The colours and flavours in this soup glow with warmth. Robust and chunky, it goes perfectly with croutons or dark brown bread and will provide inner warmth for a cold day. This is an adaptation of a recipe by Denis Cotter whose imaginative vegetarian recipes are a great source of inspiration.
Apart from Halloween the chances of finding anything other than butternut squash in our local supermarket is absolutely zero. So if you use one of the squashes with a thin skin it is best to peel it before roasting.
My version of this recipe (for carnivores) was serendipitous: looking for some stock to dilute the leftover soup revealed some dregs of sauce from a pot of west country chicken. The result ambrosial, if cholesterol raising.
- About 1kg pumpkin or squash
- 4 small shallots finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves thinly sliced
- ½ medium bulb fennel finely chopped
- 3 leeks, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp fresh ginger grated
- 250g chickpeas (either tinned or soaked and cooked)
- 25g diced smoked pancetta
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 800ml chicken stock
- 100ml dry cider (or white wine)
- juice ½ lemon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp fennel seeds ground
- 50-100ml double cream
- Cut the pumpkin/squash into wedges remove the seeds, brush lavishly with olive oil and roast at 190ºC (375ºF) for about 30 minutes or until soft. If using pumpkin, scoop out the flesh from the skins, before chopping roughly. If the squash has been peeled before roasting this is not required, just chop or mash to a lumpy consistency. Think rustic not precise dice.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan and sauté the shallots and fennel gently over a medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic ginger, spices, leeks, chickpeas and pancetta and fry for about another 5 minutes. Add the cider, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
- Add the pumpkin and the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for another 5 minutes. Add lemon juice and check the seasoning. Remove from the heat and gently add the cream, sufficient to enrich the stock but not to make it too creamy.
The pancetta is optional but it adds a light smokey note to the flavours. Similarly you can leave out the cream and substitute vegetable stock or water for the chicken stock and the cider or white wine and still have a delicious soup. However, if you follow the strictly vegetarian route, you will need to adjust the seasoning and may wish to add a pinch of ground dried chilli (amount according to taste) or more ginger.
Soups are more about inspiration than science, so you can vary the proportions and substitute leeks for onions and don’t worry if you don’t have fennel. The secret is to taste and adjust to what you like in terms of flavour and consistency. Like many soups this tastes better the second time around.