Discover more from Jillyanna's Woodfired Cooking School Newsletter
Taking Stock of Thanksgiving
Featuring Our Best Butternut Squash Soup Recipe
Maine butchers and specialty food shop owners tell me they are swamped with food orders for Thanksgiving—a far cry from last November when vaccines were not available and the fear of spreading or catching Covid-19 kept many reasonable folks from gathering together. Now that many Maine people have been fully vaccinated (We just got our booster shots!) cautious optimism is supplanting fear and celebrations are gearing up. I just listened to Maine CDC’s director Dr. Nirav Sha’s advice about how to gather safely for the holidays.
If you are hosting Thanksgiving or even if you’re just bringing a pie to your hostess, it’s not too early to start planning for the big day. My preparations have already begun and I’m happy to share some tips and recipes with you. Many of you have sent hearts, thumbs up and requests for the butternut squash soup teaser I posted on my Facebook/Instagram sites so I am going to give it to you…but first, let me warn you that I take Thanksgiving soup very seriously. If you make this soup without shortcuts and serve it in a beautiful bowl with good bread and a nice salad, no one will care if you forget about the turkey. We just did this for butternut squash aficionados and I swear they were delighted.
For this occasion, I insist you consider making your own homemade poultry stock. I know you can purchase bone broth or bouillon cubes or Better Than Bouillon base, but most of these commercial substitutes are too weak or too salty. If you want to really show people how much you care, make a good homemade stock. Now…while you’re not too busy, go buy the ingredients and make this right away. Years ago, before I graduated from cooking school at Johnson & Wales University, I spent a semester at The French Culinary Institute in NYC and almost every morning we began the day by roasting veal bones and making brown veal stock. “A properly made stock,” our demanding French chefs sternly reminded us, “elevates the flavor of soups and sauces.”
For Thanksgiving, you don’t need veal bones (which are quite expensive, even if you can find them). Instead, I suggest you use a combination of turkey necks, backs, and turkey or chicken wings. If you are making duck this year, as I will, then use a combination of duck parts and chicken wings. Wings, with their high bone-to-flesh ratio, add flavor and body to any poultry stock and they are easy to find.
You are probably going to make only one stock for Thanksgiving so make a brown stock. Brown stocks are richer and more flavorful than white stocks. This means before you toss your bones and a few vegetables into a large stock pot, you are going to roast them on a cookie sheet sprinkled with oil. Next place the sheet pan in a hot oven. I like this classic brown stock recipe from Martha Stewart Remember to add turkey parts to replace some of the chicken parts in her brown chicken stock recipe. Salt, by the way, is usually not added to basic stocks, since it is understood that you will need to reduce the stock and season it later when you add your soup ingredients.
After you make the stock, cool it down, let it sit in the fridge overnight, remove the congealed fat that floats to the top, save the fat in the fridge and freeze your stock. You can defrost it the day before you plan to make your soup. The fat is also useful for enriching gravy. I use reserved duck fat for making extra crispy potatoes.
Butternut Squash Soup with Brown Butter Drizzle (adapted from Thomas Keller)
This is my version of Thomas Keller’s soup. You can use vegetable stock in place of brown poultry stock to make this soup, but it will not taste as complex as the version I make. Of course, using vegetable stock, may make vegetarians very happy.
• 1 3-to-3 1/2-pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
• 2 tablespoons canola oil
• Kosher salt and cayenne pepper
• 2 sprigs fresh thyme, 2 fresh bay leaves, 2 fresh sage leaves
• 1 cup thinly sliced leeks
• ½ cup thinly sliced carrots
• ½ cup thinly sliced shallots
• ½ cup thinly sliced onions
• 2 garlic cloves, smashed
• 2 tablespoons honey
• 6 cups dark poultry stock, more if needed
• 3 sprigs thyme, 2 fresh bay leaves, 2 fresh sage leaves
• Freshly grated nutmeg
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Scatter 4 cups of 1 inch peeled and diced raw butternut squash on foil. Sprinkle canola oil over all pieces to barely coat and, using your hands, rub the oil over all the pieces.
2 Lightly sprinkle each oiled piece with cayenne and Kosher salt. Roast the squash till tender, about 30-40 minutes.
3 Meanwhile, 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 garlic, 1-2 teaspoons salt, and cook gently for 3 minutes, reducing the heat as necessary to keep the garlic from burning. Stir in the honey and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the brown stock and fresh bay leaf, thyme and sage. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
4 Add the tender, roasted squash and simmer gently for about 25-30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Remove from the heat and discard the herbs. Transfer the soup to a Vitamix (or high powered blender), in batches, and purée. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning. Add 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg and 1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar.
5 Let the soup cool, then refrigerate until ready to serve. The soup will actually be better if you serve it the day after you make it.
6 Gently reheat the soup until just hot. If it is too thick, add a little more brown stock. Taste and, if warranted, add more sea salt after you add stock. Heat a medium skillet over high heat. When it is very hot, add the butter and rotate the skillet over the heat as necessary to brown the butter evenly, scraping up any bits that settle in the bottom. The butter should be the color of brown hazelnuts (not burnt!).
7 Ladle the soup into six serving bowls and, with a teaspoon, drizzle melted brown butter on top of each soup bowl. Serve piping hot.
Val, Oliver and I want to wish you a happy, healthy and stress-free holiday. Since we are holding a private wood-fired pizza party the day after Thanksgiving, our celebration will be spread out and modest and we will visit family and friends later this winter. Right now, we are allowing a few private pizza and pasta and pie parties (6-8 people) for those who wish to cook and celebrate together and who can provide proof of vaccination. If you would like to know more about private wood-fired pizza, pasta or pie parties or if you want to lock in this year’s prices and send a holiday gift certificate to your favorite foodie, give us a call at 207-967-4960.
I will be sending out a December newsletter with more recipes and information about Jillyanna’s Woodfired Cooking School.