“Phenomenal” Butternut Squash and Leek Soup. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Weekend before last, I bought, among other things, a butternut squash at the farmers’ market. I had not intended to buy it, but it beckoned. It is fall. It is time to cook fall things. Such as duck confit, and sausage, and bacon, and cassoulet. And rich, soul-soothing soups.

Squash soup is easy, nutritious, and delicious. I served it to a bunch of eighth-grade boys. One of them said, “This is phenomenal soup.” I was surprised they were eating it, let alone using the word “phenomenal” with regard to food.

This recipe will work with any similar squash (pumpkin would be great). Use onion if you don’t have leeks. The method is standard: sweat the onion in some fat, salt it, add the squash, cook it a little, add enough half-and-half to cover, simmer till the squash is tender. Purée, taste for seasoning, and perfect it—you may want to add some lemon juice or white wine vinegar; taste and think.

I took some extra time to clean and sauté the seeds in some butter for a crunchy garnish. Fresh or whole, dried thyme leaves are the key to the flavor of this soup (don’t use the old, powdered thyme sitting in your spice rack). I still have fresh thyme in the garden and that makes a good finishing garnish, and last, some yogurt, which I always have on hand (high point of last week: my Indian neighbor came over to ask for some starter as hers had gone bad, which happens, and she knows yogurt; I’m glad ours didn’t go bad at the same time).

Soup is a technique in Ruhlman’s Twenty, as is sauce, and this could easily be the sauce for the scallop dish (we’re in prime scallop season—lucky East-coasters are, anyway). I love how soups and sauces are often interchangeable. I’d never serve a bowl of Sauce Robert, or a bowl of Hollandaise, but most thick, puréed soups can be used as sauces. What a killer use of leftover butternut squash soup that would be.

Butternut Squash & Leek Soup

  • 2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and julienned (save dark green parts for stock)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, plus 2 teaspoons or so for the seeds (if using)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, cut in large dice, seeds reserved
  • 2 teaspoons whole dried thyme leaves (not powdered thyme; this is critical)
  • 1 quart half-and-half (you won’t use it all; you can get by with 2 cups if you wish)
  • 1/2 cup Greek or homemade yogurt, crème fraîche, or mascarpone
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (optional)
  1. Sauté the leeks in 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat until they’re soft, hitting them with a big four-finger pinch of salt (a teaspoon for the ladies who are measuring).
  2. Sauté the rinsed reserved seeds in the remaining 2 teaspoons butter till golden brown and crisp, about 10 minutes over high, then low heat.
  3. Add the squash and the dried thyme to the leeks and stir to heat through for a few minutes. Add just enough half-and-half to cover the squash. Bring to a simmer and cook on medium-low for 15 minutes or so.
  4. Purée the squash in a blender (or in the pot with an immersion blender) till uniformly smooth.
  5. Serve garnished as you like with yogurt, toasted seeds, and fresh thyme.

Serves 8

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© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


16 Wonderful responses to “Butternut Squash Soup”

  • Andrew

    I thought Chapter 13 was soup? Not a technique now?!

    I love Butternut Squash soup, and it is often my first thought when thinking of how to use butternut squash. I roast the squash first to impart some extra flavor (any extra roasted squash is great as a side with a few additions, or to flavor a risotto). I also use homemade chicken stock as the base liquid rather than milk/cream, maybe adding a little cream at the end, though it’s optional. The squash is fairly rich and thick on its own once pureed. I will often flavor it with star anise and ginger, maybe a little garlic, and a squeeze of lime juice. Like you, I enjoy topping it with its toasted seeds and yogurt, creme fraiche or sour cream. It just speaks fall.

  • *susan*

    I am a bit surprised by <>

    In the past month I have purchased butternut squash that have varied from 1 lb all the way to 2.5 lbs. Obviously, a huge variation. So, the question becomes, how much butternut squash?

    My ratio tends to be one leek per 1 lb of squash, but of course, the size of leeks varies tremendously as well. 🙂

    • *susan*

      In between the , should be: 1 butternut squash, peeled, cut in large dice, seeds reserved

    • Andrew

      It’s your soup! Do it how you want. For me, this might be a bit too heavy on the leek side for a 1 lb squash. I’d use 2 of them for that, or one big squash. I don’t weigh the squash or the onions for this. With good ingredients and technique this should be delicious if it’s heavier on leeks or heavier on squash, so do it to taste or based on what you have available.

    • ruhlman

      you’re right, that’s why I say one quart half and half, because depends on how much squash you have. Yes, it would be cooks illustrated of me to include number of ounces/grams peeled diced butternut squash and half and half, but that’s not how one should cook. Like that you’re thinking ratios!

      • Darryl

        If “that’s not how one should cook,” then why do you give weights (in ounces and grams) for all your recipes in Twenty?

  • Dean

    Butternut squash soup and its variants have long been a favorite and has been the starter on our Thanksgiving table for many years. You can make some great variations by changing the spice mix. Using turmeric, garam masala (either your own or a good packaged brand), and a little cayenne makes a great curried version. I have used some left over squash soup in a chicken pot pie which turned out great. I reduced the soup until it was a little bit thicker then added it to the mix of chicken and vegetables in the pie. It made a much better sauce than the typical white sauce I’d been using. I haven’t tried toasting butternut squash seeds yet, but I will next time.

  • Edwin

    One of the most important tools in my kitchen is the stick blender. Pureeing foods is so versitle, I love making soup/sauce/stews/pot pies, out of one batch. A great method for Sundays, and making meals for the upcoming week.

  • Kellen Ferkey

    I just made a Madras Curry Butternut Squash and Apple Bisque for our Board of Director’s Dinner! So velvety, with toasted spice notes, it was just like Winter in Wisconsin. Is it snowing yet?

  • Frank

    Wow! This sounds amazing! I have never taken on a squash soup, myself. BUT, that is going to change soon. Seems fairly easy, as well. With my 2nd son arriving next Monday, we didn’t plan on making any real Thanksgiving meal. With the in-laws in town for the birth, I might have to dazzle with this soup! Thanks for sharing, Michael!

  • Richard Scholtz

    I love butternut squash soup, but I have one problem with it. I’m one of those weirdos that breaks out into a rash when I handle raw butternut squash. It’s like someone poured a super strength desiccant onto my hands, and they instantly peel. As long as I wear gloves and clean everything after I’m done prepping, I’m fine, and the cooked squash is fine.

  • Againstthegrain

    Before I saw this post, I decided to make winter squash soup last night with an acorn squash from our CSA box that I had roasted and scooped from the skin the day before. I re-heated the squash with some really rich homemade chicken broth & onions I had sauteed in butter, then when it was all hot & steamy I pureed it all in the pot with a handheld blender. I added some more broth to get the consistency right.

    My soup was a bit different from the one posted but it still came out well. After blending and before adding sea salt and black pepper seasoning at the end, I experimented with a (new-to-me) spice I received as a freebie sample in a recent online spice order – za’atar, a very pungently aromatic middle eastern spice mixture of ground thyme, sesame seeds, & sea salt). Za’atar turned out to be a very good spice mixture for the naturally sweet squash.

  • Tom

    I made butternut squash soup a few weeks back. While cooking, I realized that I didn’t have any cream. Improvising, I used a can of coconut milk. What a wonderful suprise it was!

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