Why Bad Soups Happen To Good People [Plus: My Newest Kitchen Gadget!]

Usually I put the name of the dish I’m writing about in the title of the post, but if I were to do that here you’d probably say: “Ummm, Adam, it’s Butternut Squash and Italian Sausage Soup. That’s gross. Of course it’s nasty.” And, inevitably, if I linked to it you’d discover its source: Emeril Live. You’d judge me cruelly and take away my foodie license. But for what it’s worth, here’s the finished product:

It doesn’t look bad, I’ll concede, but it’s not a soup I’d make again and it’s certainly not one I’d recommend. Mostly, it just tastes bland; and when it doesn’t taste bland, it tastes like sausage—but not good sausage, just greasy and a bit grimy. It reminds me of the episode of Roseanne where Becky has a hangover and Darlene’s trying to make her puke. “You know when you bite down into a sausage, and there’s that little hard bit?”

Right, so I’m not selling you on the soup. Why in the world would you want to click to read more? Enter at your own risk. [NOTE: If you do enter, you’ll get to see my newest kitchen gadget!]

Did you enter for the gadget? Well here it is. Purchased three days ago at Bed Bath and Beyond, it’s an immersion blender! (Cue applause).


That’s right: no more hot liquid spraying out of my porous food processor. Now when I make soup, all the blending happens in the pot. Which is precisely why I sought a recipe tonight that required blending. I typed “soup” in at foodtv.com and then ranked by rating. This Emeril soup is one of their top rated. What does that tell you about Foodtv.com readers?

Well, let’s not judge. There are Barefoot Contessa recipes at foodtv. Emeril–poor Emeril–called an Ewok by Anthony Bourdain; called incompetent by Amanda Hesser–I thought I’d give him a shot. The soup sounded intriguing. I really didn’t have a sense what a butternut squash sausage soup would taste like. Aren’t you at least a tiny bit curious?

The best part about shopping for this soup was the already cut up butternut squash at Whole Foods. This cost less than $3 and I think it’s well worth it. Peeling a butternut squash is a pain in the ass and this makes your life simpler.


And these are sweet Italian sausage, still in the casing:


This is the first time I cut open the sausage and removed the filling for a recipe in my career as a sausage eater. I found it oddly satisfying. To quote Hannibal Lecter: “Bowels in, bowels out.”

And then of course there was the chopping of onions—one large onion—which gets added to the sausage after the sausage browns.


To that you add garlic, marjoram and sage—also chopped.


After that’s cooked for a minute, you add 6 cups of chicken stock and the butternut squash—which you’ve roasted in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes.


Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer and simmer for 30 minutes. You’ll come back and it’ll look like this:


Now’s the fun part. I’ll admit, maybe I had a little too much fun using my new immersion blender. I blended with gusto. First I lowered the blender into the hot soup—-I am not pushing the “blend” button because I don’t want to get splashed:


(Is my arm hairy? Should I shave it?)

Then, once at the bottom of the pot, I blitzed away.


It was terrifically satisfying. When I was done, I had this:


Which I strained into another pot:


Added cider vinegar and cream:


After which I tasted and thought: “All that work for THIS?”

It was bland and icky, though slightly sweet. It needed salt. I added some. I tasted again. “Mweh. Better.”

(Do you like the word “Mweh”? I invented it.)

The next part of the recipe was really cool. I’m going to use this trick again for other recipes, if I ever have leftover sage.

You take three Tbs butter and put it in a small saucepan on medium high heat. Wait for it to melt and then watch the corners. When they turn brown, add a bunch of sage leaves. They will sizzle.


Cook for a minute or two—until crisp—and then drain on paper towels.


That’s the garnish for your soup and it’s probably the best part of the whole experience. In the future, we will avoid Emeril recipes (unless they come recommended by reliable sources), avoid sausage and butternut squash pairings, and restrain our need to blend things with an immersion blender unless we enter an immersion blender talent competition. If that’s the case, we will blend with lots of flair to Shania Twain music.

