The arrival of fall means that some of the most satisfying foods are in abundance; apples and squash. I'd been thinking about that lately, how my freezer needed homemade applesauce and butternut squash soup, pumpkin muffins and bread. I was thinking about how the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg and mulled cider always made me feel physically better.
And then I needed lunch after a long morning on my feet. It was yesterday and Panera always has cream of chicken with wild rice on Thursdays. I cannot, for the life of me, make that soup. Mine comes out lumpy or worse, burnt tasting, so I've given up. The occasional bowl of soup won't break my bank. I usually get the "You Pick Two" option so I can have half a sandwich and a cup of soup.
I look at the menu and, what's this? Butternut squash ravioli? I love squash stuffed ravioli. The old Dominick's grocery store chain had an in-store frozen food brand that had this kind of ravioli. I usually kept 4-5 boxes of that in the freezer. Paired with a salad or yogurt or warmed applesauce, it was a great lunch. I could get the ravioli in the "You Pick Two" option with my soup. Okay, I'll have that and the cream of chick...wait a minute. What's this? Autumn Squash soup? The gal behind the counter fetched me a taste. Oh my goodness. Yup yup. Butternut all the way. It tasted just like the version I have at home.
Here's my review of both items.
The squash is good. It's paired with a garlic cream sauce which, when I order this again, I need to ask for light sauce. I just don't understand why food preparers have to slather sauced food with so much. You're to compliment the food not drown it. I'm not a fan of the fried onions but those are easy to remove. The butternut flavor is complimented by the arugula. It's a satisfying dish. I like the carry out dishes Panera has, too. The bowl is a paper composite which is supposed to be completely biodegradeable. Of course I shall conduct experiments to see if this is true. Compost heap, here it comes. I will add this, occasionally, to my You Pick Two menu, but it won't replace anything.
Now comes the soup.
It probably looks better in a bowl but I have to eat lunch at my desk so their 'to go' cups are what I have. It is heaven, sheer heaven. It's rich and creamy with just a hint of sweetness to it. The full flavor of butternut comes through. They serve it with roasted pumpkin seeds. I don't think it needs the seeds, but then, I could eat this for days running and not be tired of it.
The only problem I can see is that now I have to decide on Tuesdays and Thursdays when I usually get the cream of chicken with wild rice, if I want this instead. Pay day is next week. I fantasize about walking into the grocery and buying all the butternut squash they have and making soups and stews.
If you're looking for a hearty, rib-sticking meal, adding this soup to your lunch is perfect. It will be a blessing as the days turn colder.