20 February 2006


Up here in the bitter cold of Canada's capital, a soup warm-up can be almost a requirement – whether it's a hearty snack, lunch, or an appetizer. It's also a great thing to make on a weekend to stock the freezer for a few weeks worth of lunches.

I love a good homemade soup of meat and veg, but sometimes you want something a little more...sexy. Enter the velvet smooth soup below.

This one is easy if you've got the time to carry it through with the roast squash. If not, make it easy on yourself by using (shhh) canned pumpkin. Make sure it's pure pumpkin, not some pre-spiced lazy pie-maker's variety.

If you are using squash, feel free to use your favorite kind (avoid spaghetti squash for this particular recipe, though, for somewhat obvious reasons) or mix kinds -- I went and bought four kinds of squash in the fall and made the soup with all of them mixed together. Squash is available even in February, so it's not hard to locate a few interesting varieties.

2 large squash (or 3-4 small/medium)
3 cups stock (you could make your own, but any low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock works)
1 small onion (or 3 shallots)
1 stalk celery
1 cup white wine (optional -- use more stock if you omit the wine)
1 cup milk
cayenne pepper (to taste)
cinnamon or nutmeg (to taste)
olive oil
1/4 cup light cream (optional)
fresh herbs to garnish

Gut seeds from the squash and lay flat (skin side up) on a cookie sheet. Bake them at 350 degrees for about half an hour. Check on them, and if they're not soft, cook for another 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven, cool.

While that's happening, dice your onion and celery, and sautee in a bit of olive oil in a large, thick-based saucepan. You want them to soften and "sweat", which releases flavour. Add the stock/wine.

Scoop the flesh from the cooked squash into a food processor or blender. Puree in batches, transferring to saucepan as you do so. Add cayenne, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Stir well, cover. Don't add too much salt at this point, as you can always add more later, but you can't take it out!

Let this simmer for a good half hour (if you're in a hurry, fine, just let it get hot).

Dump your saucepan of almost soup into a large vessel (ie an 8-cup measuring cup, or a very large bowl). Working in small batches, puree your soup a second time, transferring the pureed portions back to the saucepan. You want it to be velvety smooth. If it's too thick (it will only get thicker, so err on the side of runny) add more stock, wine, or milk.

Once you've got it all back in the pan, and you've got squash everywhere including up your nose (it happens), stir in the milk, and check that it's spiced to your liking. Simmer, stirring occasionally, over very low heat, until ready to serve. The longer it simmers, the more flavour you get. I've left the soup on the lowest powered burner on my stove for as long as four hours before serving it, and it has been delicious. Just keep checking it!

To serve, ladle into bowls, then drizzle with the light cream, and garnish with fresh herbs. Makes about 8 million servings.

You can use pumpkin, carrots, squash, in any combination. You could even do sweet potatoes, adjusting the stock amount to ensure you get soup, not paste.

If you don't want to use cayenne, try some other herbs. Cayenne and cinnamon are from the same family, so they actually complement each other. But go forth and experiment!

This soup freezes well - and the recipe makes a lot of it, so be prepared with those plastic containers!

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