of soup.

Recently I made a large batch of Butternut Squash soup for a customer. My staff gathered around the pot, stirring and tasting and fussing over one small part of a larger day’s work.

It was a surprise when the idea to save the leftovers for a staff meal was met with a huge and excited response. I was even more shocked when several staff members asked how they might make the same soup at home.

The secret to making great soup is simple. I make soup with a technique called Ad Hoc cooking. It means “for this.” What I mean by ad hoc is that I start out with the intent to make a great soup. Each ingredient is thought out and has a purpose.

Many people make soup with “a little of this and a little of that” mentality. While you will end with soup, it will not have a defined flavor and texture. I tell my staff that soup should be made just as carefully as a sauce or braised dish. That means technique as well as love goes into the pot! I do not throw leftovers into a pot hoping for a great end-product. I start with carefully chosen ingredients and then add some touches, usually in the form of garnishes.

Autumn is in the air and it is comfort food season. There is nothing more comforting than a big bowl of delicious soup.  Like a great book or your favorite dining companions, soup is complete on its own. You do not need much else. It is the ultimate dish.

Best Butternut Squash Soup
Serves at least 8

Olive oil
3 carrots, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 fennel bulb (white part only), chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium butternut squash
10 cups chicken stock, or vegetable stock
Kosher salt and pepper
Garnishes: Toasted pumpkin seeds, pomegranate seeds, herbed croutons, fried sage leaves

Preheat oven to 350

1. Place a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium low heat. Add the olive oil to coat the bottom, carrots, celery, fennel and garlic. Cook the vegetables, stirring occasionally, for 90 minutes until the mire poix (aromatic vegetables) are deeply caramelized, gooey and fragrant. It’s possible to do this step in a slow cooker or in a very low oven.

2.    While the mire poix is caramelizing, cut the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Lightly drizzle olive oil and salt and pepper over the cut side of the squash. Place the squash, cut side down on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes until very soft and caramelized.

3.    Scoop out the flesh of the squash and discard the shell. Add the flesh to the pan with the mire poix. Add the stock and puree with stick blender or puree in batches in a food processor or blender.

4.    Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and serve with favorite garnishes.

Chef Laura Frankel is Executive Chef for Spertus Kosher Catering and author of Jewish Cooking for All Seasons, and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes.

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