Butternut squash soup with cheese toasties

I love all soups made with winter squashes, but this one has a wonderful, subtle, almost nutty flavour that's hard to beat, especially when it’s served with toasted cheese sandwiches. For a smoother, more velvety finish, pass the soup through a fine mesh sieve.

SERVES 4–6

  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1kg (2¼lb) butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and cut into cubes
  • 1.2 litres (2 pints) vegetable or chicken stock
  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 200g (7oz) crème fraiche
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • FOR THE CHEESE TOASTIES:
  • 50g (2oz) butter, softened
  • 8 slices of brown or white bread
  • 200g (7oz) Gruyère or mature Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 tbsp snipped fresh chives

1 Heat the oil in a large pan. Cook the onions, garlic and butternut squash over a gentle heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened but not coloured. Pour in the stock and add the thyme. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes, until the butternut squash is tender.

2 To make the cheese toasties, butter the bread and arrange the cheese over half of the slices, buttered side down. Sprinkle over the chives and cover with the remaining slices of bread, buttered side up.

3 Preheat a griddle or large non-stick frying pan and cook the sandwiches two at a time for 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown and the cheese has melted. Keep hot.

4 Meanwhile, remove the thyme stalks from the soup, then purée with a hand blender until smooth. Stir in the crème fraîche and reheat gently, then season to taste.

5 Cut the cheese toasties into fingers. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls set on plates and stack up the cheese toasties to one side to serve.

Potato, leek and bacon soup

You can also serve this soup chilled, garnished with crumbled Roquefort cheese for a special treat. However, it’s worth remembering that cold food needs to be highly seasoned to bring out the best flavours.

SERVES 4–6

  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 100g (4oz) smoked bacon lardons
  • 3 small leeks, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 900ml (1½ pints) chicken or vegetable stock
  • 100ml (3½fl oz) milk
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • crème fraîche, to serve
  • snipped fresh chives, to garnish

1 Heat the oil in a large pan and tip in the onion, potatoes and bacon. Cook for 5 minutes, until the bacon has crisped up slightly, stirring constantly. Add the leeks and thyme and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables have softened but not coloured and the bacon is nice and crispy.

2 Pour the stock into the pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, then cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes, until slightly reduced and all the vegetables are completely tender.

3 Blitz the soup with a hand blender, then pour in the milk. Season to taste and reheat gently.

4 Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and garnish with dollops of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of snipped fresh chives or serve chilled (see the introduction above).