Ah soup. Once an overlooked dish, considered by many boring, is now (to us at least) an incredible way to develop deep, rich flavour and a fantastic way to get your daily vegetable intake. This one in particular is one of the all time greats.
This is a deliciously rich and ridiculously smooth soup with a great depth of flavour. It is achieved by roasting the squash with herbs a garlic to create caramelisation – the stick brown bits. A Rosemary infused milk takes the aromatic levels to new highs and as the star anise mixed with onions plus the final grating of nutmeg add that perfect spiced Christmas twist. This would be the perfect start to any Christmas Day meal.
The key to a good soup is the layering of flavours. Just bunging some boiled vegetables together into some water for 20 minutes and blending is not going to give you anything to write home about. To get seriously good food, be it soup and an expensive cut of meat, you need time to develop the flavour. With this soup the flavour is generated in 4 layers:
- The roasting of the squash, garlic and herbs
- The rosemary infused milk
- The sweated star anise onions
- The balsamic and nutmeg finisher
Following these very simple, but slightly time consuming steps will give you a soup that is so deep with flavour you’ll want everyone to try your masterpiece. I promise you will never look at plain old boring soup the same way again.
Key Points to making the best soup
- Make sure you generate caramelisation on the vegetables creating the body of the soup. In this case the roasting of the squash and the garlic creates the Maillard reaction and causes the brown sticky bits on the squash. These bits are crucial in your dish to create body and depth of flavour. Get these scraped into the bowl and reserve for the soup.
- A creamy soup often needs some sharpness to counter the richness. In this case the Balsamic vinegar cuts through the soup perfectly. When making this soup, tase it before adding the vinegar and then taste it after. Notice the massive difference? It brings the soup together and finishes it off.
- It takes time, like 2 hours worth of your time, but each step is crucial to generating that extra layer of flavour. It’s easy just to add plain water to the vegetables or regular semi skimmed cold milk. But this will cause the soup to be flat and a little tasteless. It’s worth taking a little longer to, for example, infuse warm milk with rosemary to add that extra layer or aromatics. A good vegetable stock is worthwhile too – although a Knorr stock pot is a handy little substitute.
- Infusing milk/cream. Soups are generally finished off with a milk or cream to level out the thickness and texture. Why not infuse the milk with some aromatics to generate depth? In this case it’s Rosemary. But in other dishes (and not just for soups) you can use many other herbs or spices such as nutmeg, cloves or cardamom.
- A smooth soup is sometimes the only way forward. To get a really REALLY smooth soup liquidise either by hand or by a fully fledged blender. Once liquidised, pass it through a fine mesh sieve a couple times and the results will be astounding. The smoothest soup you have ever tasted.
Remember the above steps and follow the below recipe to the letter and you will have amazing soup and a really great Christmas Day starter (or indulgent lunch for a few days!).
Roasted Squash and Garlic Soup with a Christmas Spice Twist
- Large Saucepan or Stock Pot
- Roasting Tray
- Hand blender or Blender
- 1 Large Butternut Squash Pumpkin can be used too
- 1 Garlic Bulb Cut in half, horizontally
- 4 Springs of Thyme
- 3 Large Springs of Rosemary
- 4 Sage Leaves
- 400 ml Good quality whole milk Grahams Jersey Gold Top milk is the best (UK)
- 600 ml Cold water
- 1 Knorr Vegetable Stock pot
- 3 Small/Medium Shallots , finely diced
- 100 g Unsalted butter
- 40 ml Balsamic Vinegar add more for garnishing
- 20 ml Cream for garnishing
- 1 Star Anise
- 1/4 tsp Nutmeg, very finely grated
- Pre heat the oven to 180 Degrees (fan assisted).
- Cut the squash in half lengthways. Scoop the seeds and stringy flesh out. Reserve the seeds. Score the squash flesh in a criss cross pattern. Cover the surface with oil and a generous amount of salt.
- Add 2 sprigs of Thyme, two sage leaves and one spring of Rosemary to each squash half.
- Cut the garlic bulb through the centre so that the knife goes through the middle of each clove. You will be left with two halves. Add each half, garlic side facing down into the squash hole where the seedes were. It's best to put the garlci on top fo the herbs to protect them from buring and also infuse flavour into the squash and the garlic.
- Place the herby, garlicy oiled Squash on a roasting tray skin side down (grease proof paper will help here) and put into the pre heated oven for 1 hour.
- Wash and remove any squash from the seeds, dry and place on a roasting tray lined with non-stick paper. Sprinkle with salt and roast for roughly 15 minutes until they take on a darkened brown colour. They will be quite intese in flavour, but work best together with the soup.
- In a small to medium saucepan, gently heat the milk until it begins to simmer. Stir regualrly to ensure the bottom of the pan does not catch or burn.
- As soon as the milk is simmering place a large sprig of Rosemary inside and cover with a lid.
- Remove from the heat and palce a lid on the pan and set aside to infuse for 20 minutues at least - can leave for longer, for example while the squash is roasting.
- Once infused, discard the rosemary and strain the milk through a sieve into a clean bowl. Set aside for later
- Once the Squash is finished remove from the oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Then scoop out the soft flesh into a bowl. Into the same bowl, squeeze out the roasted garlic from the skins and then discard the skins. Try and retain some of the roasted thyme and rosemary leaves if possible by picking them from the stalks. Discard the stalks.
- In a large sauce pan or stock pot, melt the butter on a medium heat.
- Once melted add the diced shallots and star anise and sweat for 5 mintues. They are ready when they're translucent. After 5 mintues discard the star anise.
- Now add the garlic, herb and squash mix tot the pot. Mix together well and cook for a further few minutes.
- Add the strained milk, knorr stock pot and the cold water to the pot and bring to a slow simmer.
- Simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Take off the heat and liquidise either by hand or via a blender.
- Once liquidised, pass through a fine mesh sieve into a large clean bowl.
- Add balsamic vinegar and the nutmeg and taste. Adjust the seasoning by adding more salt if required (usually a large teaspoon works for this dish).
- Ladle the soup into large soup bowls and swirl with cream, good quality Balsamic vinegar and roasted squash seeds.