I really dislike Hallowe’en. What used to be a fun, family time of year seems to have become a celebration of horror films for a a generation who shouldn’t be watching them. Its much more fun from a food perspective. I think of bonfire toffee, hot chocolate and pumpkin soup.
I first experienced the joys of pumpkin soup in Australia – accompanied by a large slab of damper in a barn on a sheep shearing ranch. It was divine. I will always remember the sweetness and silkiness of it. Pumpkins are for soup-making and lanterns; nothing more. They work well with smokey flavours and can carry some heat – ideally both.I wanted to make a spicy pumpkin soup to accompany some fabulous wholemeal Crustum bread. I bought an eating pumpkin – not one of the carving ones which are so prevalent at this time of year – and roasted it. I find it easier to cut the pumpkin into segments to roast and then take the skin off afterwards. The roasting intensifies the flavours and adds some caramelisation flavour. The pumpkin is a strongly sweet-flavoured vegetable so it needs plenty of other stuff to balance it and add some complexity to it. It has a sensational texture which makes a lovely creamy thick soup.
I really wish I could chop like the chefs you see on TV. It takes me forever to create a mirepoix – and I probably don’t need to be as careful as I am since it just needs to be small enough pieces to ensure they cook through before blending. Its a pretty thing though to see the resulting colours in the pan. I added coriander stalks to the onion, carrot and celery and then some smoked garlic, chorizo and butter. I wanted to build up a warm and smokey base for the soup. I then cooked the mixture slowly to soften the vegetables. After 15 minutes I added a heaped teaspoon of chilli flakes, plenty of ground black pepper and a tablespoon of cinnamon. After sweating it through the mixture I added the roast pumpkin and a litre of vegetable stock before simmering for half an hour. The smell is wonderful and there is nothing left to do but blend it with a stick blender until its beautifully smooth and season with smoked Maldon salt.
Its delicious with just a hint of heat. Its great to reheat and is the essence of the season as the dark autumn nights begin to close in. There are lots of ways to vary the soup too. I would have done some roasted chickpeas if I’d planned ahead well enough. A loose pesto goes nicely as a drizzle in the middle and roasted chestnuts add an interesting flavour variation but will add some sweetness too.