Top | Vegetable Soups From Deborah Madison's Kitchen

Fundamental Squash Soup with Sage

(recipe, Deborah Madison)

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Steaming winter squash keeps the purity of its flavor and the brilliance of its color intact. It also saves struggling with peeling and chopping what can be a difficult vegetable. You simply halve the creature, put the seeds and a slice of onion and a sprig of thyme in the water which will become stock, then steam the squash over the water until tender. The cooked flesh needs just another 20 minutes or so to become a soup. If you make a lot of squash soups using this method, you will see how much varieties differ one from another in sweetness, moisture, texture, color, and flavor. (If you’re using butternut squash, an easy squash to handle, you can peel and dice the long solid neck and add it to the onions.) This is a very clean, simple soup, one that’s embellished only with a fried sage leave. Here it is vegan, but squash is always good with browned butter or ghee, various cheeses (such as Fontina, Gruyère, very delicate goat cheese, and some blues), and crème fraîche or cream.


    1. 1 winter squash or cooking pumpkin, about 3 pounds, halved
    2. 2 onions, ½ sliced and the remainder finely diced
    3. 2 thyme sprigs
    4. Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
    5. 3 Tbsp. olive oil, toasted sunflower-seed oil, or ghee
    6. 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
    7. A few tablespoons chopped sage
    To finish
    1. 2 Tbsp. olive oil or ghee
    2. 8 sage leaves


    1. Scoop out the seeds of the squash and put them in a wide pot with the sliced onion, a thyme sprig, and as much water — up to 2 quarts — as you can before putting in the steaming rack.
    2. Place the squash cut side down in the steaming rack, bring the water to a boil, then cover and steam until the flesh is tender — anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the variety of squash and its size. When it’s done, scoop out the flesh. A 3-pound squash will yield about 4 cups cooked flesh. Strain the steaming water and set it aside.
    3. While the squash is steaming, heat the oil in a wide soup pot and add the onion with the remaining thyme sprig, sage, and parsley. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden, 15 to 20 minutes.
    4. Add the cooked squash, 1½ teaspoons salt, and enough of the reserved liquid to achieve the texture you like. (A very dry-fleshed variety of squash, such as the Kabocha, will need more liquid than a sugar pumpkin or Red Kuri squash.) Mash the squash into the liquid and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
    5. Pass the soup through a food mill or purée it, then return it to the pot. Taste for salt and season with pepper.
    6. To finish, heat the oil or ghee in a small skillet. When hot, add the sage leaves and fry until dark green, about 30 seconds. Remove them to a plate. (Stir any remaining oil or ghee into the soup.)
    7. Ladle the soup into bowls. Add a cluster of croutons to each, 1 or 2 sage leaves, a bit of freshly ground pepper, and serve.


    Other embellishments for a squash soup: Add 3 small spoonfuls of mascarpone, Robiola, or very mild goat cheese to each bowl. Stir in cubes of Fontina or cave-aged Gruyère before serving. Instead of sage, finish with finely minced Italian parsley. It has a sharp, clean taste that is welcome with squash.