There are many important dates in the calendar of the gardening cook: the last frost date and the first frost date, the first rhubarb harvest, the first asparagus, first ripe tomato… And just this week we reached another one: we ate the last of our winter squashes. It was a butternut, it was beautiful and tasted great. It was eaten in soup.
This cheerfully orange soup looks deceptively simple but has an elegance that comes from combining the ingredients that are a compliment to each other. I once served it at a gardening course and one of the students called it “sublime”. Yet, the process is simple and the ingredients are few and I tend to have all of them on hand, either in the larder or in the garden. Sage is a great companion to winter squash and because I grow it in a warm, sheltered position right against the south-facing wall of our house, I can usually harvest it fresh even in winter. If you make this soup during an Indian summer when the last tomatoes’ harvest briefly overlaps with the first winter squashes, you can use fresh tomatoes, but I usually make it with canned tomatoes.
The recipe comes from Monty and Sarah Don’s book Fork to Fork, one of the first of the now-so-popular genre of garden to kitchen cookbooks, but it is a lot better than most. First, Monty Don is a really good writer and even though he is a “celebrity gardener”, he is still a real hands-on gardener, too. Second, his wife is a great cook, her recipes deliberately simple to showcase the fresh, first class produce they grow. The book is a month by month personal account of garden jobs and cooking with seasonal ingredients, beautifully photographed by Simon Wheeler. It is the kind of book that will make you want to move to a dilapidated barn in the English countryside and strive for self-sufficiency. It has the magnetic attraction of an authentic lifestyle.
Pumpkin sage soup
From Monty and Sarah Don: Fork to Fork
800 g ( 1 pound 12 ounces) pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and cubed
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp olive oil
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
or ½ can of tomatoes
4 sage leaves, chopped
600 ml ( 2 ½ cups) vegetable stock
20 large sage leaves
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add pumpkin and potato cubes and sweat for about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, chopped sage, and stock, bring to a boil and let simmer for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes and pumpkin are soft. Liquidize in a blender until smooth. Season to taste.
Heat a good layer of oil in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the whole sage leaves and fry until crisp.
Serve the soup with the sage leaves and a drizzle of the sage-scented olive oil.