Start Thanksgiving meal with savory squash soup


Last updated 11/13/2019 at 4:15pm

What's the first thing you'll serve to your guests when they sit down to Thanksgiving dinner next week?

That's an important question for any menu. The first course sets the tone for the meal to come. It should, as the old phrase goes, whet the appetite, sharpening the senses and adding a happy edge to guests' anticipation. A great introductory dish should not only look beautiful, smell enticing and taste delicious, but also satisfy and leave guests wanting more.

At Thanksgiving, the stakes are even higher. It's important to evoke an all-American tradition by featuring the sorts of harvest-season ingredients that recall the first Pilgrim feast. And, if you're a serious cook, you also want to serve something a little different, without straying too far from expectations.

That's why I like to start my menu with fragrant, golden winter squash soup, like the version I am happy to share with you today from Aram Mardigian, executive chef at my Wolfgang Puck American Grille in the Borgata Hotel, Casino and Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Many guests at the hotel, as well as people who live nearby, love to book their Thanksgiving meal at the restaurant, and Chef Aram goes all out with his special-occasion menu.

Many restaurants that serve such a recipe will refer to it as "pumpkin" soup. In fact, you'd have a hard time finding one that actually contains real pumpkin, which can be watery and bland in flavor. (The same is true, by the way, for most pumpkin pies, which - like products sold as canned pumpkin - contain more flavorful, better-textured winter squashes like butternut or Hubbard varieties.)

This particular recipe uses both familiar butternut and also kabocha squash, also sometimes called "Japanese pumpkin," a wonderfully flavorful variety that reminds some people of sweet potato.

To enhance the squashes, the recipe calls first for roasting them, a step that helps intensify their flavor and partly caramelizes their natural sugars. Some brown sugar and autumn spices add still more mellow sweetness, while onion and fresh sage contribute a subtly savory dimension.

The easy recipe makes enough for eight appetizer servings, but you can double it for a larger gathering. Unless you have a lot of oven space, however, multiplying the recipe will probably require baking the squashes in batches. Fortunately, the soup is ideal for making ahead, to be reheated just before serving. (Have some extra stock on hand, though, as soup made in advance may need to be thinned slightly.)

I hope this recipe adds an important final piece of the puzzle for your

Thanksgiving menu. Be sure to check next week's column, in which Chef Aram will share a favorite home-style recipe that perfect for your leftover turkey.


Makes about 2 quarts (2 l), 8 appetizer servings

3 small to medium whole butternut squashes

1 whole kabocha squash

Kosher salt

Freshly ground white pepper

8 leaves fresh sage

4 cinnamon sticks, broken into halves

3/4 pound (375 g) unsalted butter

2 cups (500 ml) packed dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream

1 quart (1 l) good-quality canned low-sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock, plus extra as needed

1/2 cup (125 ml) crËme fraÓche, for serving

1/4 cup (60 ml) finely chopped fresh chives

Preheat the oven to 350∞F (175∞C).

Meanwhile, with a large, sharp chef's knife, carefully cut each squash lengthwise in half. With a large spoon, scoop out and discard the seeds and fibers from the cavity of each half. Place the squash halves cut side up in a large roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper. In each cavity, place 1 sage leaf, 1 half a cinnamon stick, 1 tablespoon butter, and 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Sprinkle with the cardamom, ginger, and nutmeg.

Pour 2 cups (500 ml) of water in the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan with parchment paper and aluminum foil, sealing the foil around the edges. Place in the oven and roast until the squash is tender enough to pierce easily with a fork, 1 to 11/2 hours, carefully opening the foil away from you to avoid steam when testing.

Remove the pan from the oven, carefully uncover, and set aside until the squash is cool enough to handle. Then, scrape the flesh from each squash half into a large mixing bowl, discarding the skins.

Place a large pot over medium heat. Add the remaining butter and cook until it has melted and begins to brown, watching carefully that it doesn't burn. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it turns translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the roasted squash and the 1 quart (1 l) stock to the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 45 minutes.

Puree the soup and the cream until smooth, using an immersion blender in the pot; or with a countertop blender, working in batches to avoid overfilling and following the manufacturer's instructions to prevent spattering of the hot liquid. Gently reheat the soup in the pot, adjusting the seasonings to taste and adding a little more stock, if needed, to bring it to the desired consistency.

Before serving, transfer the crËme fraÓche to a bowl and stir briskly to make it a little more fluid. Ladle the hot soup into warmed soup bowls, topping each serving with a small dollop of crËme fraiche and some chopped chives.


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