So here we are, all exhausted and five pounds heavier after the holidays, but feeling a bit bleak, now that tinsel season’s over, right? One remedy: casual winter dinner parties. A couple of years ago, I decided to forget the dreary New Year’s resolutions that don’t get kept, and resolved instead to have my friends over for easy, casual dinner parties all through winter. On a frigid day, you can’t beat a bowl of soup and some crusty bread. Add a green salad and maybe an apple tart for afters and you’ve got a mini-feast that doesn’t cost a bundle and that’s easy to prepare — and can be done ahead, too.
Robust soups are best when it’s cold out: lentil spiked with cumin and coriander; creamy leek and potato with some chunky bits left in; black bean brightened with lime juice — all good. Slowly caramelized-onion soup with decadent amounts of cheese melted on top is a real winner, as long as you use good beef stock. One of our favorites is thick butternut squash soup. As their name suggests, butternuts have a sweet, nutty flavor, and they’re at their best now. Here’s a recipe that gets some zing from fresh ginger and curry powder. It serves four, but you can double or triple the amounts and freeze any leftovers for another day.
Curried Butternut Squash Soup (serves 4)
Roasting the squash makes for a deeper flavor, but you can skip that step and simply peel and seed it, cut it into ¾-inch chunks, and sauté them along with the ginger and garlic for nine or 10 minutes. You may need to simmer the soup for a little longer to cook the squash through.
For a more fragrant version, stir in a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and nutmeg. To balance or tone down the sweetness, add a tart green apple; to boost it, add a teaspoon or so of brown sugar. Skip the curry and ginger, if you don’t like those spices, and add potatoes, celery and carrots for more flavor. Experiment. It’s hard to go wrong.