Sunday, February 20, 2011

Butternut Squash, White Bean, and Kale Soup

I've said it here before but I rarely get the opportunity to cook. Living in a dorm really limits my resources, and my hectic schedule also makes it difficult to cook more than oatmeal or a baked potato. Thankfully I'll be living in an apartment-style suite next year that comes fully equipped with everything a cooking student could want: a refrigerator, a microwave, a stove, an oven, and - here's the real kicker - a dishwasher. Is it crazy to think that a dishwasher is the most underrated and under-appreciated kitchen tool out there?

Because I'm me, I've already started thinking about recipes that would be suitable for college life. My mind immediately goes to soups and stews, which are endlessly adaptable, easy to make ahead, and can last a while. There's also the added benefit that they can feed a lot of people for not that much money.

Last weekend I spent a few days at home and made this butternut squash and white bean soup for my mom and me.  I changed a handful of things from the original recipe, but in the end, I am extremely pleased with how it turned out. The end result was a hearty soup with a mixture of textures and flavors. The white beans were creamy, the butternut squash was perfectly tender, and the kale, a last minute addition, gave the soup a much-needed green component and definitely boosted the soup overall. For being so simple, the soup is surprisingly complex. There's a lot going on, but I think that only makes it more fun to eat.
The most unique thing about this soup - what really makes it worthy of sharing - is the balance between savory, sweet, and acidic flavors. The white beans and chicken broth are earthy and balanced by the sweet squash and acidic additions of tomatoes and dry white wine.  Altogether, they combine to form a vibrantly colored and delicious soup that is ideal for any kitchen table.

Butternut Squash, White Bean, and Kale Soup
Inspired by Sweet Paul Magazine via Dancing by the Light 

I changed quite a few things about the original recipe to adapt our tastes and what we had on hand. The original recipe instructed you to cook the butternut squash in a pan with the onions and garlic until the squash was tender. Since we don't have a pan ginormous enough to fit that much onion and squash, I improvised and roasted the squash in the oven for 20 minutes, until the white beans and broth had finished simmering together. After additional time in the broth, the squash had softened just enough.
I prefer soups to be pretty loose and not so thick, so I added a few cups of water after the soup had simmered and then seasoned the broth to taste. If you like thicker soups, you can certainly omit this step. As it sits, the soup thickens considerably, so you can add chicken broth to loosen it up some then, as well.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

1 pound dry white beans (such as Great Northern, Navy, or Cannellini)
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth 
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves minced garlic
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces 
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
4 Roma tomatoes, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bunch kale, stemmed and torn into bite-size pieces

Rinse the beans in a colander, picking them over to remove any small rocks. Place the beans in a large pot and add 8 cups water. Bring to a boil, remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let sit for 1 hour. After 1 hour, drain the beans. Return the beans to the pot and add 6 cups of chicken broth. Heat the beans and broth over medium heat and simmer for 45 minutes, until the beans are just soft.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and become translucent. Add the garlic, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper and continue to cook until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 1 minute more.

After the beans and broth have been simmering together for 20 minutes, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with foil. Roast the butternut squash for 20 minutes, until it just starts to become tender.

After the beans and broth have simmered for 45 minutes, add the onions and garlic and the squash to the pot. Add the wine, sugar, tomatoes, and thyme. Stir to combine. Continue to cook for 45 minutes more. After 45 minutes, the soup will have reduced and thickened some. If you like, you can thin it out with 2 cups of water and adjust the seasonings to taste from there.

Add the kale to the soup and cook for 10 minutes more, until the kale has softened some but remains al dente. Taste the broth and season to taste. Serve hot with crusty bread to soak up the delicious broth.

The soup will keep, stored in an airtight container, for up to a week. As it sits, it will thicken considerably. When reheating, add additional broth to loosen it up.


  1. This soup looks so warm and comforting. Wish I had some right now! :)

  2. this was so delicious! (and I'm thinking the little container I put in the freezer is going to be perfect for a cozy supper some night when I'm rushed for time!)

  3. methinks the the addition of kale makes any soup better! :) exciting for your new apt suite. that should be a great change.

  4. i love kale in soup-thanks for another great idea.