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Recipe: Thomas Keller's Butternut Squash Soup

squash_soup1If you love food as much as I do, you most likely know about a little well-known pair of Napa Valley restaurants named French Laundry and Bouchon. Oh, and a chef named Thomas Keller... ring a bell?

Yes, that Thomas Keller. The owner of French Laundry, touted as "The best restaurant in the world" and also known for being the first West Coast restaurant to receive not one, but THREE Michelin stars.

For those of you who hear the name "French Laundry" and instantly think "someday, someday..." -- don't hold your breath. We were invited to go to French Laundry five years ago while visiting San Francisco and our host spent a year -- an ENTIRE year -- trying to make a reservation. The reservation process is rigorous and if you even get more than a busy tone while calling, or say, an actual person on the line -- you've pretty much won the foodie lottery.

However, our trip to Napa Valley was not in vain. My host was savvy enough to make a reservation at French Laundry's sister restaurant, Bouchon; and still to this day, five years later, my meal was worth every pretty penny and one of the very best that I have ever had.

You could probably imagine my surprise when I came home recently to the familiar scent of butternut squash soup simmering on the stove top and my boyfriend, who  simply said, "It's from Bouchon." (As in Keller's same-named cookbook that we have always wanted, but don't yet have -- typically $50.) Best weeknight dinner surprise of the year, hands down!

We changed a couple ingredients here and there to fit our particular wants of the evening, but for the most part, this recipe stands true to what you'll find in Keller's amazing Bouchon. And if you're yet to have flipped through this book's recipes, be sure to check it out. You will not be disappointed!

Thomas Keller's Butternut Squash Soup*
a.k.a. Jen's Sunshine Soup
Serves 6

squash_soupIngredients
1 3-to-3 1/2-pound butternut squash
2 tablespoons canola oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs sage
1 large leek, sliced
1 large carrot, sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 small yellow onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoons honey
6 cups vegetable stock, more if needed
Bouquet Garni made of 8 sprigs thyme, 2 sprigs Italian parsley, 2 bay leaves and 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, all wrapped in a packet made of 2 green leek leaves
1/3 cup of minced chives
1/3 cup of crumble bacon, cooked
Extra-virgin olive oil

Preparation
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil. Cut the neck off the squash and set it aside. Cut the bulb in half and scoop out and discard seeds. Brush each half inside and out with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the canola oil. Sprinkle the cavities with salt and pepper and tuck a sprig of sage into each. Place cut-side-down on the baking sheet and roast until completely tender, about 1 hour. Remove the squash from the oven and let cool, then scoop out and reserve the flesh (discard sage).

2. Meanwhile, using a paring knife, peel away the skin from the neck of the squash until you reach the bright orange flesh. Cut the flesh into 1/2-inch pieces (you should have about 4 cups).

3. Put the remaining canola oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat, add the leeks, carrots, shallots and onions and cook, stirring often, for about 6 minutes. Add the diced squash, garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook gently for 3 minutes, reducing the heat as necessary to keep the garlic and squash from coloring. Stir in the honey and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock and bouquet garni, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until the squash is tender.

4. Add the roasted squash and simmer gently for about 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Remove from the heat and discard the bouquet garni. Transfer the soup to a blender, in batches, and puree. Strain the soup through a fine sieve into a bowl. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning. Let the soup cool, then refrigerate until ready to serve.

5. Gently reheat the soup until just hot. If it is too thick, add a little more vegetable stock. Ladle the soup into six serving bowls. Top each with black pepper, sliced chives and bacon crumbles.

*We omitted the brown butter sage and creme fraiche topping. Here's the original recipe in the NYT for those of you that want to follow it exactly as Keller intended.

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