After holiday's heavy eating, soup makes a good dinner

Entertaining

Sunday Gourmet

December 28, 2003|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Tribune Media Services

After partaking with abandon during the holidays, my husband and I vow to eat lightly in the first weeks of the new year. Even though we cannot bear the thought of multicourse meals, we still like to invite friends over. However, our post-holiday entertaining is on a much smaller and simpler scale. Soup and salad suppers are the answer.

Typically, we invite two to four people to join us for a light menu that includes homemade soup, a big salad and a loaf of crusty French country bread. A platter of cheeses and winter fruits serves as dessert. This format is always a winner. When guests arrive, I have only to reheat the soup du jour, pop the bread in the oven to warm and toss the salad with dressing.

This year, I already have a menu in mind. For several days I've been working on a new recipe for butternut squash soup in which cubes of this winter squash are roasted with peeled and halved shallots. Drizzled with oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, the two vegetables are roasted until lightly browned. Next, they are transferred to a pot to simmer with chicken stock, along with flavorings of thyme, parsley and bay leaf. Finally, the soup is pureed and enriched with a touch of white wine and creme fraiche. This cold-weather potage can be prepared a day ahead, and at serving time the reheated soup is ladled into bowls and garnished with dollops of creme fraiche and fresh herbs.

Note: Most supermarkets now sell packages of butternut squash peeled and seeded. Buying prepared squash can save a good amount of kitchen time.

Creme fraiche is easy to make at home. Whisk 1 cup of heavy whipping cream and 1/3 cup sour cream together in a medium nonreactive bowl. Let stand at room temperature until thickened, 6 hours or longer. Cover and refrigerate. This makes about 1 1/3 cups. (Creme fraiche can be stored up to 1 week, covered, in the refrigerator.)

Roasted Butternut Squash and Shallot Soup

Serves 4 to 6

3/4 pound shallots

2 pounds peeled and seeded butternut squash

3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves

1 bay leaf, broken in half

2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley plus several extra sprigs for garnish

5 cups chicken stock plus an extra 1/2 cup, if needed

2 tablespoons dry white wine

1 cup creme fraiche, divided

6 fresh thyme sprigs for garnish, optional

Line a large, heavy baking sheet with foil. Peel shallots and halve lengthwise. (Large shallots should be quartered.) Spread cubed squash and shallots in a single layer on baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss vegetables to coat lightly with oil.

On low rack of 450-degree oven, bake vegetables, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent sticking, until tender when pierced with a fork and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven.

Transfer vegetables, scraping up any loose brown bits on the foil, to a 4- to 5-quart pot (with a lid) and season with thyme. Add bay-leaf halves, parsley sprigs and 5 cups stock. Place pot over medium high heat. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove soup from heat and discard bay leaf halves and parsley sprigs.

Puree soup in a food processor, blender or food mill. Stir in wine and 2 / 3 cup creme fraiche. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

(Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring, over medium heat. If soup seems too thick after reheating, you can thin it with an additional 1/2 cup chicken stock.)

To serve, ladle soup into soup bowls. Garnish each serving with a dollop of creme fraiche, a parsley sprig and a thyme sprig, if desired.

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