Still Life with Soup

Few things give me as much pleas­ure as a still life paint­ing. Gior­gio Morandi, Alice Mum­ford, Ben Nich­olson, Edou­ard Vuil­lard all do some­thing magic­al to a jug of milk, a white vase and a pot of jam and turn the mundane and every­day into some­thing mag­ni­fi­cent. I even like the term itself — ‘still life’ — cap­tur­ing as it does the glor­ies of sit­ting peace­fully and simply look­ing at some­thing for a minute, a day, a month, forever. Poor old Italy and France have been cheated out of the true glor­ies of the still life — their trans­la­tions for the term are ‘la natura morta’ and ‘la nature morte’. ‘Dead nature’ is a ter­rible defin­i­tion and misses the point com­pletely.

Still life, as well as being a glor­i­ous art-form, is the per­fect syn­onym for soup. Eat a bowl of home-made soup and life will stand still for just a moment, as you savour the glor­ies in the bowl. I’ve writ­ten before about the joys of soup, and few can beat this one. Its ingredi­ents are like the com­pon­ents of a Vuil­lard paint­ing — until they’re com­bined you have no idea how per­fectly they go togeth­er. And don’t be put off by the length of this soup’s name. It’s quick, easy and effort­less, unlike for example Osso Bucco which has a short snappy title but takes forever to make.


Serves 4

For the soup

  • 1 but­ter­nut squash
  • 2 table­spoons maple syr­up
  • Season­ing
  • 2 white onions
  • 1 scant dessert spoon fen­nel seeds
  • Olive oil and knob of but­ter
  • 1 piece fresh ginger, about 3 cm in length
  • 1 litre good veget­able stock

Wash the but­ter­nut squash — you’re going to be using the skin. Chop it into medi­um-sized pieces, de-seed it but don’t both­er to peel it. Put the pieces in a bak­ing tray and sprinkle with the maple syr­up and a little salt and pep­per. Dot with small pieces of but­ter and  a small quant­ity of olive oil. Bake in a mod­er­ate oven at about 170 degrees C for about 40 minutes until the squash is soft and slightly car­a­mel­ised. While the squash is cook­ing, chop the onions finely and put in a pan with the fen­nel seeds, some salt and pep­per, a little olive oil and a knob of but­ter. Cook at the gentlest pos­sible heat for about 30 minutes, stir­ring every now and again. The onions should be a rich, golden brown, but not burnt. About five minutes before the squash is ready, finely grate the peeled ginger into the onions.

Tip the squash, skin and all, into the onions, add the litre of veget­able stock, bring to a sim­mer and liquid­ise with a stick blender.

For the spiced but­ter

  • 20g unsalted but­ter
  • Good pinch smoked sea salt (ordin­ary sea salt is fine too)
  • Half tea­spoon chilli powder
  • Half tea­spoon smoked paprika
  • A few fresh cori­ander leaves

Make sure the but­ter is soft enough to mix in with the oth­er ingredi­ents. Snip the cori­ander finely with scis­sors and com­bine everything well. Put the but­ter in a piece of cling film, roll it into a small saus­age about 2.5 cms in dia­met­er and put in the fridge for 15 minutes or so to harden. Serve the soup with a disc of spiced but­ter, a sprink­ling of pump­kin seeds and a sprig of mint or cori­ander. Sit, eat and ‘have a minute’ as my Granny used to say. It’s still life in a bowl.

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16 thoughts on “Still Life with Soup

  1. Wow! Charlie, the pho­tos are gor­geous… gor­geous. And the soup is stun­ning! I want to reach in the screen and taste. What a mag­ni­fi­cent recipe and present­a­tion. xo

  2. A very inter­est­ing take on the clas­sic But­ter­nut Squash and Ginger soup. Mine is a bit sim­pler but still one of my two favour­ites ( the oth­er is a ver­sion of Tomato Soup with Canel­lini Beans, includ­ing a pinch of dried Oregano). Lovely illus­tra­tions as ever.

    • I love the sound of tomato soup with beans — dried oregano is a great ingredi­ent too. Thank you so much for your ever-gen­er­ous con­tri­bu­tion, Jakey

  3. I am for ever cook­ing but­ter­nut squash soup, but this recipe looks like a stun­ner! I hap­pen to have all the ingredi­ents in my kit­chen, so I just know what I’ll be mak­ing tomor­row! Gor­geous pic­tures also.

    • I do hope you enjoy it, Lynne. And thank you for leav­ing a com­ment — it’s so much appre­ci­ated. My chil­dren love this recipe too, although I tone down the chilli when I make it for my daugh­ter. My son is a little braver about the heat…

  4. This is the best look­ing squash soup recipe I have seen in a long time, I will be mak­ing this before the week is out. I usu­ally just swirl yog­hourt and chilli flakes onto my squash soups to gar­nish but spicy but­ter with smoked paprika sounds just per­fect.

  5. Lovely recipe. Soup and a crust of bread is always one of my favour­ite lunches. I like them big and hearty, so this ticks the box nicely. I love the tex­ture of the seeds on top too.

    • Thanks so much, Matt. I love everything about soup — the mak­ing, the serving, the shar­ing, the eat­ing. And it’s the best lunch there is.

  6. I do so agree with your last com­ment — the mak­ing, the serving, the shar­ing, the eating…the best lunch there is. My lot are very averse to but­ter­nut squash. This spicy ver­sion might tempt them. You cer­tainly have some lovely things in your cup­boards — those painted wooden bowls are gor­geous. I didn’t know about ‘dead nature’ — the wrong descrip­tion for the moment in time that is cap­tured by Vuil­lard etc.

    • Hi Sally I hope this might serve to con­vince your fam­ily that but­ter­nut squash is a good thing. ‘Dead nature’ really is a ter­rible descrip­tion, isn’t it, where­as ‘still life’ is so per­fect.

  7. I’m not a huge fan of still-life (more into Turn­er-esque fuzzi­ness!), but I AM a huge fan of soups, pump­kin in par­tic­u­lar. The but­ter sounds utterly spec­tac­u­lar and the pho­tos are gor­geous — seriosu case of prop envy! Althogh I do believe we already own the same wooden spoon 😉

    • I abso­lutely love that spoon! My son brought it back for me from South Africa, which won’t come as a sur­prise to you, I’m sure. We have cut­lery solid­ar­ity — I do like that idea. And thank you for being so gen­er­ous about my soup, Jeanne

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