Pumpkins and squashes are a delight. They come with built-in life-affirming colour, velvety texture and a useful wallop of beta-carotene and, and their non-assertive flavour makes them the perfect candidate for pepping up with lively spices and winter herbs. The soup below is a warm welcome home as autumn gives way to winter. It can be as mild or as spicy as you like. I like the lift of the chilli. Served informally in a mug, it makes a very satisfying lunch with a flatbread or two but since all good meals begin with a feast for the eyes, I can't resist camping it up in bone-china cups and saucers with little teaspoons for the amusement of my gueule even if I haven't any guests. They make a lovely contrast to the heartiness of the soup.
I'm on record as declining wine with soup because it's just too wet, but I'd make an exception here and uncork a fairly rich, not overly dry white. The more chilli you add, the sweeter the wine should be.
Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup
|750g butternut or acorn squash, or small pumpkin
|2-3 banana shallots
|Whole salt and ground black pepper
|A splash of chilli-flavoured oil, or olive oil and a pinch of chilli flakes to taste
|100ml white wine
|Bouquet garni of fresh thyme, sage and bay leaves
|400ml can coconut milk
|400ml chicken or vegetable stock
|Cream to serve
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6
I don't usually bother to peel the squash until it's cooked, and I save the seeds to roast as a chewy, nutty garnish. Both of these are a matter of choice.
Halve your squash and scoop out the seeds into a sieve. Rinse them under the tap to get of all the fibres and leave them to dry on some kitchen paper. Now cut the halves into large chunks or wedges and arrange in a roasting tin. Peel the shallots and cut each lengthwise into eighths.
Toss with the chilli oil, season well and roast for about 20-30 minutes until caramelised and tender. Towards the end of the cooking time, put the seeds in a small roasting tin, anoint with a bit of oil and season with whole salt and pepper and a pinch of garam masala if you like. Keep an eye on them and don't let them burn - they will brown and crisp quite quickly. Turn out onto a plate lined with kitchen paper, to absorb any excess oil.
When the vegetables are tender, let them cool slightly before removing the peel from the squash and cutting it into smaller pieces. Transfer to a saucepan with the wine, bouquet garni, coconut milk and stock. Simmer gently for about 30 minutes.
Cool, remove the bay leaves and any denuded stems, and liquidise in batches. Set aside until needed.
Reheat gently to serve in 4 bowls or 6 tea-cups with a little swirl of cream or a slick of chilli oil for seekers of extra heat. Sprinkle with the reserved seeds.