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Kitchen Mailbox Countdown to Dinner Dining
Countdown to Dinner: Butternut squash soup a lovely meal opener

Thursday, January 27, 2000

Tested by Betsy Kline

Looking for a stunning first course for a winter meal? Look no further than Ellen Lebow's lovely, light and luscious Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. It has already caught the attention of Bon Appetit magazine, which published it several years ago. It's a keeper.

Lebow, a second-time Countdown participant, optometrist and mother of three from Squirrel Hill, invented this recipe in a practical vein. "When we carve up our pumpkins at Halloween, I always steamed the pumpkin [flesh]. One year I had so much pumpkin I didn't know what to do with it, so I made a soup. Butternut squash is a favorite with our family, so I substituted the squash. It's sweeter, denser, less watery than pumpkin."

With a soup as lovely as this in its golden glory, adornment is incidental, but Lebow likes to add a dollop of nonfat sour cream to each bowl for visual effect. "I love sour cream. It kind of cools the soup down, too." On occasion she'll add a dab of whole cranberry sauce because "It makes it taste richer" and it sparkles.

"I think the way food looks is half the battle," says Lebow.

Lebow loves to cook and improvise, and that trait has rubbed off on two her daughters. Her youngest, 10-year-old Bo, wants to be a chef. "She's a terrific eater and she's willing to try anything, more than your average kid."

Oldest daughter Molly, 14, was a finalist in the junior division of the Pillsbury Bake-Off held at the Carnegie Science Center last year. Her entry: meat turnovers made with homestyle freezer rolls.

Middle daughter Katie, 12, finds her fulfillment in the kennel, not the kitchen. She loves dogs, and because "mean old Mom" won't get her a dog, laughs Lebow, Katie works in a kennel as an assistant groomer.

Husband Larry Lebow is the happy recipient of all their culinary efforts.

Tester's note: We loved this recipe. It is streamlined to fit into 25 minutes because the microwave subs for the slow-roast of the oven. Our only words of caution: Be sure to use oven mitts when handling the squash because it will be extremely hot. We found it helpful to place the squash on a double thickness of microwave-safe paper towels while cooking, and then to pull it carefully onto a plate or cookie sheet to remove from the microwave.

This soup can be served as a first course or as a main dish, accompanied by a green salad and bread.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

1 2-pound butternut squash, halved lengthwise, seeded
2 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
1 cup nonfat milk - for a richer soup use milk with more fat
Pinch of nutmeg

Prick squash with tines of fork and put in microwave. Heat on high 7 to 10 minutes until pulp is tender. (It may taker longer depending on the wattage of your microwave.) Scrape pulp from squash shell into food processor, taking care because it will be very hot. Add pinch of nutmeg and about 1/2 cup of the chicken broth and puree until smooth.

Transfer puree to large cooking pot. Mix in milk and remaining broth and stir soup over medium heat until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls. Top with dollop of sour cream and chives or whole berry cranberry sauce for a sweet touch. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Ellen Lebow says this soup freezes "fabulously. Just remember to thaw it in the refrigerator" before

Do you have an entree, salad or vegetable side dish recipe (no desserts, please!) that can be made in 30 minutes or less from six ingredients or fewer (not counting water, salt and pepper)? Share it with Countdown to Dinner.

The PG tests all recipes and if we select your recipe for publication, you'll receive a free selection from our cookbook grab bag of current releases.

Send your recipe to Countdown to Dinner, Post-Gazette Food, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or fax to 412-263-1313. Please include your name, neighborhood and daytime phone number. Or e-mail to: nanderson@post-gazette.com. Questions? Call 412-263-1760.

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