Butternut Squash, Curry and Cider Soup

Butternut squash, curry and cider soup

Butternut squash, curry and cider soup

This weekend, I was back in Southampton and went to the excellent 7Bone Burger Co. for dinner.  I’ve written a bit about this place before.  If very, very good burgers are your thing you should definitely go.  This visit was the best yet and I have written about it on my other blog, 607 Square Miles, here.

One major downside to eating a double cheeseburger of that size and a side of chilli cheese fries and a scoop of coffee ice cream from Sprinkles on the way home, is that you enter the following day not being able to face eating anything.  Being off my food is something of a rarity for me, and I am seldom ever completely full, but in this case it was 7pm the following day before I could even think about a meal.  I subsisted the entire day on coffee.

Such an indulgent feast requires something healthy and restorative to follow it.  I decided to make myself some soup.  Autumn really is the best season for soup, and not only because it is getting cooler; the crop of beautiful root vegetables make it so delicious and comforting.  Walking home from the market with arms full of big amber pumpkins and gnarly parsnips, I cannot help but think soup.  Especially good if you have some freshly baked bread in the house and a good blanket.

This particular soup is autumn itself: butternut squash, apples and onions, given warmth with a few spices and then cooked in cider.  The smell alone will be enough to rid you of any chills.  You can use other types of squash, or even pumpkin, if you prefer.  I used Gala apples as they have a good flavour, but any would work really.  Eating in front of a good movie or your favourite box set is essential.

Butternut Squash, Curry and Cider Soup

50ml olive oil
1kg butternut squash, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground cardamom
275ml dry cider (I used Weston’s Stowford Press)
1l chicken or vegetable stock
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground white pepper

Heat the oil in a very large saucepan and add the butternut squash, apples and onion.  Stir to coat in the oil and cook for 10-12 minutes until the onion is translucent.  Add the spices and cook for a further five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the cider and bring to the boil.  Cook for three minutes before pouring in the vegetable stock.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes until the squash is tender.

Remove from the heat and blend using a hand-blender (if you do not have one, you can use a regular blender, but you will probably need to do it in batches).  Once smooth, return to the heat, stir in the seasoning and cook gently for a further five minutes.

Ladle into individual bowls, top with a swirl of cream and a few pumpkin seeds.

Serves six.  Adapted from a recipe by Orangette.

One Year Ago:  Band of Bakers Short and Sweet Event


Striking Out


Grilled cheese sandwich with mango chutney and red chilli, curried parsnip soup

Grilled cheese sandwich with mango chutney and red chilli, curried parsnip soup

Tube Strike.  Two words that place fear in the heart of every Londoner.  At present, we are in the midst of a 48-hour strike about the plans to close London Underground ticket offices and there is little to do but try to get around by alternative means.  Of course, there are those that are lucky enough not to be affected:  some will be able to work from home, hence avoiding the transport network altogether; some will usually travel by bus or National Rail, which is unaffected; and then there are those rich enough to live in Zone 1.  We don’t talk about those.  Even being the adaptable creatures that we are, most of us are victims of the chaos.  For example, my journey to work this morning was just short of two hours; three buses between East Dulwich and Oxford Circus.  In the rain.  It’s a good thing that I’m going for cocktails later as I certainly feel I’ve earned them.  Have you ever noticed just how many people live in London when they are all on the surface?

Anyway, I mainly wanted to talk about last night’s supper, which started as a quest to use up the leftover parsnips from the weekend’s roast.  They were lurking around in the veg drawer and starting to look quite sorry for themselves; another couple of days and they would only have been good for the bin, so I decided to make them into a curried parsnip and red lentil soup. Nice and warming whilst we are still in this lengthy rainy season, no?  Whilst seeking inspiration online, I found that most recipes use only curry powder as the spices, which I find a little uninspiring.  Unless you spend a lot of money on a good spice blend, the flavour always seems a little flat.  Like cheap supermarket coronation chicken sandwiches.  So instead I blended together cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and chilli powder, cooking it off a little before adding the other ingredients.

Many argue that soup is not a substantial mid-week dinner, and I am inclined to agree.  It’s perfect for a late-night supper after a huge lunch, or a desk-lunch with some bread, but is insufficient to satisfy the appetite of the weary commuter.  Ollie cycles over 100 miles per week and is ravenous by the time he gets home, so a bowl of soup is not going to cut it.  Some thick slices of nice granary bread would bulk it out, but I would usually crave something more exciting.  A sandwich is the perfect accompaniment – and also a great way to sneak some extra protein into a meal which often has little – but few are structurally sound enough to permit the very important act of dunking. At least not without making an enormous mess.

