At the Plateau Restaurant we use Secrett’s Direct in Surrey for a lot of our winter vegetables. In early autumn their dinky squashes start coming through, and by mid season they will have up to fifteen different squashes of all shapes and sizes. One of my favourites is the Harlequin squash; it’s versatile and the shell can be used as a serving bowl for soups and risottos if scooped out carefully. The acidity of the Fourme d’Ambert cheese works well with the sweetness of the squash, but other cheeses can also be used if you don’t like a blue cheese. This recipe takes a little time to do, but the end result will amaze your guests.
Preheat the oven to 130°C/250°F/gas 1⁄2. Carefully cut the tops off the squashes, but don’t throw them away. Take the bases and scoop the seeds out with a spoon. Sprinkle a little Maldon salt into each one and add a twist of the pepper mill, then place all four on a ovenproof tray, with the tops, and bake for 10–12 minutes (the tops may need a little less time, so check them earlier). Remove from the oven and leave to cool – this process will enable you to scoop the flesh out of the squashes a little more easily than when they are raw. Scoop out the flesh and set the shells to one side. Keep them warm.
Put the butter in a large pan over a medium heat, then add the onions and garlic and sweat them together for 3–4 minutes – do not allow them to colour. Add the scooped-out squash flesh, put a lid on the pan and cook it until it is soft, which should take about 5 minutes. Then add the milk and bring the soup to the boil, reduce the heat and then simmer for a further 5 minutes. I like my soups chunky, so just lightly blend with a hand blender until you have the desired consistency, and adjust the seasoning. Strain the soup if you prefer.
Increase the oven temperature to 160°C/320°F/gas 2–3 and prepare the cheese croutons while the soup is cooking. Slice the baguette, place the pieces on a tray and sprinkle them with a little olive oil. Bake them in the oven for 7–8 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Leave them to cool and then crumble the Fourme D’Ambert cheese over them.
When you are ready to serve, put the warm scooped-out squashes on serving dishes. Pour the hot soup into them, put the tops back on, place the croutons on the side – and serve immediately.