Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Soup And “Basic To Brilliant Y’all” by Virginia Willis

Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Soup

If I had to pick my two most favorite months of the year in Charleston it would be October and February. The humidity finally drops some in October, giving us the ability to enjoy being out without suffocating. I sneak in any moment I can feeling the tall grass under my feet. I also spend more time than usual at the dock watching the porpoises huddle and play now that less boats are out now that summer is over.

February is just magical here. The light is crisp and electric. The cold finally reaches us for a few days and we gather friends around the fireplace. I love the cold nippy winds that we get for a few days. A barely there couple of weeks of wintry weather.

Heirloom Book Company - Charleston

Lately, while the temperatures are still hot enough to have us in short sleeves and flip flops, the numerous rain showers and stronger winds put me in a definite Fall-ish mood. One that calls for hot soups and warm apple crisps.

This Acorn Squash and Sweet Potato Soup is one of those I want to have on repeat this Fall and Winter. It’s been decided by both Bill and myself after the first couple of spoons. Not only was it tasty, it was also the kind that does not need much else but a nice piece of country bread smeared with a dab of butter and sprinkle of grey salt.

Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Soup

Aside from the addition of acorn squash, the base of sweet potato soup is directly from Virginia Willis’ latest cookbook “Basic to Brilliant Y’all – 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company”. A book she came to share in Charleston last week and which release was celebrated (among other events) in a Sunday Dinner style dinner at Heirloom Book Company. The setting was perfect, a cookbook store with wall to wall vintage and current editions.

Heirloom Book Company - Charleston

The table setting was fun and the company engaging. In our proper form, Bill and I made fast friends with the couple next to us, visiting Charleston on their anniversary. They had just stepped into the bookstore a few hours prior to the event, completely on a whim and purchased a couple of tickets for that dinner. They did not know the book or Virginia but they “got” the spontaneity that defines Charleston.

Virginia Willis

Why celebrating Virginia in person in Charleston? Because the book was photographed here. In my studio to be exact and also on our dock where we had Virginia hold a very fiesty crab at sunset. The crew gathered in my home for 10 days and we got to work on some pretty delicious recipes. Curried Chicken Wings with Peach Dipping Sauce. Endive and Roquefort Slaw. Louisiana Duck Gumbo. Meringue Pillows with Strawberries and Cream.

Heirloom Book Company - Charleston

Sunday’s dinner showcased some of my favorites such as the Roasted Tomato Soup and the Chocolate Monkey Bread and new ones like the Garlic and Sausage Stuffed Pork Loin. Most importantly, it gave me a chance to congratulate Virginia on her hard work and dedication to develop and write recipes so that people like me, get the chance to convey emotions and visions one level deeper.

Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Soup

I have been blessed to work with pretty special cookbook authors and their publishers these last few years and each time. This project where a whole team came together, fierce with dedication and love and pride of their work, made me grow as an artist and as a person. I walked away with a greater love of my profession as photographer. A greater dedication also. And let’s face it, hundreds of new favorite recipes…!

Heirloom Book Company - Charleston

Virginia’s recipes are no different. They completely speak to me. Virginia has the perfect ability to balance her formal French training as a chef with her Southern roots. A little irreverence against ennui thrown in for good measure and you have the perfect blend: a cookbook compiling easy and intermediate recipes, interesting and fun and with a Brilliant twist that is worth exploring each time.

Take her Sweet Potato Soup for example. The basic recipe is pretty darn tasty as it is if you ask me. A blend of sweet potatoes, Vidalia onions, thyme and curry. The “brilliant” possibility? A dollop of rum spiked whipped cream. Yep. And that my friends, is indeed brilliant. It absolutely makes you smile… I did vary mine a bit by adding acorn squash and sprinkling a bit of thyme and cracked black pepper on ours too. Recipes are canvas for you to enjoy your time in the kitchen and Virginia’s are perfect for that.

