It’s the time of year when everyone who gardens starts to look around for people to take their extra produce off their hands. There are messages at work telling people if they want apples or pears they can help themselves, people come to work carrying bags of fruit and vegetables and we all start to look for recipes to use up the glut. This week’s harvest is vegetable marrow.
Vegetable marrow, for those of you who aren’t British, are a kind of squash with a very pale, slightly sweet flesh. They are quite large, as you can see – that’s one lying across my large chopping board – and when they are ready for harvesting, there are bound to be lots of them. That’s quite a lot of marrow to deal with.
I need to think of something tasty and warming. I also need to keep an eye on the calorie count. It’s so easy to go wild when the weather turns cold and treat yourself with calorific goodies. I want the best of both worlds – rich and delicious as well as low calorie and healthy.
The weather is changing and this weekend has been very grey and miserable. The temperature is dropping and the winds are picking up. Looking out of our windows I can see rain coming down on the horizon and it is moving our way. I want to stay inside and be cocooned in warmth and comfort.
Soup, I thought. A big bowl of silky, tasty soup. That was what I needed.
Now, vegetable marrow has a very delicate flavour that can, if handled badly, seem insipid. What I wanted to do was enhance its lovely sweetness and one way of doing it is to add roast garlic to the soup. Garlic, when roasted, develops a lovely sweetness of its own and it works well with the pure taste of the marrow.
So, first roast your garlic. I have one and a half bulbs, which might seem a lot but once garlic is roasted gently it loses its pungency and becomes almost sweet.
Heat the oven to 200 degrees C/390 degrees F.
While the oven is getting to the right temperature, pour some olive oil into a heatproof bowl. You need enough to cover the cloves of garlic, but don’t worry – once the garlic has cooked gently you can save the oil to use again. Not only have you made a necessary ingredient for your soup but the by-product is a gorgeously flavoured garlic oil that you can use in all sorts of things later.
Separate the cloves, removing the outer layer but leave the skins on. Put them all in the bowl with the olive oil, making sure there’s enough oil to cover the cloves and put the bowl in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
While that is cooking, get started on the marrow.
The skin of a vegetable marrow is extremely hard so the only way to peel it, I found, is to cut the marrow into manageable pieces and then cut the skin off.
Scoop out the seedy, fibrous middle and cut the flesh into cubes.
I wanted to emphasise the sweet and aromatic flavours in the soup, so I chose sweet white onions for the base.
A good tablespoon of butter was heated in a large pan. And when I say large pan, that’s what I mean.
Until the marrow cooks down you will end up with what seems like an enormous quantity so use your biggest pan.
Peel and dice the onion and start to soften it gently. Add a pinch of salt to keep the onion soft and white. You don’t want burned or browned onion as the final soup is a lovely pale cream colour.
By now, the garlic will be cooked so take the bowl out carefully and remove the cloves of garlic with a slotted spoon so they can cool enough to be handled. Remember to keep the oil and bottle it when it is cooled so you can use it later.
Once you can touch the garlic cloves easily, snip the end off the papery outside covering and squeeze out the soft white inside.
Add the garlic, the marrow and a pint and a half of vegetable stock.
Add a small amount of chilli. I get those tubes of chilli, ready prepared, and keep them in the fridge. Very labour saving and, seeing as this year’s chilli harvest has been a dismal failure to date, an absolute god-send.
Stir everything round, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer gently until the marrow is soft.
Whizz the softened marrow mix to a smooth consistency.
You’ll see that it looks rather watery and it needs something to pull it together into a rich and delicious soup.
And this is it.
Dried skimmed milk powder. Almost totally fat free.
Adding a ladle full of Marvel will make the soup taste rich and creamy with negligible addition of fat. Trust me, this is a brilliant way to make soup taste like it is made with cream. You have plenty of liquid already in the soup base, the milk powder dissolves into that and enriches the whole pan without adding extra liquid.
Whizz it round and you can see the texture change from an almost granular in appearance puree, to a smooth and silky soup base.
Snip some chives to go on the top of the soup and serve it up.
That was, when served with some savoury scones, absolutely gorgeous.
Each big bowl of soup contained minimal calories yet it felt as rich and luxurious as if it was made with double cream. Of course, if I had been really serious about cutting calories I wouldn’t have made the scones as well…. but hey ho. It’s a start, isn’t it?