Harissa Spiked (Sunshine) Squash Soup

In Ireland and the British Isles, they call this time of year ‘the hungry gap’ –those turning-point weeks when winter vegetables have passed their prime but spring produce hasn’t sprung from the earth, so to speak. Or, to put it in the plaintive words of my friend Christine last year, ‘I don’t think I can even look at another winter squash!’ (Christine is far more diligent at eating strictly seasonally than I am. I’ve caved a couple of times and blown half my grocery budget on hothouse cocktail tomatoes. And I do love a good bowl of steamed, frozen peas.)

It is with Christine in mind that I got to thinking about ways of adding a little bit of warm-weather flavor to a winter squash soup. Crushed tomatoes (canned sunshine!), North African harissa paste (spicy sunshine!), and a decent dose of lemon juice (squeezable sunshine!) worked wonders. I couldn’t choose between garnishing with a swirl of plain yogurt or a sprinkling of feta cheese, so I included both. Now, I just hope I don’t eat it all before I have a chance to share some with Christine.

Harissa-Spiked ‘Sunshine’ Squash Soup

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion (200 g.), chopped (1 ½ cups)
1 to 2 tsp. harissa paste (I used Cap Bon; I also used 2 tsp. but I like things that have a little kick)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb. cubed winter squash such as butternut or kabocha (4 cups)
1 15-oz./400 g. can crushed tomatoes
1 medium (5 oz./150 g.)Yukon gold potato, peeled and cubed
(2 cups (450 ml.) water
2 Tbs. lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
plain yogurt or crumbled feta, for garnish

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Stir in the harissa paste and garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add the squash, tomatoes, potato, and water, and season with salt. Cover, and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender.

Purée the soup in a blender or food processor, or using an immersion blender, until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, and adjust the seasonings. Serve swirled with yogurt or sprinkled with feta. Makes 6 cups (1.5 L)/Serves 4