Heirloom Book Company - Charleston

When I was growing up, each meal would start with a bowl of soup. Nothing fancy. My mom would make the tastiest soups from the simplest vegetable combinations. Zucchini, onion, pumpkin, carrots, turnips. The quantity for each varied every single time which made the soup slightly different every time also. She learned that from her mother. She passed it on to me.

I carried that tradition a little further by making soups that my grandmother would surely dubbed as “fancy” if she were still alive. I never grew up with single ingredient soups beside Soupe a l’Oignon. Always a mix. Even our family trademark, Soupe Au Pistou is a medley of Provencal fragrances.

Heirloom Book Company - Charleston

Nowadays, I am usually drawn to soups where one ingredients really shines. Mushroom soup, roasted tomato soup, pumpkin soup, smoked corn soup, this crazy good lima bean bisque from my pal Tami. The multi ingredient ones I now stir are some we never made when I was a kid, such as Pho, Tom Yum, Avgolemono.

And this fragrant and silky Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Soup. I could not let go of my DNA apparently and had to throw in another ingredient! Acutally, I picked up gorgeous mini acorn squash at the farmers market as well as a myriad of other vegetable and I have to cook the majority before my upcoming trips to Kansas City and Seattle this week.

This soup is good company. A warm bowl of soul and a whole lot of comfort.

Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Soup

Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Soup, adapted from Virginia Willis’ Sweet Potato Soup in “Basic To Brilliant Ya’ll”

Serves 6 to 8

2 mini acorn squash, peeled and cubes (about 3 cups)1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon + 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
9 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 375F.
Cut the acorn squash in halves. Place them in a baking dish, drizzle with one teaspoon olive oil and roast for about 20-30 minutes. Let cool. Peel the skin off and reserve the flesh.
Heat the remaining tablespoon oil in a large heavy soup pot set over medium high heat. Add the onion and curry powder and cook until the onion is almost translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes, stock, maple syrup, thyme and nutmeg and the flesh from the acorn squash.
Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs. Let the soup cool a little.
Puree the soup until smooth with an immersion blender or a blender/food processor.
Reheat the soup before serving and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.

To garnish:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons dark rum
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme
freshly ground pepper

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Add the rum and lemon zest and continue whipping until firm. Use a dollop on top of the soup and sprinkle with fresh thyme and chopped thyme.





55 responses to “Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Soup And “Basic To Brilliant Y’all” by Virginia Willis”

  1. Natashia Avatar

    This soup looks amazing!! Straight away I think of winter and get this warm-gooey feeling 馃檪

  2. Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga Avatar
    Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga

    What a great post…and the photos. Your photos always speak to me, but as I look at these I am just drawn in…sooo much. The orange soup, the white table with the rustic paint chips and light distressing, the utensils…oh what I wouldn't give to just watch you in action, live, one day 馃檪

  3. Tine Avatar

    I looove the color of this soup! The taste must be super too!

  4. Mr. Bill Avatar
    Mr. Bill

    Thanks for sharing…Virginia is also brilliant!

  5. Val茅rie (France) Avatar
    Val茅rie (France)

    Un potage bien onctueux et repli de vitamines comme je les aime
    Je te souhaite une belle apr猫s midi

  6. Contraria Avatar

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures Avatar
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    I can't wait to be in Charleston in just a few days. That soup looks incredible delicious!!!

  8. Contraria Avatar

    The soup looks so yummy! But I was also wondering about your plates and bowls- they are adorable! Where did you get them?

  9. angela@spinachtiger Avatar

    This is my kind of soup. I'm wondering, though, when it's going to get that nice crisp air here in Nashville. Humidity is not my friend.

  10. Rachel Willen@FoodFix Avatar
    Rachel Willen@FoodFix

    This soup looks and sounds amazing. I'm excited about Acorn squash right now…too excited…I bought 6 of them and now I know what I'm doing with a few….Thanks! May even incorporate this in my Comfort Foods series of classes…but will of course give Chef Virginia and her book credit. So good to see a woman of a certain age (my age that is!) is chef whites and getting recognition! Go Virginia!

