We make a pot of beans a week around here and a portion of them always end up in a soup of some sort. P, the kids and I all enjoy the protein kick without the meat. When I found Alice Waters' recipe for White Bean and Butternut Squash Soup the fall flavors appealed to me, but I worried that the soup sounded a bit starchy. Trusting Alice, I went ahead and made the soup and it was delicious and really quite delicate and flavorful. The sweetness of the squash is so nice with the creamy beans and there's plenty of broth to lighten things up. I did add greens to the pot just to give the soup yet another texture and nutritional hit. I used puntarelle because that's what we've got sprouting in our garden. I think next time, I'd use chard - it's tender leaves and mild flavor would be just right here. Keep in mind that you can easily adapt this soup to be completely vegetarian or even vegan by using a good veggie stock instead of the chicken broth.
INGREDIENTS adapted from Alice Waters' Art of Simple Food
If you are using dried beans do the following: go ahead and soak the beans overnight in a medium sauce pan with at least 3 inches of water covering the beans. The next morning go ahead and drain the beans and place them in a large pot with 3 cups chicken or veggie stock, 4 cups water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. ( If you are using salty broth, you may not need to add any salt at this point). Bring liquid to a boil, then turn heat down to a simmer and cook beans partially covered until just tender. Cooking time will vary depending on the age and size of your beans. When beans are tender, taste again for seasoning and add salt as necessary. Salting properly at each step of the cooking process really helps to insure good layers of flavor in the soup.
When beans are nearly done cooking, you can start in on the rest of the soup prep. In another large heavy bottom pot, (I like to use my big dutch oven to make soups), heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots, sage, bay and a pinch of salt to the pot. Partially cover the pot, and cook the shallots for about 15 minutes until tender.
Peel the squash and cut the flesh into 1/2 inch cubes. Once the shallots are tender, add the squash to the big pot along with 6 cups of liquid. (Alice asks us to use 6 cups of liquid that is drained from the beans; I didn't have nearly enough liquid left once the beans were cooked, so I used the bean broth, along with additional chicken stock to make for a total of 6 cups. You could even add additional water, if you're in a pinch). Cook squash with the pot partially covered until it just becomes tender, and then add beans and greens to the pot. Partially cover the pot once again and cook briefly until greens are tender. Season with additional salt at this point.