Squashed soup

I get a bit overwhelmed with the number of pumpkins and squashes available at this time of year and am really not sure what the difference between them is.  A handy feature in October’s delicious. went some way in helping me choose crown prince as the one to make some chutney on the advice that its flesh doesn’t break up as much during cooking, and the quarter pumpkin left over from the chutney session has resisted mushiness in a curry I made last night, so I have high hopes for the chutney.

Otherwise, I am a bit rubbish in constantly falling back on the good old butternut – I know what it’ll taste like, how it behaves when roasted and steamed, and it comes in a neat size for a two.  My autumnal resolution is therefore to be more adventurous and try a new variety each time I buy squash over the coming months.

Consider this an entry level squash soup.  Clearly, you could go wild and make it with any of the varieties you come across, or if you’re feeling less brave stick with butternut for now.  One of the benefits of squash is how many flavours it will take on and work with, so if ginger and cumin doesn’t tickle your fancy, try sage, or garlic (or both), dried or fresh chilli, or some crispy bits of chorizo or bacon.  I also think a little bit of orange juice and zest would work well with the ginger and cumin combination and will try that out next time.

The crunchy topping is leftover from a cauliflower risotto recipe I made a couple of weeks ago (Jamie’s Italy, p141 – utterly delicious and prodded me into trying a few more recipes from his books). This chilli pangrattato has kept perfectly in a lock-n-lock box since then, and I’ve sprinkled a pinch or three onto bowls of soup and pasta wherever I fancied a chilli crunch. Definitely worth making if you’ve got the ingredients to hand, or try other ingredients – garlic and parmesan seem an obvious – and good – substitute but I’m sure you can come up with others.

Butternut soup with ginger and cumin
Prep time: 1 hour
Serves 4

1 butternut squash, diced
1 onion, sliced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock
2 cm fresh ginger
Yogurt or creme fraiche to serve

Crunchy topping
2 handfuls of stale bread (or frozen breadcrumbs – I keep bagfuls in the freezer)
1 tin anchovies in oil
3 dried chillis, green tops pinched off

Roast the butternut squash for 40 minutes to an hour.  (I did mine when cooking something else in the oven and kept the squash in the fridge for a few days until I wanted to make the soup).

Fry the onions in a little oil or butter over a low heat until soft and golden, which will take about 20 minutes.

Add the cumin seeds to the onions and fry for a few minutes until you smell the cumin, and then grate in the ginger (I freeze bits of fresh ginger and grate it from frozen – if you take it out of the freezer when you start cooking the end will start to soften enough to grate what you need. Then the rest goes back in the freezer).

Put the spiced onions, squash pieces and a litre of stock into a blender and blend until smooth,  adding more water if it’s too thick. Return to the pan and heat up again, and add salt to taste and pepper if you want to. (I’m trying to get out of the habit of automatically adding pepper to everything after watching the great Thomas Keller on Saturday Kitchen a few weeks back, who reminded me pepper is a flavouring in its own right whereas salt enhances existing flavours.)

If you want to make a crunchy topping, blitz all the ingredients in a food processor (do the bread first if it’s not already in crumbs, then add the anchovies and chillis). Fry in a dry pan for a few minutes until beginning to crisp up. You might need to add a little bit of olive oil as you do so if your bread was quite dry to begin, as mine was. The pangrattato will keep in an airtight box for weeks.

To make it look pretty and add a sharp note, stir through a spoonful of yogurt or creme fraiche, and a generous pinch of the spicy breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs give a lovely crunch against the soup and a bit of a chilly kick for a cold day.

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