One of my favourite families of vegetable is the multitude of squashes. Not only do squashes look impressive, they are easy to grow, store well and are a great ingredient for home made soup. Yes, I was raised on home-made soups and freshly baked bread and it’s a love affair that never leaves you. When November days are turning dark and damp something deep inside me wants to make thick winter soups. Even now I’ll often opt for the ‘soup of the day’ in a café and it’s great to see so many places reviving the good old tradition of thick freshly made soup with a hunk of bread.
So why the connection with squashes? From the versatile and great-tasting butternut squash to large traditional pumpkins and the more unusual varieties such as the little uchiki kuri variety I grew last year there is so much variety. In grocery stores you are lucky if you can get two or three types, with pumpkins often only appearing at Halloween and then ones only grown for size not taste. But in your own garden you can get countless delightful varieties to add color and interest. This year, having had a bad batch of compost ruin my greenhouse-started seeds I even allowed some self-seeded pumpkins to develop – usually this yields rather unpredictable results due to cross pollination and the F1 varieties that abound (see our article on pollination) - and, although they came out rugby-ball shaped, they taste fine.
Now I have four huge pumpkins storing in my garage (they take a few weeks to ‘ripen’ – preferably in the sun – after picking) and it’s soup time! So I thought I’d share my thoughts on the best way to cook these great veg.
- To my mind the flavour of squash is best brought out by roasting. You simply cut them in half (often quite a job in itself), scrape out the seeds and then bake in an oven at 400°F/200°C/Gas mark 6 for 50 minutes to an hour until the flesh is soft. If you like that buttery taste then just spread some over the top beforehand and use a baking tray to catch any drips. Alternatively try rubbing slices of squash with a mixture of olive oil and warm spices (such as paprika, chilli, ground cilantro and cumin) to make an interesting starter or a bright side-dish.
- Once roasted the squash can be left to cool, during which time the juice which will have collected in the centre will be re-absorbed. The flesh can then be scraped out from the skin.
- To make a simple great-tasting soup, boil this up with an equal weight of peeled potatoes and sufficient stock to cover it well. After 20-25 minutes liquidise it, adding some milk or cream to give a silky-smooth texture. Vegans can use soya milk but the soup needs to have first cooled a little to avoid it curdling.
- For blander tasting squash varieties, such as larger pumpkins, try adding some sweet potato, red lentils and carrot to give a fuller-bodied flavour. If you have more squash than you can use just freeze the cooled roasted squash after you have scraped it out of the skin and it can be added to your next batch.
- Serve sprinkled with toasted seeds such as pumpkin or sunflower and your favourite fresh bread.
It sounds simple and it is. Squashes have that wonderful practicality about them – give them good soil and they just grow, keep them frost free and they store for a few months and, best of all, they’re easy to turn into warming delicious soup. Enjoy!