23 thoughts on “Why Bad Soups Happen To Good People [Plus: My Newest Kitchen Gadget!]”

  1. adam..

    you crack me up!

    try this Florentine recipe.. from Fabio at Cibreo


    I have simplified it for my home use by just sauteing the bell pepper, onions and cubed potatoes in water.. salted to taste, cooked until the potato was done and then hit it with the immersion blender!

    Wait until you try making mayo with the immersion blender!

  2. I think when it comes to butternut squash soup, it’s best to keep it simple. Try this: Sautee one sliced white onion in about half a stick of butter for a few minutes, add some sage and thyme, then add a cubed up butternut squash and sautee it all for about 20-25 minutes. Then add about 4 cups of veg or chicken stock, cover, and simmer for about 20 more minutes. Then buzz the whole thing with the immersion blender. Then (here’s where I think it gets good) add about half a cup of brown sugar, some cinnamon, and even some nutmeg and ginger if you want. Garnish with bleu cheese and/or sour cream.

    Seriously, this is so simple, and it tastes so good, and they never have to know how much sugar is in there. I think adding sugar makes any soup good!

  3. The Barefoot Contessa has a terrific recipe for butternut squash soup in Parties. It involves curry powder and an apple and consistently is delicious, even when I forget how to make it and just fudge on all the proportions.

  4. Orange squash always seems to taste best to me when combined with the dark/sweet/hot indian spices — cumin, cinnamon, etc. Curried squash soups are usually the ones that win me over.

    However, were I to make something like Emeril’s little item there, I would probably not have hit sausage with a stick blender. Sausage has already received all the pureeing it ever deserves to have. I’ve made squash soups, pureed them, and then floated sliced smoked sausage (previously browned) in each serving. That worked well.

  5. I want an immersion blender! I love making soup. Next time you try to make butternut squash soup, try finding a recipe for a more curry-oriented flavored soup. I make it up as I go along so I can’t give you a recipe but curry and the sweet squash go together nicely.

  6. Another excellent way to flavor squash in any form is Chinese five spice powder. Also works well with yams.

  7. Peeling the little bastards is easier if you bung them in a medium oven and roast them for half an hour or so before you start on the soup. While you’ve not sold me on the soup (sausage? pureed?), you *have* sold me on the blender, which looks a lot less leaky and a lot easier to clean than my Magimix, which always piddles wetness out of its lid when doing soups. Hooray!

  8. Ohhh….my husband and I love our immersion blender. We got it last spring as a wedding present, and its definitely our favorite present (right after the Kitchen Aid Mixer of course!). We’ve even been known to fight over who will get to be the one to blend :)

    btw, I’ve been lurking for sometime now and I really dig the new layout.

  9. I have been a lurker for over a year…Congrats on the book deal! I have held you up as an example to my terminally depressed over his job lawyer-boyfriend. I know how to make the best Butternut Squash soup and I thought I would share the secrets of my recipe.

    1.) You have to begin by roasting your squash with 6-10 whole cloves of garlic, coated in good olive oil, and drizzled with about 1/4 cup of maple syrup. Add everything to the pot of onions, parsley, chopped sage, and thyme.

    2.) I use water instead of stock, and no sausage. I also make the yummy fried sage leaves (totally the best part!).

    3.) Serve the soup over cubes of fontina cheese. The heat of the soup melts the cheese and it is delicious! When we have it as our dinner, I sometimes serve it over brown and wild rice to make it more hearty.

    4.) Last tasty secret: Serve with fresh lime wedges to be squirted over the soup right before it’s eaten. It’s a life-changer.

  10. Immersion blenders are gooooooood things. I have two: one I use constantly for everything from pureeing soups to beating a lone egg white (whip attatchment), one I use for making soap. My favorite kitchen appliance, hands down.

