August weather has turned unexpectedly rainy today, starting with a rain and then a thunderstorm, and following with a cold wind which dried up the puddles but did nothing for the chill that set in earlier. And so, when I have wandered into my kitchen in search of the meaning of life, or, failing that, of weather-appropriate food, it came to be that I emerged from the fridge holding a rather large chunk of Long Island Cheese squash (similar to pumpkin) puchased as an impulse buy a week or so ago because I simply could not resist its luridly-orange color, and a leftover piece of Butternut squash which had been aging in the back of my fridge for far longer than that. (Not that the latter suffered any from it – wrapped in cling film, it keeps nearly forever – or well, for weeks at least! – in the fridge.)
With such happy-colored start, it is difficult not to make something perky and summery and beautiful. I’d first considered a salad with roast slices of squash, but in the end, I succumbed to the desire for comfort food, and thus, in this case, soup.
Pumpkin or winter squash (not to be confused with zucchini or yellow squash – aka summer squash) soup is a very, very easy to make dish, and the full-flavored and warmingly-spicy result is oh so rewarding. The natural sweetness of the squash can take quite a bit of heat added to it (if you like that), or stands quite well on its own seasoned with just the cumin and a bit of salt for a very rich-flavored, satisfying meal.
What you need:
- A blender OR a potato masher (in a pinch, a fork and some attitude will do)
- A large soup pot
- A chunk of squash (like the one pictured) or a medium-sized butternut squash.
- 1 onion
- 4-8 cloves of garlic (depending on size of cloves and how well you like garlic)
- 1 red chili, seeded and chopped or a flat teaspoon of red chili flakes (I’d not go for more, but you can use less if you are sensitive to hot spices)
- 2 teaspoons salt (or more to taste)
- 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
- Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
- ~500ml boiling water (+ more to desired consistency)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, AND
- 2 more tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon fat
- 1 pack cubed bacon or pancetta, fried, drained and kept warm
- 10-17% fat yogurt or creme fraiche
- Freshly shaved parmesan or other hard cheese
- A pinch of dried oregano, or if you have some on hand, a handful of chopped green herbs of your choice
- Slices of hearty rye or wheat bread
What to do:
- Preheat oven to 200°C (if fan oven, use 180°C) and line a baking tin or dish with a bit of foil
- Scrape seeds out of your squash, then peel it (careful, it is far harder than potato), and chop into manageable chunks.
- Put chopped squash into a bowl, add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, season with black pepper and mix to coat.
- Pour onto the baking dish and roast for ~45 minutes or a bit longer, until squash is fork-tender.
- In meantime, cut the root tips off garlic cloves and smash them gently, but do not peel. Wrap the cloves in a piece of aluminium foil to make a small packet, and add that to the oven, near the squash.
- Peel and chop onion, and heat up a nonstick frying pan on medium-high heat with the other 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil or bacon fat in it.
- Fry onion until it turns translucent and add chili or chili flakes, then take off heat.
- When squash is about ready, remove garlic foil-packet from oven carefully, unwrap it, and squeeze garlic cloves out of their papery shells.
- Once the squash is fork-tender, place squash, roast garlic cloves and onion-chili mix and oil from it in a blender with a bit of water and puree until smooth. Alternatively, omit water and put it all in a potato masher and mash into the pot. Or, place it all in the pot, omit the water, and mash violently with a fork until it is mashed. (Latter approach results in an obviously less smooth but still very delicioius soup).
- If using blender, transfer puree to the pot and rinse blender goblet with a bit more water, adding that to the pot. If using one of the other two methods, dilute the puree in the pot with boiling water to desired consistency. Turn heat up to medium.
- Season with salt to taste, adding little by little and mixing well with each addition.
- Add cumin and further season with pepper as desired.
- Slowly warm the soup up until nearly boiling, then turn heat down and allow the soup to barely simmer for about 10 minutes – this will allow it time to thicken itself naturally.
- Place a heaping tablespoon of yogurt or creme fraiche in the bottom of each bowl and ladle the soup over it.
- Sprinkle soup with bacon bits, parmesan shavings and herbs and serve with bread.
I find that for a dark, gloomy day, few things are as hearteningly bright and happy as this. And yes, it tastes even better and warmer than it looks. Honest!