By Christopher Kimball
Milk Street by Christopher Kimball
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 good example of this lesson is sopa seca, which translates to dry soup from Spanish.
This Mexican dish typically consists of thin, 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 flavor. And the grilled pasta creates a rich base of nutty flavor and a unique texture for the finished dish.
For our book version, 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, turning the dish into a hearty meal for fall or winter.
The avocado and queso fresco bring a creaminess that goes well with the delicious pasta, and the cilantro and lime juice balance out the nutty flavor of the pasta. Although this recipe uses chicken broth, switching to vegetables 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 Ω-inch pieces (4 cups)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, tender stems finely chopped, leaves coarsely chopped and kept separate
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 and a half teaspoons of ground cumin
1 and a half teaspoons sweet paprika
a quarter of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
5 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons lime juice (2-3 limes)
4 ounces 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 shimmering. Add pasta and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel and set aside. Wipe the pot.
In a medium bowl, toss the squash with the remaining 2 tbsp oil, 2 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper. Return the Dutch oven to medium-high heat and add the squash. Cook, stirring occasionally, until squash begins to brown and is almost tender, about 4 minutes. Add onion, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion has softened, about 5 minutes.
Add coriander stems, garlic, cumin, paprika and cinnamon. Cook, stirring, 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. Ladle into bowls and serve garnished with the remaining cilantro leaves, avocado, queso fresco and green onions.