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Butternut Squash Soup - Like Never Before!

Image of Butternut Squash Soup

Here’s a warming soup recipe to combat those January chills, submitted by Nikko Santo Pietro, a member of Melissa’s Product Development team. In fact, Nikko’s recipe was first created on a cold winter’s day over a wood-burning stove in a remote farmhouse that he described as being in the middle of “nowhere Missouri.”

“Silence births creativity. So does living very far from the nearest grocery store,” Nikko recalled. “One winter day, I was short on butternut squash for my soup, so I added half a granny smith apple. The apple was starting to wrinkle on the counter, being dehydrated from the wood-burning stove, so it needed to be used. Without any expectations, it was the best soup I had ever made!”

Nikko’s recipe reminds me of that old adage that a machine with the least number of moving parts is the most efficient. Flavor being the focus, Nikko manages to pack a lot of tastiness very efficiently into one bowl of butternut squash soup using just four basic taste enhancers – apple, garlic, ginger and a pinch of cinnamon. Supported with a good vegetable broth, the results produce a head-turning flavor combination that this writer was able to test under battle conditions. That is a very welcomed hot lunch after a morning of outside chores on a blustery 40-degree winter’s day in the Pacific Northwest. The ginger adds an extra spicy punch that warms to the toes, something that was very much appreciated on that chilly afternoon! So good and so very simple to make!

Butternut squash is a type of winter squash that grows on a vine. It has a sweet, nutty taste similar to that of a pumpkin. The variety has a light tan skin and bright orange fibrous pulp with a compartment of seeds in the blossom end. An interesting factoid about all squash varieties; since squash contains seeds and develops from the flower-producing part of a plant, it is botanically a fruit! Nutritionally winter squashes are typically high in fiber, vitamin A and potassium, while summer squashes, like zucchini and yellow crookneck, are rich in B vitamins and vitamin C. Butternut squash, in particular, is also a good source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and copper. Its versatility makes this squash one of my favorite ingredients that pair well with a wide array of flavors, from sweet to savory to spicy. In fact, see this month’s Cookin’ with the Kids for an amazingly delicious butternut squash chocolate chip cookie recipe!

Do not skip the roasting and sprinkling of the seeds to finish this dish. Besides being an interesting garnish with eye appeal, the roasted seeds add a strong nutty flavor and crunchy texture to Nikko’s soup. It’s a nice touch that, I think, really upgrades the flavor and presentation of the dish. Besides, the little things like these seeds separate a good cook from the rest. Plus, butternut squash seeds, in particular, are rich in protein, minerals, and numerous vitamins.

Image of Nikko Santo Pietro

It’s a long way from a remote farm in Missouri to Melissa’s corporate offices in the industrial section of downtown Los Angeles. That is where Nikko spent five years hosting volunteers recruited from an online site that linked farms with farm volunteers before joining Melissa’s team. Though Nikko believes that his experiences managing those volunteers and, as he put it, learning to “listen to the land at dirt level” gave him the tools to make the cultural transition and physical relocation that his professional path required. Basically, Nikko deals with the 101 details and hurdles of getting a new product from concept to retail shelves.

“On the farm, I had 20 groups in a season, normally one or two people at a time, staying from two days to two weeks,” explained Nikko. “Being in my early 20’s at the time and leading groups taught me how to interact with people who looked to me for authority. Hosting people from around the world with political backgrounds, views, abilities, skills and knowledge made an incredible impact on my life. To be able to sit down, share a meal, tell stories and share knowledge was fun and empowering. My role ranged from teaching basic farming practices to mentoring some of the volunteers into realizing their full potential. When I first started working at Melissa’s, I was totally new to working with several teams and relying on others to get stuff done. The amount of coordination and communication required is incredible! This job has helped me grow as a person feeling more confidence interacting with people.”

Good ideas are the easy part in a company like Melissa’s dealing in perishable fresh produce. Giving new product ideas real moving parts is what Nikko researches, from feasibility to supply sustainability to packaging, just to name a few of the many boxes that must be checked before a product even gets off the drawing board. Nikko says he loves the challenge and problem solving it takes working with manufacturers to develop a product. His approach to every new product is to work backward; he starts by asking himself what the consumers need and then tries to figure out how to best fulfill that need with a new product.

Away from his office duties, Nikko is into any activity that involves mentorship, i.e., personal development for himself and others is a top priority for him.

“If we think big picture about our life and our emotions, each experience is like eating a fruit. I’ve found the sweetest “fruits” come from intimate settings with close friends. For me to consider someone a close friend, trust is the most important ingredient. Trust is more than just committing to plans; it’s also a common understanding that we have each other’s backs and best interests in this sometimes very challenging world. This is what’s so special about a mentor/mentee relationship. The entire goal of the relationship is to build trust and lift each other up. The mentee is uplifted and inspired by the mentor’s knowledge, advice, and inspiration. The mentor gets the satisfaction of helping someone, which I’ve found is one of the greatest, most long-lasting types of satisfaction that exists.”

As a person who seems to approach everything with deliberate and careful thought, I was not surprised at Nikko’s immediate answer to who in history he would most like to invite over for dinner at his own table…

“One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein, a hero of mine: Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution." I would like to have Albert at my table to understand him—and probably myself—a little better.”

It makes sense; Einstein changed the planet with a simple three-character equation that was more complex than it looked. Not that Nikko’s very simple soup recipe is going to have the same impact…unless one is using it to thaw out from a very cold winter’s day of outside activity. Thanks for the soup, Nikko!

Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 6

Image of Butternut Squash Soup Ingredients

1 Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded [retain] and cubed
1 Green Dragon® Apple or Granny Smith, small cubes (peeled optional)
8 cloves Melissa’s peeled garlic, minced
1 large “thumb” of ginger, peeled and minced
6 tablespoons salted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Salt and Pepper to taste
3 cups vegetable broth
Fresh cilantro to garnish
A hearty bread– a great bread really elevates this soup. Don’t miss this step.


Image of cubed butternut squash, peeled garlic, green apple, and ginger

Peel and chop a medium-size butternut squash into small cubes. Save the seeds to bake for garnish. Chop apple into cubes. Combine both in a large mixing bowl, set aside.

Image of white beans

Place squash seeds in a small bowl, lightly coat with olive oil and salt to taste. Spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 275° F for 15 minutes. Once the seeds are crispy, they are done. You may hear some popping; this is another indication that they’re done. Set aside.

Image of vegetables and fruit cooking in a pot

Melt the butter in a large soup pot on medium heat, then add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 minute– careful not to brown the garlic or burn the butter. Add the cubes of apple and butternut squash, cinnamon and 3 cups of broth. Bring the broth to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until squash is fork tender.

Image of butternut squash soup ingredients being pureed

Transfer entire contents to a blender, add salt and pepper to taste, and mix thoroughly. Add a little water if too thick. Return to the stovetop to cook out any air bubbles by stirring soup rapidly so the soup does not bubble pop, making a mess.

Image of Butternut Squash Soup

Garnish with chopped cilantro and baked seeds. Serve hot with toasted slices of hearty bread.


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