  11. la domestique Avatar
    la domestique

    The soup looks so good and your photos are fantastic. I'm a huge fan of Virginia Willis- her recipes and her joie de vivre.

  12. M贸nica Pinto Avatar
    M贸nica Pinto

    My mother and my grandmother always made soups the same way, using the same ingredients but each day with a different twist.
    This soup looks delish and the photos are fantastic. Congrats for such a beautiful work:))

  13. Lauren Avatar

    Oh! As always, your photos are so inspiring to me. And that soup! I'm going to have to make it soon, as it is slowly getting more fall-like right here in my corner of Virginia. Might need the book too!

  14. Gaia Avatar

    I'm going to have something similar, tonight. It was already planned in my mind..
    I'll follow your hint and try to use a spoon of rum, too!
    Hopefully, not for the kids!

  15. beti Avatar

    It looks amazing! I have been craving squash soup for weeks but I can't seem to find it, either they are really small or something, I can't wait to find the perfect one to make my soup

  16. Radhika Avatar

    Ah! what an orangey, autumny soup.. it is so comforting right off the computer screen..
    Having seen you in action, I now totally imagine how you must have gone about setting up the props and worked on the seasonings, esp your keen eye for detail..
    Grey really lets the orange color of the soup shine through. Every photograph of yours is a huge window of learning Helene!
    To add, love all your props, the wobbly shaped bowls and plates are unique and I simply adore copperware too..
    That (half torn?) cup seems to be your favorite, see it a lot, curious to know what it is?

  17. Rhonda Avatar

    How amazing! It's wonderful to see somebody so happy with their career (and talented too). The soup looks divine, I'll have to put this cookbook on my wish list.

  18. Unknown Avatar

    I'll have to take a look at her cookbook. I am so drawn to french food but also grew up in Louisiana so cajun food is in my blood. This book would probably be a really good one for me. Congratulations on the project. Amazing work.

  19. Shelby Avatar

    Congratulations to you and Virginia on such a lovely book release! What a brilliant collaboration of talent and imagination… The soup looks certain to be a future favorite! Happy Fall!

  20. virginia willis Avatar
    virginia willis

    Merci bien, cherie. Tu est tres gentile. J'adore.
    xo VA

  21. Stephanie @ Eat. Drink. Love. Avatar
    Stephanie @ Eat. Drink. Love.

    Congrats on this wonderful opportunity! This soup looks delicious and that rum whipped cream sounds just incredible!

  22. Anonymous Avatar

    Just made this for tonight – it's delicious! Thanks for sharing.

  23. Anonymous Avatar

    Your writing about this cookbook is impecable! It makes me want to run out, buy it, and have all my closest friends over for a meal.

    This soup also looks delicious!

  24. Jen @ Chocotuile Avatar
    Jen @ Chocotuile

    I love acorn squash soup! I first had it a decade ago, and it totally transformed the way I thought about squashes. I look forward to fall and all the squash soups, butternut in particular. Your pictures look amazing; I'd like to slurp some up right now!

  25. Dahnks Avatar

    My mother-in-law brought me 2 butternut and 2 small acorn squash the other day and once i saw this recipe I knew the acorn squash were destined for this. I changed it up a bit. I chopped up some bacon and cooked it in the pan first. Pulled the bacon out to drain once done then added the onions and followed the recipe (using chicken stock). After the soup was done i then added a dollop of creme fraiche to the bowls and crumbled up a little bacon and put on top also.. little salt.. little pepper.. FANTASTIC! Thanks for the inspiration to make soup! Hope you had a good time in KC! It was a nice day however just chilly enough here to call for soup!

  26. tania@mykitchenstories Avatar

    I agree I just love soup, especially the look of this sweet bowl of goodness.

  27. Barbara Avatar

    What a lovely dinner Helene…..and held in a bookshop….brilliant. I'm a big fan of soups. They make a regular appearance at lunchtime. All made from whatever is in the fridge or pantry at the time.

