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Squash Soup, Fit for a King

IMG_0142This soup has been a favorite in my family as far back as I can remember. It’s almost impossibly simple to put together, but the sweet-spicy blend of onions, sausage, cinnamon, and butternut squash is deliciously far removed from the norm.

It is, in fact, over 900 years removed from the norm.  The original recipe comes from the reign of Richard II, and was brought into modernity–or at least the 70s–with a many other recipes from the royal kitchen by Lorna Sass’ “To the King’s Taste”*.  The little volume is a really fun read, though this soup is the only recipe that made it into heavy rotation in our house.  The elderflower cheesecake, for example, was… somewhat profanely less than stellar if my mother’s margin notes are to be believed.

The squash soup, however, is delightful, and though the fall is my favorite time of year for many reasons, this soup is near the top of the list.  I’ve not even seen the original recipe in about 15 years, but this is how I’ve taken to making it, with lots of warm spices to compliment the sweetness of the squash and balance the sausage’s salty savor.

Medieval Squash SoupPumpkinSoup8

1/2 – 1lb sweet Italian sausage
1 large butternut squash, peeled  cubed
3 c diced onion, about 2 medium
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 pinch fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. crushed fennel seeds (optional)
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
additional stock or water
2/3 c chopped flat leaf parsley
sea salt

Remove the sausage from its casings and break up in the bottom of a large stock pot–off the heat.  Cover the pot and put over medium low heat.  Stir occasionally for a few minutes till the fat has rendered out and the sausage is evenly cooked.  Add the diced onion, increasing the heat to medium. Cook, stirring, for about 6 minutes, until the onion is completely translucent.  Mix in the spices.  Add the squash and stock, adding more stock or water to almost cover the squash. Bring the pot to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, till the squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in parsley and cook a few minutes longer. Taste, and adjust the seasonings–adding salt, pepper, cinnamon, or a bit of honey to your taste.

Serve hot with crusty bread or a green salad.

Notes & Variations:
As with most soups, this is better the second day.  If you can wait, you are further rewarded with the opportunity to pick the congealed fat off the top of the soup after it’s been in the refrigerator over night. The amount of sausage has always varied with the number of hungry little boys around–if you’ve got lots, go with more meat. If your squash is sadly wan looking and not a bright orange, adding a teaspoon or so of honey with the stock can improve things. For a vegetarian version, omit the sausage, use vegetable stock, double the (no longer optional) crushed fennel seeds, and add a can of well-drained cannellini beans with the parsley.

*Sass, Lorna. To the King’s Taste: Richard II’s Book of Feasts and Recipes Adapted for Modern Cooking. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art) 1975.

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