When did it get so cold?! This soup is deliciously hearty; warming and fragrant, you can beat the winter blues! Without bacon, it is vegan and vegetarian friendly.
- 1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
- 1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced into 4 lengthways
- 1 large clove of garlic, or two medium cloves, left whole
- Vegetable stock cube
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp sage
- Bacon, if desired
- Heat the oven to 160 degrees.
- Scatter the butternut squash chunks onto a baking tray. Pour over a generous amount of olive oil, then sprinkle over the cayenne pepper and paprika.
- Peel the garlic, and crush under the flat side of a large knife. Nestle the squashed, whole clove in the middle of the baking tray. Season, then place the tray in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until soft and browned. Turn the squash to let the other side soften and caramelise.
- Remove the tray from the oven, and transfer the squash into a blender.
- Roast the red pepper in the same tray until soft, and add to the blender along with the cooking oil from the tray.
- Crumble the stock cube over the pepper and squash, and add enough boiling water to cover the vegetables. Blend until smooth, then transfer to a pan. Add more boiling water if the soup is too thick. Add the sage, and warm over a low heat.
- In a frying pan, crisp bacon, then slice into strips. Taste the soup, and adjust the seasoning if needed.
- Serve the soup topped with crisp bacon, alongside crusty bread.
Ingredients – makes a small loaf
- 350g strong bread flour
- 1 tsp yeast
- ½ tsp coarse salt
- ½ tsp caster sugar
- 212ml hand-hot water
- Olive oil
- 1 egg, beaten
- Pumpkin seeds, to top the loaf
First: I am still definitely revising!! In fact, the bread making has been quite therapeutic. It feels like a long time since I thought about someone who hasn’t been dead for over 2,000 years. Emperors Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, (skipping over Nerva), Trajan and Hadrian. And Hellenistic dynasties, too: Seleucids, Attalids, Ptolemies, Antigonids and the coming of Rome. Greek poets, Latin poets, Latin poets in English translation, Latin poets in actual Latin; timeo Danai et dona ferentes. Cicero in Larinum, laying out before the judges the facinus Oppianici in lists of threes with a lot of sarcasm. The Roman Near East – distant client kingdoms of Commagene, Nabatea and Herod vying for Imperial recognition, being gradually annexed into the Roman Empire. Ancient Syrian elites aligning themselves with the Empire with Greek writing, architecture, fesvtials; ancient Syrian villages grinding olives and wine on stone rollers, eating sheep and goats. In short: my mind needed to take a break from Classical civilisations, and making bread was a brilliant way to do it!
Pumpkin seeds give a delicious extra crunch to the bread. If you have them finely sliced dried red chilies and sprigs of rosemary would be delicious alongside the seeds! Be careful whilst it’s in the oven though. Pumpkin seeds crisp very quickly, and you don’t want to risk a burnt top! Put the loaf in the middle of the oven, and watch it like a hawk (..or just check it doesn’t burn).
- Heat the oven to 180 degrees.
- Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the yeast, salt and sugar, and fold with a wooden spoon.
- Create a well in the middle of the bowl by pushing the flour mixture to the sides. Pour in the hand-hot water, and drizzle in some olive oil. Stir well to combine. If the mixture is too runny, add a little more flour; if it needs more liquid, drizzle in a little more oil.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured side. Knead the dough – starting from the centre of the dough, push outwards with the heel of your hand. Then, fold the pushed out side of the dough back into the centre. Rotate the dough clockwise and repeat the process.
- The kneading will be complete when the skin of the dough begins to have a slightly blistered appearance – this is the presence of the gluten network, which will make it rise and have a fluffy centre.
- When the dough has been kneaded fully, place it in a clean bowl. Lightly oil some clingfilm; cover the bowl with the clingfilm, oil side facing the dough. Leave to rise – it should double in size. This can be done overnight at room temperature, or, if you’re short of time, leaving it in a warm place can speed up the process. It is important to not leave the dough in too warmer area, because this can kill the yeast and it will not rise!
- When the dough has doubled in size, the air needs to be knocked out of it. You can do this by simply punching the dough in the bowl. This will cause the dough to return to its original pre-risen size.
- Then, transfer the dough to a lightly greased loaf tin.
- Cover the tin with the oiled clingfilm once more, and leave to rise again. This is called proving, and it will give the bread a better texture.
- Once it has risen, remove the clingfilm. Lightly brush the top of the loaf with a little beaten egg. I used the back of a spoon to spread out the egg, to ensure the top of the loaf stayed smooth. Worked quite well! Then, scatter over the pumpkin seeds; they will stick to the egg yolk. Brush a tiny bit more egg over the seeds, to ensure they stay in place. Then, put in the oven and cook for 20 – 30 minutes. Pop the loaf out of its tin, and knock the bottom of the bread – it should make a hollow sound, and this will confirm it is cooked. Leave to cool, and serve in thin slices.