When the first crisp sweater-weather day in the South arrives, it’s pretty magical. Soon after the last tomato is plucked from the vine, mowing gets replaced by leaf-blowing, and football, fires, and upcoming holidays take center stage. My cooking changes with the season, too. Simmering pots on the stove and braised dishes in the oven become more common now as many of fall’s freshest ingredients call for longer, slower approaches. More time doesn’t necessarily translate to more complexity, but gentle cooking does provide an opportunity to develop more nuanced flavors.
Incorporating spirits into your cooking is a great way to do that with minimal effort. Once the alcohol evaporates, only its flavorful essence is left behind. A general rule is to pair like with like and choose booze that will echo the flavors of a dish. In this case, Calvados, an apple (or pear) brandy made in Normandy, France, lends just the right notes to a winter squash and apple bisque. Roasting earthy winter squash like butternut—or sugar pumpkin, Hubbard, acorn, or delicata—with apples and aromatics concentrates their sweetness. Added during simmering, the Calvados highlights the flavor of the fruit and complements the squash beautifully. Cream rounds everything out and is what makes a pureed soup a bisque. If you prefer, you can easily swap the apples for pears such as Bosc or Bartlett and choose Calvados made from pears.
Make this soup up to a couple of days before you plan to serve it to let the flavors intensify, then reheat it gently until warmed through before garnishing to serve. Drizzling an additional teaspoon of Calvados over each serving is optional, but oh-so delicious.