This soup will squish your brain apart. The last time I made it was for Thanksgiving in Florida. I fed it to about 20 people as the first course, and it was so good that no one remembers any of the other food that night (other than the amazing cake I made, of course). One of the women at the dinner happened to be best friends with the wife of the owner of a very important grocery store chain *Shout out to my Rochester peeps!!!* and she told us a story about how she had recently been skiing in the Swiss alps at the grocery store owner's private chalet from which Mussolini's winter mansion was visible on the opposite mountainside. Judging from that story and her general lifestyle, I trust that she has eaten some pretty good food in her time, and she told me that THIS soup is the best she's had! So, you know, make it and eat it and let it squish your brain like everyone else.
The soup is basically very well balanced. The butternut squash provides sweetness while the pancetta adds salty texture and the crispy fried sage leaves rounds the whole dish out with some floral herbiness that is so so autumn. I make it all the time, but always in Autumn, so by the time it's ready to eat, the sun is down and it is impossible to get a good picture of it. As such, excuse this terrible picture please >_< .
2 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1 brown onion, roughly chopped
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
4 Tbsp butter
26 fresh sage leaves, separated
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
4 slices pancetta, cut into 1 cm cubes
4 cloves garlic
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper for seasoning
1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Toss the first 6 ingredients (through thyme) together on a baking sheet. and bake until tender and just starting to brown, about 20 minutes, turning halfway through.
2. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat and add the roasted squash and onions. Add the red pepper flakes and 6 fresh sage leaves and cook about 2 minutes stirring often. Add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer. Simmer about 3 hours.
3. In a large sauce pan over low heat, render the pancetta until crispy, about 40 minutes, adding the garlic about halfway through. Transfer the pancetta and garlic to a paper towel, reserving the fat. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the 20 remaining sage leaves. Cook about 1 minute, flipping each leaf about halfway through, until they are evenly crispy. Carefully transfer the sage leaves to a paper towel.
4. Blend the soup in batches, then add it back to the pot. Stir in the heavy cream and Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
NOTE: it is amazing to add the fat to the soup before blending, but omit for a healthier option. If you plan on doing this, I recommend omitting the butter in step 2.
5. Ladle the soup into bowls equally. Top the soups evenly with the crispy pancetta. Grate some fresh Parmesan over the soups and top with the sage leaves.