Every year when halloween comes back around, I can’t help but think what a shame it is that so many pumpkins are wasted for decoration, as it happens that pumpkin flesh makes the very best of soups.
Roasted by itself, pumpkin flesh – from seasonal varieties such as delica and blue hokkaido – can often be woolier and less sweet (although also much earthier) than their more popular cousin the butternut squash, which lends itself better to roasting, sautéing and pureeing due to its sweetness and less fibrous flesh. Consequently, varieties of pumpkins like these are perhaps best whizzed up, creating a earthy, velvety-rich soup.
Try to buy as many squash and pumpkins as you can whilst they’re still in season; winter squash have tough, thick skin (almost like a shell) which – whilst it is a pain to hack into – protects the sweet flesh within, making them perfect for storage. They’ll keep for weeks in a cool, dry place and provide a lovely standby supper on a cold night.
This recipe was originally given to me last year by my boyfriend’s lovely mum, Penny. With it’s earthy warmth and golden-orange hue, it really does feel like autumn in a bowl; the sweet wood smoke of autumnal bonfires is somewhat echoed by the smokiness of the lardons, which is then further complimented by the subtle heat of the chilli. I’m sure cardiac specialists would hunt me down for writing this, but it really is necessary to use the fattiest bacon here, either from lardons or streaky bacon – it’s the fat that renders from the meat that gives this soup such a great depth of flavour. Admittedly, squashes can be very tough indeed to cut into, so try microwaving them for a minute, turning every twenty seconds or so, to soften ever so slightly – this makes chopping them a little less precarious! I also find it’s far easier to roast the squash in their skins and then scoop out the flesh rather than peeling them raw.
This is lovely served with a dollop of crème fraiche or Greek yoghurt; niche as it is, goats curd would also be an excellent accompaniment. For me, a bowl of this soup served with a hunk of warm, crusty bread is just about the best autumnal supper you could find.
1 small pumpkin (about 900g-1kg in weight)
Small glug of oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 – 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes, depending on your taste
80g smoked bacon lardons
2 apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
600ml hot chicken stock
Splash of double cream (optional)
Salt and pepper
Pumpkin seeds (optional)
Crème fraiche (optional)
Preheat the oven to 220°C. Chop up your pumpkin into 4-6 rough chunks depending on its size, then scoop out the seeds (see below). Arrange the chunks on baking tray, drizzle with oil and season, then roast until tender and a knife drops through with little resistance – about 30-40 minutes.
[If you have the time and energy, you can reserve the pumpkin seeds to eat later or garnish the soup. Simply remove the seeds from the stringy squash, rinse and then scatter evenly onto a baking tray. Drizzle the seeds with a good glug of oil, then add any seasoning you like – sea salt is essential, but you could also try using chilli flakes, ground paprika or fennel seeds. Toss the seeds gently so they’re well coated in the oil and seasoning, then bake in an oven at 180°C for about ten minutes, until they’re golden brown. Delicious as added crunch to soups and salads, or warm with an aperitif!]
Place a large saucepan over a medium heat and gently fry the onions, garlic and chilli flakes in a little oil for a couple of minutes before adding the bacon lardons and frying for a further few minutes – you want to onions to be beginning to caramelise but not brown too much.
Once the pumpkin is ready, leave it to cool a little before scooping out the flesh from the skins and transferring it into the pan of onions. Add the apple and hot stock, place a lid on the pan, and bring up the boil. Boil for ten minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and using a stick blender (or similar) blitz the soup to a smooth amber liquid, then stir through the cream if using. Add a splash more of hot water if it’s too thick. Taste to check for seasoning – the bacon and the stock should make the soup salty enough.
This soup is perfect just as it is, but for a decorative flourish it feels very appropriate to garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds – put a handful of the seeds in a frying pan over a medium heat, tossing occasionally, until they smell nice and nutty or start popping. Toasted hazelnuts would also be good here.
The soup keeps well, covered, in the fridge for three days.