Pimentón Butternut Squash Soup with Candied Pecans

Pimentón Butternut Squash Soup with Candied Pecans // Queen Smithereen.
Days ago, I was standing in the coffee shop where I was hired to be a barista nearly four years ago. I was talking to a regular customer I’d bumped into. She caught me up on where she had been in her life that brought her to where I’d found her. Skeptics may interpret synchronicity as mere coincidence, but I have this sneaking feeling that sometimes we encounter things the way we are supposed to, when we are supposed to.

Years ago, I was feeling lost. That sense had persisted for approximately 730 days (read: 104 weeks) (read: 2 years), following my graduation from college. In which I decided not to pursue anything related to my degree. In which I made an effort to orient myself, or, to at least get to know this confused version of myself. I decided to get my yoga certification. On a farm. In southern Florida. In spite of the fact that I hadn’t practiced yoga since my anxiety-filled college days. I walked into the retreat center to find a familiar face staring back at me. We had sat next to each other for the entirety of our college careers as Psychology majors and had never spoken. Cue: ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.

Months ago, my mother and I road tripped our way from Atlanta to Asheville, North Carolina to celebrate Christmas. The picturesque streets dripped with rain. There were only closed doors to celebrate the holiday. We walked past an ornate display for a vintage shop, and I petrified my mother with my idea for an octopus tattoo. The sun rose on December 26 and all returned to homeostasis. We ate Butternut Squash Soup with Pimentón Oil and Candied Pepitas at my favorite place, Cúrate (which I have mentioned here and here).
Pimentón Butternut Squash Soup with Candied Pecans // Queen Smithereen.
Hours after that conversation about synchronicity, that friend from years ago walked into an apartment housing my version of that soup from months ago. Our first afternoon together, we sat cross-legged on my living room floor eating strawberries and catching up on the passage of time. We ventured down to a secret garden I have found in my city and we sang songs about Robin Hood and Little John on our ukuleles. When it was time to say goodbye, we did so at 6 o’clock in the morning on my street corner.

When I turned around to wave, all I could see was the silver glare of a reflector on his bright yellow backpack in the dark. Until next time, because some things are just that way–complementary parts of a greater whole. It’s a little bit like the inseparable quality of last Christmas with my mother and it’s teeny, tiny counterpart: creamy, paprika-laced butternut squash soup.

Here’s how I figured out the way to bring that particular memory back, in a way. As it goes with so many other things, goodness can reverberate into future moments that we did not foresee at the time (and it’s particularly awesome when goodness means: friendships and deliciousness).

One Year: Homemade Chai Latte
Two Years: Double Chocolate Cookies with Butterscotch Chips and Pecans
Three Years: Peanut Butter and Miel Cheerio Bars

Pimentón Butternut Squash Soup with Candied Pecans
Serves 8-10

Pecans:
1 cup raw pecans, roughly chopped
1 tbsp high quality salted butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
pinch of cayenne
pinch of ground ginger

Soup:
2 butternut squash, halved and deseeded
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 yellow onions, diced
2 tbsp paprika, plus more for serving
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup full-fat, unsweetened canned coconut milk

Pecans:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large saucepan on medium, combine pecans, butter, cinnamon, sea salt, cayenne, and ginger. Stir intermittently, allowing the butter and sugar to caramelize and candy the pecans. Remove from heat when the caramel reaches an orangey brown color and the nuts are releasing a lightly toasted aroma, then distribute evenly on prepared baking sheet. Let cool completely before serving with soup.

Soup:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Halve the butternut squash, keeping the skin on, and roast until tender, about 45-60 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before scooping out the flesh and mashing with a fork. Meanwhile, in a large pot, sauté onions with olive oil until translucent. Add mashed butternut squash, paprika, smoked paprika, thyme, cayenne, sea salt, and black pepper, stirring to combine. Pour in vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, about 30 minutes. Use a handheld blender to blend the soup until creamy. Stir in coconut milk. Serve with additional paprika and candied pecans. To store, keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days.

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