  11. I am not a fan of the Emeril guy, have to turn the other way when he is on TV. But there is one of his dishes that I love, though honestly it came to me via a friend at a party, not from his show. It is braised beef short ribs with anchoe chilies served over chedder polenta. Very, very yummy.

    P.S. Love your stuff.

  12. I recently made a Michael Chiarello recipe for a roasted butternut squash lasagna that also has a sage bechemel sauce. It was great, although as I ate it, I wondered if some sausage would be a nice addition the next time I make it. Squash and sausage together seems like such a perfect fit. But now I’m not so sure.

  13. Hi, great blog. And congratulations on your book deal!

    I also tried making butternut squash soup recently. It’s really tasty with roasted garlic and some heavy cream. All of the other versions posted here sound delicious too… why not try them all?

  14. I have always thought like that Emeril is like a philistine and like, I always had a hard time trying to like have a foodtv evening with the BAMing and the audience ooooing and salivating visibly. Where do they get those people? They excised the ‘like’ from emeril’s speech but you’re still stuck with food that is, well, unlikely.

  15. Fried sage leaves are delicious. They’re one of the best parts of the Tortelli de Michaelangelo, which is one of the best dishes at Sotto Sotto, which is the best Italian restaurant in Atlanta.

  16. I actually use my immersion blender for when I’m making myself a latte — heat up the milk in a big mug in the microwave, then (carefully) pulse the blender in the milk to froth it up a bit. (It does sometimes splash, but ah well.) I do also use it for soup, too, though…

    In fact, the thing I use sage for most is a Tuscan bean soup, which is simple — saute chopped onion, a chopped carrot, and some garlic, then add 20 chopped sage leaves, then 6 cups cooked beans (I use a combination of white and Pinto beans) and broth, simmer about 20 minutes to a half hour. The recipe says to puree half of it and stir it back into the pot, but I find that stopping the immersion blender when the soup is half pureed does the same thing.

  17. Roasting a squash is much better with the peel on, for a longer time and at lower heat. I just slice the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and put it in an oiled pan with the cut side up at 350 for more like an hour and fifteen, until a fork slides in easily. When it’s that mushy you just blend it and there’s no need to strain it. There is inevitably some amount of burn or toasting, and you don’t want that in the soup – that little bit of bitterness wrecks the delicate flavor of the squash. With the peel on, all that bitter burn is on the outside and the flesh slides easily away from the slightly crispy skin. Roasting with the peel off actually makes it more of a pain to separate off the burned bits.

    My soup recipe is just the squash plus chicken stock and a little bit of salt, maybe a dash of cream or milk. Simpler is better! I may try the crispy sage leaf garnish – that sounds good.

  18. As a rural Nothern New Englander who grows her own butternut (and acorn, and delicata, etc.) squash yearly, I’ve tried just about every squash soup recipe out there. While roasting the squash brings out a lot of sweetness in the squash, I feel it also leaves the resulting soup a bit grainy, and grainy is no good in a soup that is supposed to be smooth. Aside from the texture, I miss the true squash flavor that is covered by the over-caramalization that results from roasting. (Which is also why I don’t like to use too much chicken stock in my squash soups; I want to taste squash, not chicken.) So my favorite — because it’s delicious and one of the easiest — is the America’s Test Kitchen version of butternut squash soup. The two tricks are: sautee the squash innards (seeds/strings) in butter and add that to the cooking liquid and STEAM the squash (skin on, you can scoop the meat out when it’s soft) instead of roasting or peeling and sauteeing. If anyone wants the recipe, feel free to email me and I will send it.

  19. Dude thank you for making this post! I almost made this soup for some of my friends but I saw your write up of the recipe and I decided to make Butternut Squash and Italian Susage risotto. It was yummy.

  20. This is a really cute post! Very funny, had me giggling.

    I made a curried butternut squash soup once, and it was utterly incredible . . . then made it again a few weeks later and found it very bland and boring. I really think it has a lot to do with the quality of the squash.

    And yes, immersion blending is far too fun.

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