Sticking with the squash/pumpkin theme for this month, this is one of those comforting dishes that can be a light soup or a rich stew, depending on your mood and needs. Eating the soup as soon as it is ready, the effect is as if the flavours have just met and are getting on excitedly. A couple of hours later, or the next day, the texture will have thickened and the flavours will be snuggling quietly together. Add a few more vegetables – either more of the same or perhaps some peppers, aubergine or kale – to the chickpea pot and you can turn this into a meal in itself. And, if you fancy it, add a dollop of yoghurt on top to counter the heat of the croutons.
Each of the three parts – the roast squash, the spiced croutons and the sauteed chickpeas and vegetables – brings an element of both flavour and texture. And in this, the coarsely torn, highly spiced croutons are essential to the contrasts in the dish that provide a lot of its fun. This is an approach to constructing a dish that I use a lot – think about all the flavours that you want in a dish, then pull some out to be added at the end, maybe even at the table.
While the soup is in the pot (and the oven), you might want to have a discussion about whether that vegetable you’re roasting is a squash or a pumpkin. All pumpkins are squash but not all squash are pumpkins. Some people think only the monsters used for carving at Halloween are pumpkins, and everything else is squash. However, I like to call most of the dense, orange, dry-fleshed winter ones ‘pumpkin’. Except when squash sounds better! I overheard a new chef in the Paradiso kitchen the other day asking one of the others why one dish said ‘squash’ while another using the same vegetable called it a pumpkin. The answer was simply ‘that’s the way he writes it down’. Pumpkin soup sounds better than squash, but it’s true I’m likely to write ‘gratin of squash and leek etc…’, while using the same vegetable. The soup will take less than half an hour, you should have got to the bottom of the issue by then. Let me know how you get on.
approx 1kg pumpkin or winter squash
4 slices day old bread
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
8 dried birdseye chillies, ground
800mls vegetable stock
4 small shallots, finely diced
½ bulb fennel, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
3 medium leeks, washed and thinly sliced
250g cooked chickpeas
100mls dry white wine
juice of ½ lemon
Preheat the oven to 375f.
Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Brush the squash flesh with olive oil and place the halves, cut side down in an oven dish. Pour in 200mls of the stock and place in the oven to roast for 30-40 minutes.
While the pumpkin is roasting, make the croutons. Chop or tear the bread into small pieces and toss them in an oven dish with the spices and a sprinkling of olive oil. Season with salt and roast in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until crisp. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
In a soup pot, heat four tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Put in the shallots and fennel, and sauté for two minutes, stirring. Add the garlic, ginger leeks and chickpeas and continue to sauté for five minutes more. Add the white wine, cover with parchment, reduce the heat and simmer for fifteen minutes.
When the pumpkin is tender, scoop out the flesh and chop it to get something like a coarse, lumpy mash. Add this to the soup pot with the remaining stock. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for five minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
Serve the soup with a generous pile of croutons on top.