Man in the kitchen: Stirred and squashed
Recently, I went with the children to Kew Gardens. I absolutely loved it and so did the kids — with some reservations.
The tropical plants in the palm house were “kind of interesting” but the temperature in there was far too, well, tropical for them. They loved the giant water lilies but ran low on patience when the grown-ups stopped at the vegetable garden. Who would have thought that chilli peppers and kale could be arranged into a display worthy of the Chelsea Flower Show? My daughter Lucy was less enamoured, however, tugging at my shoulder to move on to something more entertaining while deriding me as a “radish starer”.
However, even Lucy (though not her younger brother Alex) had some grudging appreciation for the magnificent array of squash. I could happily have stayed for hours amid the pumpkins but the children were more interested in cacao — not the plants mind, but rather the chocolate ice creams they had been promised.
It was a warm afternoon but at the sight of all those squash, my thoughts turned to soup — specifically roasted pumpkin soup which is one of my favourites. Not only is it synonymous with the autumn harvest which we celebrate at Succot but is also perfect for those chilly autumn suppers under the stars.
The thing about pumpkin and indeed most of the squash family is that they get a little waterlogged when boiled or steamed. Roasting them intensifies the flavours. For a butternut squash soup chop up a large one, de-seed it but don’t worry about taking the skin off. Then roast it for half-an-hour to 40 minutes in a hot oven (gas 6, 200°C).
Meanwhile, sauté a chopped onion and a couple of finely chopped cloves of garlic in some vegetable oil until translucent but not browned. Add a generous teaspoon of garam masala and half-a-teaspoon of chilli powder, then add the roasted squash, a tin of coconut milk and enough water to cover. Season well, add a vegetable stock cube, bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. Then all you need to do is whizz it up in the blender, garnish with some chopped coriander and serve with warm flatbread.
The only thing that can spoil your enjoyment of this soup is too much water. So if it starts to rain I suggest you have a brolly handy.