Chilli Butternut Squash Soup

January is grey and gloomy and miserable, and in our house at least, calls for some comfort food. Soup may well be my favourite comfort dish of all – the warmth and cosiness, the way you can cuddle up to your bowl, the inevitable presence of bread, butter and cheese – and yet because it’s stuffed with vegetables, you can feel smug about it being healthy too. What’s not to like?

In this case, the vegetables are carrots, onions and plenty of gorgeous, vibrantly orange butternut squash, combined with a big hit of chilli (my favourite thing to put with sweeter vegetables like squash and parsnips) and a big scoop of herby soft cheese melted through. For extra flavour, I’ve used my own homemade chicken stock (if you’ve never tried making your own, I can’t recommend it highly enough – get my recipe here) but you can of course substitute a bought version, or use vegetable stock if you want to make this recipe vegetarian. The final result is the perfect antidote to the winter blues.

Ingredients
1 butternut squash (about 1 kg)
1 large carrot
1 large onion
1 tbsp dried sage
Butter for frying
1 pint chicken stock (try my homemade recipe)
60g herby soft cheese (such as Boursin)
Salt
Hot sauce, to taste (we like Encona's Original Hot Pepper Sauce)

Serves 4-6

Start by peeling and chopping the onion and carrot. Fry gently with the dried sage in a generous scoop of melted butter, until nice and soft. In the meantime, peel and chop the butternut squash (carefully, as the rind is very tough), and once the onion has softened up, add the squash and the chicken stock. There should be just about enough chicken stock to cover the vegetables – if not, top up with a little hot water. Bring to the boil, and then cover and turn right down. Leave to simmer for half an hour.

When the time’s up, the squash should be tender enough to fall apart when prodded. Use an immersion blender to puree all the ingredients until you have a smooth, thick soup - if it seems too thick, or you want to make the soup go slightly further, then you can thin it down with a little hot water. Then season with salt and add a splash of hot sauce, according to your own preferences for spiciness – by the way, you can of course use fresh chillies, I just find hot sauce is a handy shortcut which helps me control the heat in a dish more accurately. Finally, add the soft cheese and stir until melted. Serve in large bowlfuls with plenty of bread and butter.