Two ways with pumpkin and squash

I found something wonderful at the farmers' market a couple of weeks ago. A big wooden table groaning under the weight of about ten different types of pumpkin. There were big, blue-grey crown princes, the aptly named Turk's Turban (I'd never seen one before, but it does actually look like a turban - it's the most amazing-looking vegetable - google it), some Halloween-esque large golden varieties, and then several baby squashes. Given that I have never strayed beyond butternut squash in any recipe calling for pumpkin, I thought it would be a good time to give them a go.

I bought these two little ones, hoping they wouldn't consist of nothing but string once I got past their lovely, rustic-looking skins. This was a challenge, as the skins were quite thick. I wasn't sure whether to peel them or not, so I took a gamble and just roasted them, skin on and chopped up, as I would with butternut. I put some butternut and red peppers in there as well just to bulk it up a bit, and covered the lot in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and honey. The whole tray of roasted pumpkin smelled amazing when it came out of the oven; the pieces had turned soft and sweet in the middle with lovely burnished corners where they the oil and honey had caramelised. The skins of the pumpkins hadn't been too thick: they had softened nicely and were perfectly edible.

One of my favourite things to do with roasted squash or pumpkin is a salad with goat's cheese. I normally use couscous, but I had some watercress and rocket in the fridge so used that instead. Pumpkin, roasted peppers, a few cherry tomatoes, chunks of goat's cheese, pumpkin seeds for something crunchy, and some roasted chestnuts that I had lying around. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and you have a lovely substantial salad. I think squash needs something salty to cut through its sweetness; goat's cheese works well, as does bacon.

And it is bacon that I used in my next recipe: soup. It's very easy to make and tastes wonderful, especially on a freezing cold misty day like today. Fry some chopped bacon, add a diced red onion and some cubes of fresh squash and cook for a few minutes until the onion is soft. Pour over enough chicken stock to cover, add a bay leaf and some thyme sprigs and dried sage, cover and simmer until the squash is soft (20-30 minutes). I then added the remained of the roast squash from the day before and left it to simmer for another ten minutes, but you can just stick with fresh squash if you can't be bothered to roast any first (though I find it is more flavoursome). Use a stick blender to liquidise the whole lot. I then added some more water to make it quite runny, and then put in a handful or so of pearl barley - I like soups with things to chew on in them, and it makes it go further. Simmer again for about half an hour or 40 minutes, until the barley is tender but still a bit al dente. Check the seasoning, add a bit more dried sage, and it's ready. I like to serve it with grated Gruyere cheese on top, but that is just because I have a weakness for soup with melted cheese on. I don't know why really.