A great way to add flavor to a pasta dish is to toast the noodles in oil, which brings out nutty notes that add complexity to the end result. And a great example of this lesson is sopa seca, which translates to “dry soup” in Spanish.
This Mexican dish usually consists of fine broken noodles that are grilled, then cooked with broth and tomatoes. The noodles absorb the liquid, resulting in a “dry” pasta, but rich in soup flavors. And the toasted pasta creates a base rich in nutty flavor and a unique texture for the finished dish.
For the version of our book, “Milk Street Tuesday Nights”, which limits recipes to 45 minutes or less, we chose to use butternut squash instead of tomatoes. The squash adds a pleasant sweetness and pairs well with seasonings, making the dish into a hearty meal for fall or winter.
Avocado and queso fresco provide a smoothness that pairs well with savory pasta, and cilantro and lime juice balance out the nutty taste of the pasta. While this recipe uses chicken broth, the switch to veg will make it vegetarian – and just as good.
Butternut Squash Sopa Seca
Start to finish: 25 minutes
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
12 ounces angel hair pasta, broken into 1-inch pieces
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch (4-cup) pieces
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 bunch of cilantro, tender stems finely chopped, leaves coarsely chopped and kept separate
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons of sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons of lime juice (2 to 3 limes)
4 ounces of queso fresco cheese, crumbled, for serving
1 avocado, pitted, peeled and diced, for serving
5 green onions, thinly sliced, for serving
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of oil until sparkling. Add the pasta and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and set aside. Wipe the jar.
In a medium bowl, toss the squash with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Return the pot to medium-high heat and add the squash. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash begins to brown and is almost tender, about 4 minutes. Add the onion, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the cilantro sprigs, garlic, cumin, paprika and cinnamon. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the grilled pasta and broth, then bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium and cook until pasta is al dente and has absorbed most of the liquid, about 7 minutes.
Stir in the lime juice and half the cilantro leaves. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Pour into bowls and serve topped with the remaining cilantro leaves, avocado, queso fresco and green onions.
For more recipes go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap