I love soup. There's a lot of traditional German and Austrian soups that are based on the dry-but-sweet-smelling Riesling wines of the region. Why not use dry-but-sweet-smelling hard cider? Why not, indeed. I use butternut squash in this recipe, but any solid squash will do – pumpkin, acorn, Chrismas, spaghetti. It's just that butternut is easily available, doesn't have a lot of seeds, and people are used to working with it. Plus, you can buy it already prepped, which makes it easy (if somewhat more expensive). In any event, the technique is pretty much the same for any squash you'd use. —Collin
3 lbs. butternut squash, split and seeded (or, if you want to buy the already prepped and packaged kind (like they do at Whole Foods) use 2½ lbs).
3 apples (Fuji or Braeburn – Granny Smith tends to be too noticeably tart), peeled (if you want a more refined look) or unpeeled (rustic!) and sliced thin.
1 additional apple (also Fuji or Braeburn) peeled and diced into 1/4 inch cubes
1 stick unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 meaty smoked ham hock
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups high-quality hard apple cider (French, if you can find it).
Heat a 9-quart (or larger, if you've been keeping fit – those things are heavy) dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil and place the squash in, cut side down. If it doesn't all fit, no problem – just make sure that the olive oil coats the cut side of the squash. If using already prepped squash, stir to make sure that all pieces are coated with oil. Add 1/2 cup water, and place in the oven (lid off!) until the squash is tender — about 45 minutes.
When the squash is tender, take it out of the dutch oven and let it cool on a plate. Pour off any remaining water and put the dutch oven back on the stovetop. Melt the butter in the dutch oven, add the onions, garlic, celery, a tablespoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and sauté until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the apples and sauté until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cider and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until liquid is reduced by half.
When squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and add it to the soup. If you're using the prepped and cubed squash, it should be obvious that you just dump it into the soup at this point. Add the stock, the ham hock, the remaining water, and the remaining salt and pepper, and jack up the heat to bring the soup to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and partially cover the pot. Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring regularly.
Remove the ham hock and – working in batches – purée the soup in a blender or food processor until very smooth (or use an in-the-pot blender) and bring the soup back to a simmer. Add the additional diced apple.
When the ham hock is cool enough to work with, shred the meat off and discard the rest. Return the meat to the dutch oven and simmer until the diced apple is tender, about 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the dice. If the soup is too thick for your liking, add equal parts stock and water until it is at the desired consistency.
Salt and pepper to taste, and serve with croutons, or with a nice, crusty bread.