Every detail at the Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia, pays homage to its vibrant community of growers and craftsmen. Thoughtful handmade touches from local artisans in neighboring storefronts fill the cozy twenty-six-seat space, including one-of-a-kind glazed ceramic dishes and gleaming crystal cocktail stirrers from Earth, Fire, & Spirit Pottery, cheeses from Cheese to You, and hen-emblazoned dark chocolate squares from Cocoa Mill Chocolatier. In the kitchen, head chef Matt Adams and his team seek out seasonal and hyperlocal fruits, grains, and veggies from nearby farms like Sunflower Flats, Paradox Farms, and Wade’s Mill Farm to craft a rotating array of recipes.
As hardy fall squashes took the place of summer produce in Adams’s grocery haul, he and his team began to brainstorm an adaptable dish that would work with varying veggies and landed on a flavorful butternut squash soup with warming spices. “My favorite thing about this recipe is that it’s so versatile, and it’ll work with what our local farmers have,” he says. “You can switch it out with sweet potatoes or acorn squash or pumpkins. You can take the curry out and add roasted garlic, making it more savory. It never gets boring.” Even time can alter the taste. In the later winter months, Adams says the squashes cellar well, sweetening with age as the starches convert to sugars.
Turmeric, cumin, curry powder, black pepper, and salt balance the sweetness of the butternut squash. “We want to toast the spices, bringing out their full flavor without burning them,” Adams says. His key to keeping them aromatic is to halt the toasting process by adding in the broth or water once the spices reach fragrant perfection.
“I prefer to have my soup set overnight in the fridge to allow the flavors to really develop,” Adams says, “but sometimes I can’t wait and I serve it right away.” For Adams, a warmed, fresh baguette or crunchy croutons make the perfect partner for this bowl of soup.