So let’s talk about the grilled cheese.  Being British, I used to make toasted cheese sandwiches by putting two slices of bread in the toaster, then covering one with cheese and melting it under the grill, then adding the other slice on top (we never owned a sandwich toaster – much to my adolescent dismay).  Then I discovered the American method of basically cooking a cheese sandwich in a skillet on the hob.  You butter the outsides of the bread to crisp them up, then the heat from the pan melts the filling.  This produces a sandwich that is much more of a unit, more mulched together than when using my old method.  This is the perfect sandwich for dunking in soup, and the beauty of it is that you can add additional fillings that will compliment its flavour.  To cut through the rich warmth of the parsnips and spices, I added a generous spread of fruity mango chutney and a sprinkling of finely chopped red chilli.  Depending on the trauma of your journey home, you may wish to make an extra sandwich.  Just saying.

Curried Parsnip Soup

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 6 medium parsnips, peeled and diced
  • 6 tbsp red lentils
  • 800ml vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp creme fraiche

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat.  Gently fry the onion for 10 minutes or so until translucent but not browned.  Stir in the spices and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the parnsips and the red lentils to the pan, stirring well to ensure they are fully coated in the spice mixture.  Add the vegetable stock and seasoning.  Cook for 25-30 minutes or until the parsnips are tender.

Remove from the heat and blend until smooth using a hand blender.  Stir in the creme fraiche and test the seasoning.  Set aside and reheat when needed.

Serves 3-4

Mango Chutney and Red Chilli Grilled Cheese Sandwich

  • Two slices bread, buttered on one side.
  • A few slices of cheese, I used a sharp cheddar
  • 2 tsp mango chutney
  • ½ mild red chilli, chopped

Put a skillet over a medium heat and put in one of the slices of bread, buttered side down.  Quickly spread the mango chutney on the bread and top with the cheese and chilli.  Cook for a couple of minutes and add the other slice of bread on top, buttered side up.

Cook for a few more minutes before carefully flipping over to cook the other side.

Makes one sandwich.

The Post Christmas Bulge

Homemade Soda Bread and Lentil Soup

Homemade Soda Bread and Lentil Soup

After a lovely Christmas break in Hampshire, we arrived home to find that five days of festive excess had made us considerably fatter than when we left.  Of course, eating and drinking is what Christmas is all about, but the endless roasts, bottomless tins of Quality Street and countless glasses of port are enough to tire out even the most committed glutton.  On the way home on the A3, car piled high with suitcases and gifts, Ollie and I agreed that we would not eat anything soaked in brandy for a very long time.

Coming home is always rather lovely: your own bed, full control over the remote and being able to cook in your own kitchen.  Inevitably, the fridge was bare, but we managed to pull together a lunch of toasted almost-stale bread, a packet of supermarket coleslaw lurking at the back and the last truckle of cheese, an applewood cheddar.  The last hurrah of excess before a few days of healthier eating, if only so we can squeeze back into our jeans in time for New Year’s Eve.

In the few days before Christmas and New Year, I always make a large batch of lentil soup.  I read somewhere that it is an Italian tradition to eat lentils on New Year’s Eve, their rounded shapes are said to resemble coins and encourage prosperity for the year ahead.  With my bank balance always severely depleted by the end of December, it can’t hurt, right? In any case, a wholesome lentil soup is the perfect tonic for several days of overindulgence – this particular recipe contains nothing more than vegetables, herbs, lentils, stock and the tiniest slosh of vinegar.  Homemade bread is always the perfect accompaniment for soup, but with all of those new Christmas presents to play with, who has time?  A loaf of soda bread can be made in a mere half an hour.  Saves a trip out to the bakery.

Lentil Soup

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 350g brown lentils, rinsed
  • 2 large sage leaves, chopped
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and cook the vegetables on a medium heat until soft.  The onions should be translucent but should not brown.  This will take about ten minutes.  Add the lentils and herbs and cook for a further few minutes.

Add the stock and bring to the boil, the reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, 35-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are soft.  Remove the pan from the heat and transfer two ladles of the mixture to a separate bowl.  Blend the remaining soup in the pan with a hand blender (or transfer to a stand blender if you don’t have one) until smooth.

Return the pan to the heat and stir in the reserved lentils and the cider vinegar.  Serve in warmed bowls with a drizzle of olive oil on top.

Adapted from a recipe by Giorgio Locatelli.  Serves four.

Soda Bread

  • 225g plain wholemeal flour
  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g porridge oats
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 400ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven t0 220ºc / 425ºf / gas 7.  Lightly oil a baking sheet and dust with flour.

Place all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir together.  Add the buttermilk and mix with your hands to make a smooth dough.  Turn out on to a floured side and shape into a round with your hands.  If you like, you can add the traditional cross using the blunt edge of a sharp knife.

Sprinkle a few porridge oats on the top and transfer to the baking sheet.  Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.  To test if the loaf is ready, take it out of the oven, turn it upside down and tap the bottom.  If it makes a hollow sound, it’s done.