I recently returned from a trip to NYC. As always, it was an amazing time filled with friends, food, music and more food. The city is made for food-obsessed people like myself. Craving pastrami at 2 a.m. or Korean BBQ at 3 a.m.? No problem, NYC has it, and it’s open. You really can access anything your heart desires at any time. Food on demand.
In addition to eating way too much, I spent time with friends who have moved away and made their lives in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. One person in particular, is someone I’ve been friends with for more than 15 years. In Portland, when I met Natalie, I was living in a Melrose Place style apartment complex. You know, the kind of place with the one level U-shaped building with a courtyard in the middle. My complex didn’t have a pool in the courtyard, like the real Melrose Place, because this is rainy Oregon I’m talking about. At the time, I had recently met Natalie through another friend when an apartment in my complex opened up. I knew Natalie was looking for a place to live, so I told her about it, she moved in, and our friendship began.
I quickly learned that Natalie liked to party, cook, sew and occasionally make art when she wasn’t putting in long hours at her first job at a local architecture firm. We often shared recipes with one another and cooked dinner together. Not only was it convenient because we lived across the courtyard from one another, but we were both pretty decent cooks and appreciated food. Natalie was, and still is, a vegetarian and she introduced me to a whole new world of making good food that didn’t involve meat.
One of my favorite recipes from Natalie that, after 15 years, is still in heavy rotation, is cream of butternut squash soup. It’s my go-to autumn/winter soup. It’s quick, flavorful and reminds me of my friend every time I make it.
During my recent trip to NY, I was sitting in Natalie’s dining area as her husband was making something in the kitchen. We were chatting and catching up on things, when I started to notice the ingredients he was lining up on the counter. Butternut squash, stock, carrots, celery. I asked him if he happened to be making Natalie’s cream of butternut squash soup recipe. Yep, he was. I don’t know why, but I got so excited that the soup is still a staple in Natalie’s life too. I even learned that the soup is a family recipe from Natalie’s aunt, which I either don’t remember (a distinct possibility) or never knew.
We used to live across a courtyard, and now we live across the country from each other, but we’re still making the same soup in our California and New York kitchens.
My kitchen notes:
If you don’t have oregano or marjoram in your spice cabinet, thyme is a good alternative.
Don’t skip on the hazelnuts (or filberts as us Oregonians refer to them). It adds a nice depth to the soup.
The recipe says light or regular cream cheese, but I always use light. Regular tends to taste too heavy.
Cream of Butternut Squash Soup
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
5 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 pounds butternut squash, cut into cubes
2 1/2 cups veggie or chicken stock
1 teaspoon marjoram or oregano (I use fresh)
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
8 ounces light or regular cream cheese
Hazelnuts, chopped and toasted
1. Heat olive oil or butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add chopped celery and onion to saucepan and saute until softened, about 5-7 minutes.
2. Add cubed butternut squash, veggie or chicken stock, marjoram or oregano and freshly ground pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Let mixture cool for about 10 minutes. Add cream cheese and add mixture to a blender, food processor, or use an immersion blender to blend soup into creamy, smooth consistency.
4. Top individual bowls of soup with toasted hazelnuts.