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 or curry powder of your choice
- Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
- ~500ml boiling water or stock (+ more to desired consistency)
- 2dl heavy cream (if you like that, which I do)
- 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 the 2dl of heavy cream (if using), and a bit of stock or water and puree until smooth. Alternatively, omit stock/water and put it all in a potato masher and mash into the pot. Or, place it all in the pot, omit the stock/water, and mash violently with a fork or potato masher 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 the cream and stock/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!