- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I am pleased to share what I think might be the ideal first course for a New Year’s Eve dinner. It’s a light soup made from brightly colored squash that will warm and soothe your guests without filling them up.

The word “light” refers to the fact that the soup is featherweight and also a creamy, dreamy shade of yellow.

This recipe is designated for yellow crookneck squash. Normally classified as a summer squash, this delicate vegetable is usually available year-round and can be a sunny presence on the table, as night’s curtain falls earlier and earlier with each passing eve.

You can also make this soup with butternut squash, although the result will be sweeter. To do so, peel and seed a 1-pound squash. (The easiest way to get out the seeds is to snip them loose with scissors, then scrape them out with a spoon.)

Chop the squash into 1-inch pieces and steam or boil them until tender. Drain well, then simply follow the recipe, using butternut squash instead of yellow crookneck.

Here’s a next-year note for the gardeners among us. I know it’s a bit late for this now, but if you happened to have had a great summer harvest of yellow crookneck squash and want to preserve some to enjoy this soup in the winter, you can easily freeze it. Cut it into -inch chunks and drop into a pot of simmering water for about 1 minute.

Transfer to a colander over a bowl or a sink and drain thoroughly. Then wrap airtight in a heavy-duty resealable plastic bag and freeze for up to 6 months. Defrost thoroughly before using.

Puree of yellow squash soup

1 pound yellow squash (crookneck or patty pan) or cooked butternut squash

1 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon butter, optional

2 cups chopped onion

teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme)

teaspoon dried sage

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons flour

cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil, plus more for garnish

2 cups milk (low-fat or soy OK), at room temperature

Freshly ground black pepper

OPTIONAL TOPPINGS:

Minced red bell pepper

Minced fresh chives

Additional minced fresh basil

Extra-virgin olive oil

If using crookneck or patty pan squash, remove and discard the stem end; if the skin looks rough, peel with a vegetable peeler. Cut squash into 1/4-inch slices and set aside.

Place a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat for a minute or two. Add oil and swirl to coat pan, then melt in the butter. After another minute or so, add onion, thyme and sage; cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.

Stir in squash, garlic and salt. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Sprinkle in flour, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir over low heat for about 2 to 3 minutes, then pour in wine and 2 cups water. Stir, cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Add 2 tablespoons basil during the last minute or two of cooking.

Note: The alcohol in the wine evaporates during cooking and the flavor gradually diminishes. So if you let it cook a little longer at this step, you will get a more subtle result. Just be sure to stir everything from the bottom of the pot every few minutes or so it won’t stick or scorch.

Remove pan from heat and allow soup to cool, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Add milk and then, using a hand-held immersion blender or a regular blender, puree the soup in batches until smooth.

Taste to adjust seasonings, adding a few grindings of pepper. Heat gently, without further cooking or boiling, until just warm enough to serve.

Top with any or all of the suggested toppings for lovely accents of color and flavor. Makes 4 servings.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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