Homegrown, homemade, chilli and squash soup

February soups at The Birdhouse are typically thick enough to put hairs on your chest. Hearty and wholesome, they keep you going through the gloom when you’d rather dive under the duvet as soon as the sun sets. However, the weather in the UK has been a little odd over the last week or so. Far milder than normal, with hardly any rain, light and bright. Spring is in the air, in the form of the scent of early flowers, the buzzing of insects. It is predicted to go on like this for the next week.

The warmer temperatures mean than a fresher soup is in order. A check in the stores reveals Crown Prince squashes, garlic and red chillies. Sounds perfect for the soup we’re after.

Homegrown Crown Prince squash

Peel the squash, easier said than done, it seems to fight back at every stage. Once battle is done, chunk it up and place it in a roaster with some whole garlic cloves. Splash liberally with olive oil, season then roast in a medium oven until soft and caramelised around the edges.

Chopped and ready to roast
Soup base

While the squash is roasting, prepare the soup base by sautéing roughly chopped onion, celery, carrot and leek in a pan. Add bay, rosemary and red chillies of your choice. Add the roasted squash and garlic. Top up with stock. We had a pot of smokey liquor left over from boiling a ham, perfect.

Squash soup ready to blitz

Bring the soup to a gentle boil and simmer until the veggies are cooked. Remove the bay leaf. Plug in the stick blender and blitz the hell out of that soup. Squash always makes such a smooth, velvety consistency, very satisfying. Add a slosh of double cream to enrich it and bind all the ingredients together. Check for seasoning, add chilli flakes or powder of your choice. We opted for Aleppo pepper, not too hot, vibrant red and sweet sun-dried tomato oiliness notes (no really).

A sprinkle of Apello pepper finishes the soup

Dinner is served.

Idle hands

It’s been too long, maybe actual hours, since the last chilli featured in our lives. Well, that’s not strictly true as we eat chilli with most meals and are compulsively checking the nursery of chilli seeds for germination and leaf growth. So to be more honest, we have not made a chilli product in a while and, after the scrummy success of the fermented jars, we are itching to experiment. Tricky though, as homegrown fresh chillies are not easily forthcoming in January in the UK. However, a local supermarket comes up with the goods.  Let’s get fermenting!

We’ve been discussing other ingredients for the fermenting jars. Pineapple is on the list, as is ginger, turmeric root, rose petals, cola, bay, mango and lemongrass.  With this far flung candy box of ingredients in mind, my attentions turn to our stores. What do we have that can be bubbled up in a jar and turned into a tasty chilli sauce?

It turns out we have some peaches, jalapeños, white onion, lime, garlic and coriander seed. Chopped up, salted and topped up with water. Current status: inert. Give it a couple of days in the sunny windowsill and Mather Nature will work her magic.

peachchillifermentedsauceingredients.jpg

peachchillifermentingjar

Fermenting jar of peaches, white onion, limes, garlic, jalapeños, salt and coriander seed. Top up with water and twist on the lid.