In the fall of 2007 after I had graduated from my master’s degree at Cal Poly, I packed up my bags and headed to Italy. I absolutely love Italian food and the culture, so I decided to go on my first international trip solo. I was a little nervous going alone but I experienced one of the most exciting and memorable culinary adventures of my life. When I think about all of the sights, smells and tastes of Italy, I still get goosebumps and cannot wait until I return. One of my stops in Italy was in Tuscany, in a small wine and olive region called Foiano della Chiana. I stayed at a beautiful farm house “argritourismo” called Fattoria Santa Vittoria. Tuscany became my home for a few days and I truly fell in love with Italy, it taught me how to enjoy and live in the moment. I recently found a butternut squash soup recipe from my journal and wanted to share it with you.
In Tuscany, the owner of the farm stay, Marta Niccolai, knew the owner and chef of a nearby bed and breakfast called Osteria della Lodola. They offered free cooking classes in exchange for work in their restaurant. I spent two full days learning one on one with the most down to earth and generous chef named Carlo. His family owned the the B&B, but his passion was to run the restaurant. He took me shopping for groceries for the restaurant at the local markets and taught me how to select the proper ingredients.
During my time at the restaurant I learned how to make various fresh pastas, sauces, soups, breads, desserts, I was in heaven! Not only did I get to help prepare the meal but Carlo allowed me to dine with the other guests who ate at communal tables. Did I mention that dinner started at 9 pm and didn’t end until midnight? Italians definitely know how to live in the moment and take the time to enjoy their meals with their friends and family.
I want to share one of my favorite recipes from my experience called Zuppa di Zucca, or butternut squash soup recipe. The winter vegetables were in full bloom at Carlo’s farm and squash was in season at the time which helps make the soup even more exquisite! This is the perfect Tuscan soup to try on those colder fall and winter nights.
What I learned when I was cooking in Italy is use of simple fresh and seasonal ingredients, then pair with the right herbs and aromatics to gently enhance the dish. Less is more in Italy and the ingredients speak for themselves. I especially noticed in Toscana the emphasis on farm fresh local ingredients and working with local purveyors to get the highest quality meats, oils, cheeses and of course the wine!
Whenever I make this soup, I like to make a salad with fresh vine ripe tomatoes and greens with a high quality extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. If you have some crusty bread, make some homemade croutons and sprinkle them with salt and fresh ground pepper. Pair with a delicious Tuscan red wine and this meal is soul satisfying.
As I was looking for this butternut squash recipe in my travel journal, I stumbled across this passage that I wrote when I was eating breakfast outside of the farm stay in Tuscany:
“Peace, solice, appreciation. I love Toscana. It is the most pure, beautiful and inviting place you could ever even imagine. Everything there is delicate and purposeful, it is a perfect, simple life. I’m sitting here eating focaccia, ham, egg and pecorino cheese with a glass of white wine and sweet grapes. It is lovely.”
I can’t help but smile when I think of the endless rolling hills, the vineyards and the charming towns in Tuscany. I can’t wait to go back some day and I hope you can experience my favorite place in the world too!
If you are looking for stew or something a bit more on the hearty side, check out my Grandma’s Ginger Beef Stew Recipe.
TIP #2 – The butternut squash soup is a pureed soup that relies on the natural starches in the squash for it’s thickening. The squash is cooked in a flavorful liquid, then pureed until smooth.
TIP #3 – Never strain a pureed soup, the ingredients suspended particles helps provide the thickened and rich texture.
TIP #4 - To make this soup vegetarian friendly, substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock or water. Remove the sausage and add a variety of heartier mushrooms, roasted corn or your other favorite winter vegetables!
- ½ yellow onion, medium dice (¼” x ¼”)
- Olive oil, as needed
- 1 butternut squash, 1 inch cubes
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- 3 cups of chicken stock or broth
- 8 white mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 Italian sausages (removed from casing)
- Chives, sliced for garnish (if desired)
- Heat a large pot over medium heat, then add enough olive oil to thinly coat the surface. Add onions and sauté until translucent, approximately 4 minutes.
- Add squash, rosemary and 1-teaspoon salt, stir, then cover. Cook over medium low heat until squash is tender, approximately 25 to 30 minutes. Check every 10 minutes, and stir if needed.
- Remove rosemary and puree ingredients in blender or with immersion stick blender until a smooth puree consistency is achieved. Add the puree back into the pot if removed. Gradually add the chicken stock or broth to the squash puree, a half-cup at a time and stir into the pureed squash. Add enough liquid until a desired consistency is reached. Adjust the soup seasoning with salt an pepper to taste. Cover and keep the soup warm over low heat.
- Heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat, then add enough olive oil to thinly coat the surface. Add the garlic and mushrooms, ensuring not to brown the garlic. Add to the pureed soup once cooking is complete.
- In the same pan over medium heat, add the sausage, breaking down into smaller pieces and cook through. Add to the pureed soup.
- Reheat the soup if needed, taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
- Garnish the soup with sliced chives.