Butternut Squash Soup with Sage and Pancetta

Well, ’tis the season! Pumpkin and squash abound! You know I actually don’t like pumpkin or squash on their own – ever since I was a kid and the task of carving out the pumpkin for Halloween: ugh the smell! Ugh it’s all gooey! Whaddya mean people actually eat this stuff??!

It’s the warm spices – cinnamon and nutmeg, among others – that I like. I once had a Pumpkinspice Latte in Starbucks, many many years ago, before I knew any better, and it was so delicious, perfect for that warm sunshiney day with a chilly biting wind. I’ve never forgotten it.

This recipe, and the following recipe for Wholemeal Brown Bread with Pumpkinseeds, comes from the November edition of the Food & Wine magazine, which is always chocful of yummy things I want to try. I only made half the amount the recipe calls for and it was still loads. It’ll easily feed four people. The soup is quite rich, especially so because I heaped in the oil from the ovened pancetta. This isn’t the kind of thing you want to be eating for three days in a row – I speak from experience – so cook sparingly or call up some friends. The Wholemeal Pumpkinseed Bread goes down a treat with it too!

The recipe suggests you throw a full bulb of garlic into the roasting tray with the butternut squash as it’s ovening*. I have always wanted to try smoked garlic ever since I saw it in Fallon & Byrne. With this smoked garlic, I discovered my new favourite smell, knocking “butter melting in hot frying pan” off the number one position. Just chop the top off the bulb to allow the garlic to be pressed out later. Heaven!

Butternut Squash Soup with Sage and Pancetta

1/2 butternut squash, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
4-5 slices of pancetta
6 sage leaves
1/2 red onion (I used 2 shallots from the cupboard to use them up)
1 large carrot, finely chopped
3/4 litre of chicken stock
Salt and pepper to season
Creme fraiche to serve (do not skip this part, crucial!)

1. Preheat the oven to 200C.

2. Throw the squash into a roasting tin with a drizzle of oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place the sage leaves over the squash then drape the slices of pancetta on top. Oven for 10mins until the pancetta has gone a bit crispy. Remove it and the sage leaves and set aside on a plate.

3. Roast the squash on its own for another 40-45mins, until it is soft and the edges have charred a little.

4. In a large saucepan, heat a little oil over a medium heat. Add in your chopped shallots or red onion and chopped carrot and gently fry til the carrots have softened. Add the prepared stock and bring to the boil. Add the roasted squash and sage leaves and cook for another 5 mins.

5. At this stage, I felt my pancetta was not as crispy as I wanted it so I popped it back into the roasting tray for another 5-10 mins. It released a lot more oil this time round which I spooned into the saucepan.

6. Turn the heat off the saucepan and use a handblender/soup whizzer – or alternatively blitz the soup in a blender in batches – to blend the squash and carrots, giving a beautiful velvety texture to the soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you want to thicken the soup slightly, the recipe suggests you add cream. Being me, I did just that.

7. To serve, put a dollop of creme fraiche in the middle of your bowl of soup and make an artsy fartsy swirly pattern. Break up a few small pieces of crispy pancetta and arrange them to look like you’re building a tasty little bacon bonfire. Devour and never look back.

* To oven: a verb meaning to cook something in the oven for a short or long period of time. Used often by Happy Food Baby owing to laziness.

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