Autumn Sunshine Soup
There has been a definite chill in the early morning air the past week or so. It feels like Autumn is just beginning to creep up on us. This turn in the weather makes me want to start cooking more warming food, like soups and stews. Today’s challenge was to be inspired by colour, so I went with orange. It fits this time of year, the colour of the turning leaves and the late Summer sun. To get this colour I used butternut squash and red lentils in a soup and served it with grilled sweetcorn and polenta.
The squash I used weighed about 700g. To start, cut the squash into large pieces – there is no need to peel at this stage. Gently score the flesh and season well with salt and pepper. Either give a light coating of cooking spray or a light drizzle of oil such as olive, rapeseed or sunflower.
Place the pieces flesh side down on a baking tray lined with non stick paper and roast in the middle of the oven Gas Mark 6/400F/200C for 40mins or so until the skin is beginning to brown and crisp and the flesh is soft. The timing will depend on how big the squash is. This stage can also be done the day before. Just keep the cooked squash covered in the fridge overnight.
Whilst the squash cooks, chop a medium onion and sauteé in a teaspoon or two of oil until it softens. If you prefer, you can cook the onion in a little cooking spray or even water if you’re eating oil-free. Add one teaspoon each of rosemary, sage and thyme. Then add 300g red lentils and 700ml-1 litre vegetable stock. The amount of stock depends on how thick or thin you like the soup but make sure you use enough so the lentils don’t stick to the pan once they start to re-hydrate. You might find you need more stock once the lentils start cooking so keep an eye and stir the soup frequently to prevent sticking. The lentils should take about 25-30mins to cook.
Once the squash is cooked, peel off the skin and put the flesh in the pot with the lentils. Pureé the squash and lentils together, I prefer to use an immersion blender for this and just do it in the soup pot. How chunky or smooth is up to you.
For the sweetcorn and polenta, if serving straight away, keep the soup on a very low heat to keep it warm. Lightly oil or use cooking spray on two sweetcorn cobs and put them in a heated grill pan. Cook on medium to high heat, turning to cook evenly until they begin to char a little. For the polenta I used a block of ready made polenta and cut it into cubes. Heat a couple of teaspoons of oil in a pan and fry the polenta until it begins to brown, turning it so it cooks evenly. You can cook the polenta oil free but make sure your pan has a decent non-stick surface. Alternatively you put it under the grill to cook. If your grill pan is big enough you could put the sweetcorn and polenta in the same pan.
The soup will keep in the fridge overnight so you can always make it in advance and then prepare the toppings as it reheats. You could also change the flavourings slightly by swapping out the herbs for spices such as coriander, cumin and even a bit of cinnamon. Some heat from chilli powder or cayenne, even chopped fresh chillies might also be a nice change.