This spicy butternut squash soup is a ritual meal in our home, mostly as a byproduct of growing the Three Sisters: Corn, beans, and squash. Hell, I even have a “three sisters” stew I make with whatever leftover meat I happen to have handy.
I know, there are many, many versions of squash soup on the internet, but my rendition of spicy butternut squash soup has one thing few others do: Cayenne, of course, but also bacon. Yep, bacon. In the soup itself.
Lots of recipes add crumbled bacon as a garnish, and I always support that — especially if you make your own bacon. (I have lots of homemade bacon recipes here.) But I took a tip from a minestrone soup I read about in Saveur magazine about 15 years ago to puree the bacon in the soup itself.
Yeah, I hear ya: pureed meat? Ew! Except it’s not “ew,” because you only notice the flavor when you are eating this soup. It’s still predominantly a butternut squash soup, but you get extra body, richness and smokiness from the bacon. Trust me on this one.
And yes, if you must, skip the bacon to make this vegetarian. But I wouldn’t.
I always grow butternut squashes, typically old Native American varieties that are drought tolerant, big and which will keep for many, many months. (I am currently growing this Mayo Kama variety.) I like them because of the characteristics I just mentioned, but also because they are bright in color and are reasonably dry; I find most pumpkins watery.
That said, this squash soup can easily become a pumpkin soup if that’s what you have. The color may be slightly different, and pumpkins are more watery, but it’ll work. Kabocha or hubbard squashes would be my second choices, though.
The bay leaves matter here, and if you can use more than two, do it. I actually add like six, but I have lots and lots of bay leaves handy. They add a beautiful floral aroma to the soup that works well with the bacon and squash.
Finally, your garnishes should add something, too. Squash or pumpkin seeds are a must. A variety of seeds, like both of those plus sunflower kernels, would be cool, too. Black pepper is nice, as is any paprika, but especially Spanish smoked paprika. Fresh chopped herbs like chives are a nice touch, and of course, chopped crispy bacon.
Once made, your spicy butternut squash soup will keep a week or so in the fridge. It doesn’t freeze that well, though.
Spicy Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon
- 1 yellow or white onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 to 1/2 pound bacon or salt pork, diced (use less if it's really smoky)
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or more to taste)
- 1 quart turkey, chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
- 2 heaping tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream (optional)
- Smoked paprika (optional)
- In a large pot, heat the butter over medium-high heat and add the onions and bacon. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent. You don't want them browning. Pour in the stock, add the cayenne, squash, bay leaves and a healthy pinch of salt. You might need a little water to completely submerge the squash. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for an hour. Stir it once or twice in that time.
- Uncover the pot, remove the bay leaves and puree the soup, either with an immersion blender, by moving the soup to a blender or a food processor, or by pushing it through a food mill. An immersion blender will give you a slightly chunky soup, a blender the smoothest. Return the soup to the pot, put the bay leaves back in and simmer gently, uncovered, for another 15 minutes. Stir frequently to keep it from sticking on the bottom.
- Add salt to taste. Right before you serve, whisk in the sour cream or creme fraiche. Adjust the thickness of the soup - you want it to look like melted ice cream. Serve garnished with pumpkin or squash seeds and smoked paprika.