College dining hall food has struggled with a dismal reputation for decades, but as competition in the higher education space heats up, college food programs have risen to meet the demand for fresh, local, delicious and healthy food.
Tufts University Dining Services has been hitting the mark for longer than most schools. They developed a recipe that generates excitement among students and staff week after week and remains a cult favorite over two decades after its creation. It’s the butternut bisque with ginger, a sunny orange soup that’s creamy and comforting, with just enough warmth from fresh ginger and cayenne. It’s the perfect showcase for the humble butternut squash - a New England stalwart that peaks as the temperature plummets. Use the butternut bounty at your local farmers market to make a big batch. It freezes beautiful and can easily be made vegetarian or vegan.
I spoke with Procurement Manager for Tufts Dining, John Fisher, about the origins of the butternut bisque with ginger, his thoughts on squash and more. Scroll down for the recipe.
How long has Tufts University Dining Services (TUDS) been serving butternut bisque with ginger?
Tufts Dining developed this recipe in 1996 in our Central Production Kitchen. We have been serving [butternut bisque with ginger] for 22 years.
Who developed the recipe? How did it come to be?
The recipe was developed by me and our Production Chef Paul Rudolph. Through trial and error, we got the flavor profile right on about the tenth attempt. [We created the recipe] out of our desire to develop an item utilizing some ingredients that were readily available in New England throughout the year.
Does the butternut bisque with ginger have an “insider” kitchen nickname?
There are no actual nicknames, however when we are serving the bisque we created a #BisqueAlert hashtag on social media several years ago that has become extremely popular with the Tufts Community and Alumni alike. When they see #BisqueAlert, they know what it means.
How much butternut bisque do you make a year?
Roughly 1500 gallons annually.
I understand that you source the butternut squash locally? Where does it come from and what is the importance of local foods in your cooking?
The squash is grown at Czajkowsi Farms in Hadley, delivered to Tufts from Costa Fruit & Produce. Local sourcing is very important as we strive to purchase locally and sustainably whenever possible.
What are the health and nutritional benefits of squash?
Butternut squash is high in beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamins B & C, as well as a good source of potassium and fiber.
When and how did TUDS become aware of the butternut bisque’s cult status? Why do you think it’s so popular?
[We knew] almost from the first time it was served in September 1996. It has continued to grow in popularity so that we add it to our menu cycle more often. It’s really fresh, and the ginger gives a unique and welcoming flavor.
What are some other Tufts campus favorites? TUDS employee favorites?
Anything salmon, fresh spinach, chicken noodle soup, especially this time of year. Another popular soup on campus is our New England clam chowder that we make from scratch as well
What are your other favorite things to do with squash?
We roast, saute, grill and bake squash. Our vegan acorn squash stuffed with veggies and whole grains is very popular. The whipped butternut squash is one of our most popular dishes as well. Fresh squash is used as an ingredient in many dishes served at Tufts Dining.
What squash varieties beyond butternut do you think more people should know about and why?
Most winter squashes (hard) Hubbard, acorn, delicata, etc., share many of the same attributes as butternut, but do have different flavor profiles and are quite delicious when prepared well.
What’s the best way to peel ginger?
A good tip is to freeze the ginger root and use a vegetable peeler, although freezing is not necessary. Any industrial grade vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife will peel ginger easily.
Recipe for Butternut Bisque with Ginger
Yields 1 quart
- ½ cup heavy cream or full fat coconut milk, optional