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Cook the Books: Butternut Squash Soup a la Bonneville

This round Deb, of Kahakai Kitchenselected Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl for our February-March 2015 Cook the Books project. Click to see her invitation. And you have plenty of time to join the party, if you wish. Submissions aren't due till March 30th.

On the Page...
I certainly know who Ruth Reichl is; she's a culinary powerhouse who headed the editorial desk - for years - at one of my favorite magazines in the world, Gourmet. I did not, however, read her first memoir Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table. Though this book picks up where that one leaves off, I'm told, I don't think you need to read that before this. It stands alone.

Let me set the scene. Ruth is just launching into her life as a restaurant critic, living in a commune of sorts on Channing Way in Berkeley and married to an artist who travels a lot. I'll admit - I almost put this book down several times in the beginning. I found her infidelities (Yes, plural. Sorry for the spoiler!) off-putting. At what felt like an avoidable demise of a marriage, I kept reminding myself Stop judging! It was challenging, but by the end of the book, I was crying with her at the loss of her Gavi (sorry, another spoiler). I was on her side. I was rooting for her. And I certainly will pick up other titles by her.

While I found myself wishing for a little bit more restraint as she described her personal life, I longed for her descriptions about the food to go on and on. "We began with a deep green vegetable purée sprinkled with herbs. ...Afterward we had raspberry ice cream that was the color of a Renaissance sunset. I held it in my mouth, loath to let the flavor vanish. Just churned, it did not taste as if it had been made by human hands. The cream seemed straight from nature, from happy cows who had spent their lives lapping up berries and sugar."

In the Bowl...
Initially, I found myself returning to this passage. I had dog-earred the page and read it more than a dozen times. "Wrapped in fumes of garlic, we ate galatines of pigeon, duck, and quail with garlic mosaics. We consumed more wine as several whole baked fish, gorgeously wrapped in puffs of garlic pastry and drizzled with lobster butter, were paraded around the dining room. Platters of spring lamb were brought out, surround by three garlic-infused purées. We washed the meat down with oceans of deep, dark Zinfandel." I was captivated and think I will eventually replicate one or more of those dishes.

But, in the end, I was compelled by Ruth and Michael's spectacularly disastrous Thanksgiving dinner at The New Bonneville Hotel. No, I didn't make the inedible Medieval turkey - "Well, it turns out there's a reason they stopped using that recipe eight hundred years ago." - or a trio of pies, or preserved peaches, or homemade goat cheese. Nor did I make any of the three recipes she shared at the end of that chapter. I will. Soon. That raspberry ice cream, the color of a Renaissance sunset, sounds delectable.

Instead, on a chilly, grey evening while the fire crackled in the living room, I whipped up a pot of butternut squash soup. "The squash purée was bright orange with an earthy sweetness. Cream was drizzled through it, making patterns. Chives were strewn across the top. 'Okay,' said Michael. 'I'll admit it. It's the best soup I've ever tasted. I could eat ten bowls.'" Unlike the Bonneville, I do not have a luscious vegetable garden, but I do have access to amazingly fresh and delicious vegetables through local-to-me farms. This soup was made with butternut squash, leeks, and fennel from our High Ground Organics CSA and fresh herbs from Serendity Farms

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced thickly
  • 1 leek, trimmed and cut into 2" lengths
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 C fresh herbs (I used a mixture of cilantro, parsley, and mixed greens) + more for garnish
  • 4 C organic chicken broth
  • organic heavy whipping cream
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the squash, fennel, and leek pieces together in a large mixing bowl. Add a splash of olive oil and toss to coat. Spoon the vegetables out in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle herbs over the top and roast for 45 to 50 minutes - till the vegetables are soft and slightly caramelized.

In batches, blend the roasted vegetables with chicken stock until smooth.

Return your purée to the pot. Add more stock if the soup is too thick. Heat till just warmed through. Ladle into individual bowls for serving. Drizzle with cream, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and top with fresh herbs.

Next up for Cook the Books...Debra of Eliot's Eats selected our April-May selection. The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week) by Robin Mather, Hope you'll join us.

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the book or item of your choice.



  1. That looks amazing, Camilla! I was also tempted by the raspberry ice cream & think it's on my list to make (eventually) too!

    1. Thanks, Amy. It's not quite ice cream season yet. But, yes, soon.

  2. Your soup looks wonderful Cam. I could just read Ruth's descriptions of food for hours on end.

  3. Oh my - that does sound SO good! Creamy and great flavors. Delicious!

  4. Great post Camilla and the soup looks delicious! Thanks for joining in this month. I am glad you ultimately enjoyed the book and want to read more from Reichl. I agree, the food descriptions she creates are what have me reading and re-reading everything she writes. ;-)

  5. It's a beautiful looking soup! I do love butternut.

  6. A great analysis of the book. And a gorgeous soup accompaniment.

  7. Good review Camilla, and I agree. Her other 2 memoirs are definitely better. Though, the food was as inspiring in this one. I love a good butternut squash soup, and yours looks delicious.

  8. Great choice of dish. I could have butternut squash soup any day of the year.


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