Fall has always been one of my favorite times in the desert. While the days may still be stubbornly hanging on to the last of summer’s flushed heat, the nights are finally beginning to feel the touch of autumn’s cooler fingers. The leaves tremble and seem hesitant on their branches. The sun wheels overhead, hanging a little lower each day. The evenings seem to call out for the warm, silky, comforting embrace of smooth butternut squash soup. Is anything more comforting than soup, really? This soup is one that I just want to fill a large tub with, sink in slowly and bathe in its velvety orange depths. It might be more efficient to just serve it for dinner, though.

This richly orange puree (it gets its color not only from the aforementioned squash, but the sneaky addition of a single carrot which lends sweetness and bright oranginess all in one go) hovers in the bowl like a second sun, captured, dully glowing, autumnal. Swirled lightly with sweet cream made mysterious and smoky by paprika, then spiked with fresh chives....well, I can’t get enough of it, and I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll love it, too.

Butternut Squash Soup with Smoked Paprika Crema & Chive Oil

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup diced yellow onion
1 carrot, sliced into ½” rounds
2 small butternut squash (about 3 lbs. total)
1 quart chicken stock
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
¼ cup crema (a Mexican staple in my local supermarket, sour cream or crème fraiche will also work nicely if you can’t get your hands on it)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat, add onions and cook for a few minutes until onions begin to become translucent, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add carrot and continue to stir. Cut away the rind from butternut squash, scoop out seeds from inside & cube the squash into approximately 1” pieces. Add squash cubes to the skillet and continue to stir, cooking for several more minutes to combine flavors. Place all vegetables in a large pot and cover with chicken stock, heat to medium and let simmer for 30 minutes.

Pour olive oil into blender, add chives. Blend until you have a thick, bright green puree.

In a small bowl, combine crema, smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt to taste.

Use an immersion blender (or blend in small batches using a traditional blender) to puree the soup to an even, smooth consistency. Add vinegar and salt, to taste. Remove from heat and ladle into bowls; serve topped with a swirl of spiced crema and a drizzle of chive oil from a spoon.