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Simple Sides: Butternut Squash

Image of Butternut Squash Soup
By Dennis Linden

Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.
Image of recurring kids
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic -- this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.

Hot soup on a cold November day is the best! Here is an extremely easy and warningly delicious recipe that uses just five everyday veggies to give your young kitchen helpers a foundation for making a simple hearty soup in less than an hour. What could be more common than carrots, yam, garlic, onion and the ionic fall hard squash, butternut? For your sous chefs, this dish gives them a chance to practice all the culinary basics: peel, slice, dice, roast, purée and even garnish.
Image of Butternut Squash
Butternut Squash is loaded with healthy carbohydrates, vitamins A, C as well as potassium. Plus the squash is sweet-nutty tasty! At this time of year hard squashes are in abundance, with continuous sale pricing at retail throughout the winter season on this nutritious and versatile item. There are probably as many versions of Butternut Squash Soup as there are squashes harvested during the fall season! What distinguishes this one is the subtle sweet accent that comes with a little carrot and yam added to the mix, which is balanced out by a touch of garlic and onion. Such a simple combination that demonstrates a great culinary lesson to your aspiring chefs: that the most ordinary of vegetables, cooked very simply, can be repurposed into a warming soup that satisfies and replenishes on a chilly winter’s day. Serve it at lunchtime in a small bowl as a side to a grilled cheese sandwich or a larger serving with hearty bread and a fresh salad for the family’s dinner meal.

The recipe has parts for everyone in the family to get involved. Even the youngest of kitchen helpers can be assigned the task of scooping out the seeds of the squash halves and then slathering the squash with olive oil for the roasting. And since those small hands are already covered in olive oil, point them towards the bowl of yam and carrot pieces to continue the slathering!

The dish also requires some very rudimentary cutting up of the carrots and yam into large pieces for the roasting. Also the onion and garlic cloves must be prepped. All are great opportunities for an older child to show his or her culinary knife skills where precision is not required. Everything gets roasted and blended in the processor anyway; so practice, practice, practice! Under close supervision, of course.

Do not let your kitchen crew overlook finishing off each serving with the sprinkle of thyme for garnish. Two lessons to emphasize here. First, visual presentation is an important ingredient in every dish. Secondly, a garnish must be both edible and add to or support the flavor of the dish. Using one of the other ingredients in a recipe as a garnish is a good cooking tip to pass on to your crew. For instance, point out that a few of the cooked carrots could have been held out of the puree to serve as a grated garnish instead of the sprinkling of thyme.

The recipe measures here will provide one hearty serving each for a family of four. It would be wise to anticipate requests for second helpings by doubling up on the measures. ENJOY!

Warming Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 4

Image of Ingredients for Warming Butternut Squash Soup
1 Butternut Squash, halved & seeded
5 Carrots, sliced into 1 inch pieces
1 Yam, peeled, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 cloves Fresh Garlic, minced
1 large Yellow Onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon Dried Thyme
4 Tablespoons Butter or Butter Spread
4 cups Chicken Stock (less for thicker / more for thinner to taste)

What the kids can do:

Scoop seeds out of butternut squash halves, then rub with olive oil.
Image of butternut squash halves
Slice up carrots (supervised).
Image of sliced carrots
Peel and cut the yam into pieces (supervised).
Image of yam pieces
Place carrot and yam pieces in a bowl, then coat with olive oil.

In a shallow roasting pan, arrange squash halves, carrots and yam pieces.
Image of butternut squash halves and yam pieces in a baking sheet
Chop onion and mince garlic for sauté.
Image of chopped onions
When cool, scoop out cooked squash from its shell.

Purée all vegetable ingredients using a food processor (in two batches).

While the machine is on, slowly pour in chicken stock to desired thickness.
Image of vegetables in food processor
Pour purée into large saucepan for heating up.

Garnish each bowl with a pinch of thyme leaves just before serving.

What the supervising adult should probably do:

Handle all the oven and stovetop parts of the recipe. For the roasting, pre-heat the oven to 425°, roast for 40 minutes or until all veggies are tender soft. While the vegetables are roasting, oversee the prep of the onion and garlic, then take over for the sauté…or make it a stovetop lesson! Supervise or do the knife work required based on your helpers’ age and experience. It is probably best to do the cutting in half of the butternut squash yourself as its oddly shaped hard shell can be a challenge for even an adult. I had to do the purée in two batches, making sure of even distribution of ingredients for both. Definitely oversee the slow-pour of chicken stock into purée! Once your helpers have put the purée in a pot, add in the thyme and butter, then heat over a medium flame to a simmer – serve and enjoy!.
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