If your Christmas tree is lying at the curb, the decorations are already packed away, and you've started your New Year's resolution to cut back and lose weight, that's too bad. Because today—not December 26, is the actual end of Christmas—its last hurrah, if you will.
That means we've got at least one more day of Christmas feasting, two if, like me, you let it linger into Epiphany (tomorrow's feast commemorating the visit of the three wise men).
My stores of feasting food, unlike my waistline, are getting thin. But yesterday, casting around for something to make an impromptu company dinner a little more special, I remembered a small pie-pumpkin on the back porch that had been part of our Thanksgiving decorations. It was still sound and produced just enough flesh for a velvety puree of winter squash.
Winter Squash or Pumpkin Soup with Bacon and Caramelized Shallots
If shallots aren't available or you just don't happen to have any, use all yellow onion, but double the amount of garlic.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup thinly sliced shallots, trimmed (3-4 medium or 2 large split lengthwise and peeled)
½ medium yellow onion, trimmed, peeled, and thinly sliced
1 medium clove garlic, lightly crushed, peeled, and chopped
2 cups large-diced (seeded and peeled) winter squash or pumpkin
About 2-2½ cups chicken, turkey, or meat broth, preferably homemade
1 large sprig each parsley, sage, and thyme tied in a bundle
Salt and whole white pepper in a mill
Raw (turbinado) sugar
3 slices thick cut applewood smoked bacon, sliced crosswise into ¼-inch wide strips
Light cream or whole milk, optional
1 tablespoon finely minced parsley
1. Put the butter, ¼ cup of the shallots, and the onion in a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Sauté, until the vegetables are wilted, translucent, and just beginning to color. Add the garlic and squash and sauté until the squash is hot through. Add enough broth to completely cover the squash, put in the herb bundle, and season lightly with salt, white pepper, and a teaspoon or so of raw sugar. Raise the heat and bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to a steady simmer and cook until the vegetables are all very tender, about 8-10 minutes.
2. Turn off the heat and let it stand for 10-15 minutes. Remove and discard the herb bundle, then puree the soup with a hand blender or in a regular jar blender, starting at medium speed and gradually increasing it until the soup is completely pureed and smooth. If it seems too thick, pulse in broth a little at a time until it's a consistency that suits you. Taste and adjust the salt, pepper, and sugar and pulse to blend them in. The soup can be made several hours ahead: let it completely cool, then cover. Refrigerate if making it more than six hours ahead.
3. Meanwhile, put the bacon in a 8-9-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. When it's sizzling, adjust the heat to medium low and cook, stirring often, until it's rendered its fat and evenly browned. Line a small plate with two layers of absorbent paper. Transfer the bacon to it with a slotted spoon. Return the pan to medium heat and add the remaining shallots. Sauté, stirring often, until they're golden brown and beginning to crisp. Transfer to the paper with a slotted spoon, not touching the bacon. Set them aside until you're ready to serve.
4. To serve, reheat the soup gently over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. If it's gotten too thick while it was sitting, thin it as needed with a little more broth, light cream, or milk. (I prefer it without cream or milk.) Taste and adjust the seasonings if you've added more liquid, especially dairy. Ladle the soup into warm soup bowls, garnish with a sprinkling of the bacon, caramelized shallots, and parsley, and serve at once.