  28. SP Avatar

    Hello, I just found this post via Pinterest and am DYING to know about the dishes used to shoot this soup. If you know who they are made by I would love to know. I have been looking everywhere for dishes like this. Thank you so much, I love your blog so much, read it all the time!

  29. Allison Mannella Avatar
    Allison Mannella

    This soup is so beautiful Helene! And I always love your stories and photos from around Charleston!

  30. tabitha emma Avatar
    tabitha emma

    mm that soup looks so warm and comforting 馃檪

  31. Gen Avatar

    Avec les jours qui rafraichissent une belle soupe pour se r茅chauffer!

  32. The Teacher Cooks Avatar
    The Teacher Cooks

    I cannot wait to purchase this cookbook! Your photos are fabulous!

  33. Iva from in my kitchen Avatar
    Iva from in my kitchen

    Awesome post Helen! Absolutely GORGEOUS photos and will need to try out this recipe soon. Thanks for sharing <3

  34. Cooking Quidnunc Avatar
    Cooking Quidnunc

    That soup looks fantastic!!

  35. Cooking Quidnunc Avatar
    Cooking Quidnunc

    That soup looks fantastic!!

  36. Marilyn Miller Avatar
    Marilyn Miller

    Made this soup last weekend for guests, it was a hit. Thanks so much for the recipe!

  37. Sophisticated Stationery Avatar
    Sophisticated Stationery

    This looks delicious!

  38. forestlily Avatar

    Beautiful colors in the photos! Lovely post and I will come back to read more! Thanks:-)

  39. forestlily Avatar

    Beautiful colors in the photos! Lovely post and I will come back to read more. Thanks 馃檪

  40. marla {family fresh cooking} Avatar
    marla {family fresh cooking}

    It is fun to learn more about Virginia & her book. The rum cream is very intriguing. I never would have thought to do something like that. Love that portrait of Virginia. She looks like such a vibrant woman!
    Can't wait to get my hands on this for the recipes and your photos 馃檪

  41. test it comm Avatar
    test it comm

    That soup looks so good and I like that whipped topping!

  42. Jill Avatar

    Do you have a secret for peeling acorn squash? I made this last night and it was wonderful but I ended up shredding my fingers trying to peel the squash in all it's nooks and crannies

  43. Avatar

    So lovely! I love learning more about chefs and giving them the respect they deserve! And I love your bowls and spoons!

  44. Jennifer Avatar

    I made this, using butternut squash in lieu of acorn, and it was fantastic! My husband, who thinks it's not a meal without meat, loved it too. Definitely a keeper! Your photos are always such a treat – beautiful, beautiful.

  45. Nicole Avatar

    That looks amazing! Squash soup is one of my favorites.

  46. Mike Avatar

    This is the recipe with sweet potatoes I've been looking for quite some time: just great!!!!!


  47. Aly ~ Cooking in Stilettos Avatar
    Aly ~ Cooking in Stilettos

    These photos are gorgeous – and this cookbook is one of my favorites of 2011.

  48. Dmarie Avatar

    what a great book recommend! I've checked this out from our library…love it so much that I'm thinking of adding it to my own library!!

  49. Seanna Lea Avatar
    Seanna Lea

    This is a beautiful soup. I love that soup is such a flexible meal, and this one looks vibrant and flavorful.

  50. Connie Avatar

    Your photos are so gorgeous it almost makes me feel like I was there.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  51. Connie Avatar

    Your photos are so gorgeous it almost makes me feel like I was there.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  52. SreeBindu Avatar

    awww..must be fun 馃檪 Love workshops, you get so much to learn 馃檪 pics are really gorgeous 馃檪

  53. Joe Avatar

    Gorgeous looking photos of the soup. Must taste really good. Mind me asking what camera do you use for these photos?

  54. Liz Avatar

    +1 for finding out who makes those gorgeous plates & bowls

  55. Tanja Avatar

    It's absolutely delicious!!!

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