Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere. He’s gotta pick this one. He’s got to. I don’t see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there’s not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.
Linus, from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, 1966
I know, I know. At this time of year, pumpkin and squash recipes are splattered all over the internet like spaghetti sauce over a sloppy diner’s shirt. I add to them only because – if I pick up a butternut squash on the way home – I pretty much always have the rest of the ingredients tucked away somewhere in my kitchen and garden.
To be honest, I’d rather call this pumpkin soup. ‘Pumpkin’ sounds round, inviting, friendly. ‘Squash’ sounds well, rather deflating and miserable. But I make it with butternut squash as you can buy them almost everywhere. Crown Prince squash is also delicious if you can get your hands on one.
Every time I enter our local pub quiz, I have a tiny but persistent fear. One day the question ‘What is the difference between a squash and a pumpkin?’ will come up and, as I’m the designated food person on our team, all eyes will fall on me. In my imagination this is how that scenario plays out: I flail about a bit and then draw to my team mates’ attention my outstanding performance in the show tunes section, throwing in some over-exuberant jazz hands as a distraction from my curcurbita-based ignorance. I draw comfort from my friend Mark Diacono’s description in River Cottage Handbook No 4: Veg Patch
‘The distinction between pumpkins, squash and gourds is bizarrely vague, and even their botanical names provide little guidance. If it helps, I tend to think that pumpkins are generally orange, gourds and mostly inedible, squash are almost always delicious, So, concentrate on squash for the kitchen, a pumpkin or two for Hallowe’en, and decorative gourds to weird up your plot.’
Eat one, carve one, weird up your plot. Happy autumn!
Roasted butternut squash and garlic soup
I adapted Gordon Ramsay’s roasting method from this recipe. Roasting the squash and garlic together gives it a deeper, richer flavour which goes down well with those who sometimes find the sweetness of squash cloying (me).
1 large butternut squash
4 tablespoons olive oil
A few sprigs of thyme
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled, 1 halved and the rest bashed to break the skin
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
1 small red or green chilli, membrane and seeds removed and finely chopped
2 onions, diced
1 – 1.2 l chicken or vegetable stock
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Some feta and fresh coriander or dill to finish
Preheat the oven to 190˚C/gas mark 5.
Halve the squash lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Place them in a roasting tin. Score the flesh with a small, sharp knife and brush with olive oil. Halve one of the garlic cloves and rub the flesh with the garlic then season with salt and pepper. Put the rest of the garlic in the hollows of the squash and scatter over the thyme. Trickle a bit more olive oil over the garlic and put them in the oven. Bake until the flesh is very tender and slightly charred, about 1 hour. A knife should pierce the flesh very easily. Remove from the oven and leave until cool enough to handle.
While the squash is cooking, warm a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan over a medium-low heat and sauté the onions gently with a pinch of salt until very soft and translucent, stirring from time to time. Don’t let them take on any colour. This should take about 20-30 minutes.
Scoop the flesh out of the squash into a bowl. It should come away very easily, leaving only the papery skin. Make sure you pour the garlicky oil from the squash’s hollows into the bowl into the bowl too. Squeeze the roasted garlic into the bowl with the squash. Discard the garlic skins and thyme.
Add the cumin, coriander and chilli to the onions and stir for a minute or two over a medium heat. Add the squash and garlic and stir well. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 15 minutes, remove from the heat and cool slightly. Whizz until smooth in a food processor or blender; you may need to do this in batches. Return to the pan and warm through. Add more salt and pepper if necessary.
Serve in warmed bowls with some crumbled feta and fresh coriander scattered over the top.