Squash soup for a stormy day

The weather forecast is terrible; it sounds as though the end of the world is coming. In such circumstances I have one response (er, apart from a tendency to say ‘yeah right’ and ask if it’s been reported anywhere other than in the Daily Express). That’s to make vast quantities of soup. I’m not at all sure what the connection is – I like soup in summer too; a hot day and some chilled cucumber soup – but it seems to be inevitable. I shall just go with it and fill the freezer. Freezers.

SquashIn late November I met up with some friends at Machynlleth market. It’s one of the best markets near me – well, it’s quite near, about an hour away – and is often worth a trip. Plus there are some good places for coffee and some rather nice shops, but one of the big draws for me is the vegetable stalls.

There are several, and they are generally excellent. One is a particular favourite, and I picked up a beautiful Crown Prince squash for 80p, along with some romanesco and a heap of succulent banana shallots. I often grow squash but, depressed by recent poor invisible harvests, I failed to plant any this year. Clearly a mistake, given the good summer, but that’s gardening for you. This stall had several different varieties, all looking beautifully autumnal, but I plumped for the Crown Prince because it tastes gorgeous and keeps well. It certainly has, and this seemed the perfect time to turn it into soup.

There are all sorts of variants on the theme of squash soup. Some recommend roasting the squash first, but in general I find that this can make the soup a bit oily – for me, anyway. Maybe I’m too generous with my olive oil when roasting the chunks of squash, but I have tried it with very little and – well, neh. I’ve used lots of different recipes recently, some I’ve been editing and some I’ve just been trying for pleasure, but for me this simple version stands head and shoulders above the rest. However, you do need a well-flavoured squash (roasting can compensate for one that is less than thrilling); all, alas, are not the same. Butternut is probably the most reliable one, and one that is also easily available. That’s if you’ve not grown any Crown Prince, something I plan on rectifying next year. I’ve given two alternative flavourings, as well…

soupSquash Soup with sage or nutmeg
serves 3 to 4

1 medium squash
1 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
100ml good chicken stock
water or vegetable stock
1 small sprig of fresh sage or a few grates of a nutmeg
salt and black pepper

Using a heavy knife, chop the squash into slices or sections. Trim the skin off the squash sections, remove the seeds and chop the flesh into chunks about 2cm square (you should have about 650g of squash pieces).

Put the olive oil into a large heavy-bottomed pan and warm it over a medium heat. Add the onion, turn it in the oil and put the lid on the pan to sweat the onion for about 5 minutes. Check that it isn’t burning, giving it a good stir, then allow it to colour slightly – and add the garlic and put the lid back on for another minute or so.

Add the squash to the pan and turn it in, mixing everything together. Add the chicken stock and enough liquid to cover – go easy, because the thickness of the soup will depend on the type of squash and should be adjusted later (some squashes can turn out to be surprisingly watery, and adding lots of liquid at this stage would result in a thin soup). Add the small sprig of sage or some freshly grated nutmeg. Bring the soup to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the sage sprig (which should hold together; if not, fish out any large leaves too) and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft. Blend the soup, and then thin it to the required consistency with water or vegetable stock. Reheat, season with salt and plenty of black pepper, and serve.

Some recipes suggest toasting the seeds and adding them as a garnish. However, they are better dried, and I prefer to lightly toast some pumpkin seeds in a dry frying pan and scatter those over the top. You can always dry the fresher seeds out for next time (or not).

OK, weather, you can do what you want now – and a simple bowl of soup will also be very welcome after all the richness of Christmas food, too. Maybe I’d better make more!

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