I should have known better. I’ve lived my entire life in Michigan, the state of weather extremes, but I allowed myself to be fooled, to be lulled into a false sense of complacency that perhaps autumn wouldn’t be so cold and I had nothing to fear of the upcoming colder months. These past few weeks have been uncharacteristically warm for Michigan falls, and I absolutely lived for it. I broke out the shorts I had only just put away for the season, traded in my beanie for my characteristic semi-cute half-pony, and got to enjoy the breeze of warm air and dust on my sandal-clad feet.
As I gleefully went about my life in this seemingly perpetual summer, I soon started to notice worrying signs: pumpkins and gourds suddenly appearing at every supermarket, hot apple cider beginning to dot the menus of my favorite coffee shops, and the rather mysterious presence of technicolor leaves floating through the air.
You fool. My insidious subconscious hissed at me as I lay on the grass, soaking in the sun. You will never be ready for actual fall if you go on like this.
“Shut up,” I told my subconscious. It, and autumn for that matter, could pry the summerlust from my cold, frostbitten hands.
But then I woke up from one of the warmest nights, fan on full blast, absolutely freezing. Scrambling for my phone, I looked on in horror as the temperature read 38 degrees. Did I even bring any jackets meant for below 45? The day was, to say the least, an unpleasant reality check.
I realize now that this is almost entirely a post about the weather, so in favor of actually providing something useful, here’s a revelation I’ve had semi-recently: things become a lot more fun if you try to look at them in fun ways.
Autumn is cold, but it’s also the time of sweaters and pumpkins (and pumpkin spice) and warm drinks and combat boots and pretty trees and candles and midterm stress (and the joy when you get through it) and Halloween and people being cute and excited that weather’s changing and that they live in a place where they can experience seasons.
If you can’t fight the season, join it. So I made soup. Butternut squash soup.
But of course I had to make it just a little bit extra, how do I say this? Untraditional in the best way?
Miso for a savory undertone. Balsamic for an acidic bite and an extra sweetness. Mushrooms because I love mushrooms. And crispy sage because it’s autumn, and sage is autumn incarnate.
A warm bowl of this, and suddenly I’m an autumn girl.
Miso Butternut Squash Soup with Balsamic Mushrooms and Crispy Sage
2 small butternut squashes (about 2 lbs.), diced into 1-inch chunks
6 sage leaves, chopped + 9 more for frying
4+2 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon miso paste
1 container (32 oz.) low-sodium vegetable stock
1 pint shiitake mushrooms, diced
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, divided
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Lay butternut squash onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil and season with 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, the chopped sage, and the leaves from 4 thyme sprigs. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until very soft and slightly browned.
In a large pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions for about 10 minutes, until soft and beginning to caramelize. Add in garlic and cook for another minute, then stir in the miso paste, adding a splash of water if too dry. Add in the squash and stock and bring to a simmer.
Off the heat, use an immersion blender to blend the soup to a silky puree. Alternatively, you can puree the soup in a blender, just be careful not to do it while it’s very hot!
Put the soup back on the stove and bring to a simmer. Stir in one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil and then the mushrooms. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt to help draw the moisture out, and then the leaves from 2 thyme sprigs. Cook for about five minutes, until the mushrooms have released their liquid and are soft. Splash in two teaspoons of balsamic and take off the heat.
For the crispy sage, heat about a ¼ cup of vegetable oil in a small sauté pan over high heat. Drop in the 9 sage leaves and fry for 2-3 minutes, until crispy. Carefully remove the leaves from the oil and blot out on a dry paper towel.
To serve, add a small handful of mushrooms to the soup and garnish with a few crispy sage leaves. If you really want to be fancy, go ahead and add a few more drizzles of balsamic vinegar. I highly recommend you have a slice of good sourdough bread for dipping.