Be Smart with your Squash

Image pumpkin soup

Hallowe’en is upon us! Whether you’re planning your trick or treating or not, you’d be a spoil sport for not even considering carving a pumpkin Jack O’Lantern to sit in the window. If you’re smart with your squash, it doesn’t have to be a waste of a perfectly good vegetable either.

There are literally hundreds of varieties of pumpkins available these days, many of which can be found in local shops and markets in Brixton and the surrounding area. The main criteria for choosing a pumpkin to carve is that it’s fairly large and round, but if you’re feeling adventurous, I’d recommend looking beyond the bright orange spheres you see in the supermarkets. The flavour can be bland, and the flesh a little stingy.

My preference would be for an Onion Squash, so called because of their pointy top, reminiscent of their namesakes. Once hollowed out and carved, they’ll keep few days on the window sill, and you can use their sweet, earthy flesh as the basis for warming soups, stews and other seasonal dishes. Brixton Farmers Market often has them.

Romesco sauce, on which this soup is based, originates from Catalunya, but is popular throughout Spain. It’s often served with grilled spring onions as a tapas dish, or as an accompaniment to fish or meat. The sauce is so tasty however, it seems worthy of being a dish in it’s own right. Romesco sauce doesn’t traditionally feature pumpkins at all, but the rich, nutty flavours harmonise perfectly with the other ingredients.

Red Pepper, Pumpkin and Almond Soup

  • 500 – 750g flesh of one small pumpkin or a medium / large squash, roughly chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, skins removed and bashed up a bit
  • 4 red peppers
  • 200g or a few of handfuls of blanched almonds
  • a few generous pinches of sweet paprika
  • a litre of vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • yogurt to serve

Preheat the oven to high – 180 degrees. Put the chopped pumpkin or squash in a roasting dish along with the garlic, season with salt and pepper and toss with olive oil. Cover and roast for 20 – 25 minutes or until the flesh is very tender but not too dried out.

Now you need to skin the peppers; This process is either a big hassle or incredibly satisfying, depending on your point of view. But it is definitely worth the trouble. If you have a gas hob with an open flame, place the peppers directly over the flame until the skin blackens. Keep turning the peppers so the skin is blistered all over. Put these in a bowl and cover with cling film so they steam in their own heat. This will help the skin come away from the flesh. After 10 minutes, the peppers should be cool enough to handle. You should be able to pull the skin off very easily. Tear the pepper into strips and discard the seeds. Keep the juice if you can.

In a large pan with a little olive oil, gently cook the onions over a medium heat until they soften. A pinch of salt will help draw out the moisture from the onions so they get sticky, but keep an eye on them so they don’t catch.

Meanwhile, toast the almonds in the hot oven until they begin to go golden – about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and roughly chop.

At this point, you’re ready to assemble the soup. Add all the elements to pot along with the onions, and gently bring the liquid up to simmer. Take off the heat, and blend using a stick or jug blender. Don’t go to mad though – a bit of texture adds to the rustic, homely feel of the soup. Top with yogurt and another scattering of toasted almonds.

Perfect for Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night or the whole squash season over autumn and winter.