Who’s got your back this holiday season? We do! For the book lover on your gift list, today’s Food brings you a wealth of particularly well-done options. All year long, deputy editor Bonnie Benwick chops, stirs and bakes her way through dozens of cookbooks, and this week she distills the results into three lists: the 10 best of 2011, other top finishers, and favorites by authors with Washington ties. We guarantee it: There’s something for every cook you know.

As always, Bonnie will be on hand for today’s Free Range chat to answer your questions about cookbooks — or any other food-related topic. She’ll also have a couple of cookbooks to give out. So be there at noon and settle in for an entertaining hour.

Just to tide you over, here’s a question we couldn’t get to during last week’s chat.

I need a soup for Christmas Eve: heart-healthy but festive. Any ideas? The rest of the meal consists of homemade bread (chosen to go with the soup) and baked apples.

I’ve got a soup for you! It’s a butternut squash soup that tastes rich but contains no dairy products and is made with just two teaspoons of oil. Spiced pumpkin seeds make an interesting and elegant-looking garnish. The recipe also calls for apple in the garnish, but if you don’t want apples in two of your dishes, you can omit it. Instead, sprinkle on a very light dusting of finely chopped thyme leaves. Or for non-dieters, spoon a little cream, creme fraiche or yogurt on top.

At the end of the recipe, I’ll offer a short list of other possibilities. By the way, you have the right idea: Soup is a warm and wonderful choice for a simple but festive holiday-eve dinner. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Soup With Spiced Pumpkin Seeds and Tart Apple

This healthful, creamy-tasting soup has a garnish good enough to snack on all by itself.

MAKE AHEAD: Roast the pumpkin seeds several days ahead and store in an airtight container at room temperature. The soup can be made 1 day in advance, covered and refrigerated. Reheat over low heat until warmed through. Prep the apple garnish just before serving.

6 to 8 servings

For the garnish

* 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

* 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

* 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

* 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

* 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

* 1 cup unsalted raw pumpkin seeds

* 2 tablespoons water

* 1 small Granny Smith apple

For the soup

* 3 sprigs thyme

* 2 bay leaves

* 2 tablespoons olive oil

* 1 pound red onion, finely chopped

* 2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped

* 1 teaspoon curry powder

* 4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces

* 6 cups nonfat vegetable broth

* Kosher salt

* Freshly ground black pepper

For the garnish: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Combine the garlic powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and salt in a resealable plastic food storage bag. Moisten the pumpkin seeds with the water, then add to the bag and seal; toss to coat evenly. Spread the spiced seeds evenly on the baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring once, until the seeds are fragrant and appear dry. Let cool completely.

For the soup: Use kitchen twine to bind together the thyme and bay leaves.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the curry powder and cook for 1 minute, then add the butternut squash, vegetable broth, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bundle. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring almost to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low or low, cover partially (with the lid ajar) and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender. Remove from the heat and discard the herb bundle.

Working in batches using a blender or food processor, or working in the pot with an immersion (stick) blender, puree the soup until it is smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Just before serving, core the apples and cut into 1/4-inch-thick matchsticks. Divide the soup among individual bowls; scatter pumpkin seeds on the top and build a small raft of crisscrossed apple matchsticks in the center of each bowl. Serve warm.

From executive chef Ethan McKee of Rock Creek at Mazza.

Other ideas:

Cauliflower Pesto Soup. Surprisingly creamy and hearty, it's elegant enough to serve as a first course at any dinner party.

Cream of Chickpea and Shrimp Soup. A recipe from Domenica Marchetti. The chickpeas and shrimp are pureed; a little cream and (optional) Cognac amp it up.

Italian Spinach Salad Soup. This one’s a combination soup and salad, and it’s a looker.

Kabocha Squash and Shiitake Soup. From chef Frank Ruta of Palena in Cleveland Park.

Roasted Eggplant Soup With Goat Cheese. Rich and elegant; use half-and-half and a little less cheese to bring down the fat content.