A soup-er meal.

One of the pleasures of autumn is soup. Paired with a salad and crusty bread, it makes a perfect dinner.

Winter squashes, such as pie (or sugar) pumpkins, acorn and butternut offer soups a rich texture and beautiful autumnal color. Here I've added extra flavor by cooking the cubes in bacon drippings then topping it all with croutons also cooked in the drippings. To make the soup a little more luxurious, add a splash of cream.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP WITH BACON AND CROUTONS
Makes 6 servings

8 bacon slices, chopped 2 2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage kosher salt ground black pepper 1 quart low-salt chicken broth 11/2 cups bread cubes made from day-old bread Cook bacon in a large pot over medium heat until crisp and browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.

Pour drippings into a glass bowl. Measure 2 tablespoons of drippings back into pot. Reserve 2 tablespoons more for croutons. (Discard remaining drippings or save for another use.)

Place pot with drippings over medium-high heat. Add squash. Cook until lightly browned, about 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in sage and salt and pepper to taste. Add broth.
Bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. Reduce heat and simmer until the squash is tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Toss bread cubes with reserved bacon drippings. Season with pepper. Spread on a baking sheet.

Bake until crispy, 10 to 15 minutes.

Puree the soup in a blender or food processor (or with a stick blender) until smooth. Adjust seasoning. Ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with bacon and croutons.

PER SERVING: 277 calories; 10 g. protein; 30 g. carbohydrates; 4 g. fiber; 15 g. fat (5 g. saturated); 20 mg. cholesterol; 366 mg. sodium.