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.


  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

    1. I wish I could deliver a cross-Channel bowl of soup to your kitchen table! Thanks, as ever, Jamie x

  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.

    1. 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. this is really great, just makes you want to go downstairs and cook, more people should look at this blog!!!

  4. 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.

    1. 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…

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

  7. 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.

    1. 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.

  8. 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 😉

    1. 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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