Revisiting Squash Bisque

Sometime last month, I asked our greengrocer to deliver one butternut squash along with other vegetables. He delivered not one, but three enormous squashes. Butternut squash is not a common vegetable here in Greece, although they do grow it. The labels on mine say they are grown in the Peloponnese. And, I have seen it for sale in our market on occasion. The greengrocer explained that since it looked too small (compared to the more common pumpkin), he though I would need three. He also said he couldn’t guarantee the taste as he just wasn’t familiar with the squash. I assured him that it would be fine; he always brings us good quality vegetables and fruit, sourcing it from the same place as the local markets. But, the incident taught me to actually go to the market myself and pick out my own when it comes to the more obscure veg. Although I might ask him about parsnips. I have NEVER seen these in any Greek market. He might find them, but (of course) wouldn’t be able to guarantee the taste.

So, I had three butternut squashes. One part of one was used to make butternut squash risotto, and the other parts roasted and frozen to be used the for more risotto. Over the next few weeks, we had more butternut squash risotto. That left 2 butternut squashes. Although I might roast and freeze some for (distant) future risottos, enough was enough risotto for now. It was time to try something else. One of the first posts I wrote five years ago was a really wonderful soup called Butternut Squash and Barley Bisque. That would do, but it might need a bit of modification to suit the ingredients available here and converting the quantities to metric.

Butternut Squash Bisque (revisited)
The real modification is changing the spiciness by omitting the Jamaican condiment used in the original and upping some of the other spices. Hence, the addition of the hot pepper. Also, pearled barley is not very common in the markets in Greece, so a good alternative grain is farro (wheat berries or σιτάρι).

  • 550-575g butternut squash
  • 400g tinned plum tomatoes with juice
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 spring onion with green parts included
  • 1 dried hot pepper
  • 1 litres beef stock
  • 70g barley (or farro if you can’t get barley)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped chives, optional

Peel and cube your butternut squash, measuring what you will need. Finely chop the spring onion and mash the garlic clove. Add everything except the barley, salt and pepper to a stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let it simmer until the squash has been cooked through – about 45 minutes to one hour.

With a wand blender, purée the soup, add a little hot water if it is too thick. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Raise the heat under the soup again.

Rinse the barley or farro in a strainer to remove a lot of the starch. Add this to the boiling stock and let it cook for about 30 minutes until the grain is cooked. The barley/farro will also thicken the soup a little. Ladle into deep bowls and serve. Optionally, sprinkle a few chopped chives in each bowl.


  1. This soup sounds perfect for winter, and I love farro and this is a great combination with pumpkin soup. I reserve the word bisque for other types of soups. You mentioned boiling the farro for 30 minutes in the boiling stock. Do you mean that you boiled it in the pumpkin puree? I would be quite hesitant about this, boiling an uncooked grain in a puree, as the whole thing might get too thick and catch and purees on the whole aren’t boiled. Perhaps it’s much thinner than I imagine.


    • It is a perfect winter soup, thick and rich with grains and probably should be called a “potage” rather than bisque (which the original recipe which it was based called it). I do boil the grain in the puree, but only after rinsing some of the starch off the raw grain and then thinning the soup with hot water. Lazy of me, but I do see the point in getting the soup texture right first and then adding the cooked grain. I do love farro, too, and often make a “farrotto” as a change of pace from rice.


  2. This will very much be on the first week our Down Under weather turns towards autumn. Love butternut pumpkin soups and this one is a tad different ! Interesting to read the conversation between Fran and you . . . shall pay attention. Farro is harder to get here than the ever-present barley . . . no problems and love both . . .


    • Butternut squash is one of my favourites and you are right, this is a slightly different soup from the usual ones. It does have a distinct tomato flavour along with the squash one. Francesca is always spot on with her questions and tips and I always value her comments. I tend towards barley, myself, but here in Greece, farro is much more common. Barley tends to be considered animal fodder rather than human food.


  3. A true tummy warming potage, soup or bisque. I made a peal barely butternut soup while living in the US put as pearl barely isn’t popular here either, I haven’t made it again. Great idea to use farro. We eat farro often, so using it in the bisque will work great for us. Thanks for the tip on the barley substitution and a new version of butternut potage to make.


    • I like the old-fashioned word potage – it has ancient connotations since these sorts of thick vegetable soups with grains appear in Roman cookbooks. However, the Romans would have had to do without the tomatoes…. I also would have thought barley was available in many Northern countries, but you learn something every day. If you try it, I hope you enjoy it.


    • I know it is topsy-turvy when blogging to the whole world community since half of you are experiencing the opposite season. This soup is definitely a good winter soup – hot and thick with vegetable puree and grains to stick to the ribs. Happy Christmas to you, too!


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