I can remember so clearly the first time I ever had pumpkin soup… I was about 13 or 14 years old. We were in an Italian restaurant on Halloween, and there was this set meal type thing where you had to order a starter. I chose the pumpkin soup because it sounded weird. In fact, it was out of this world – like nothing I’d ever tasted before. The silkiness of the soup contrasted perfectly with its cracked black pepper seasoning. It made such an impression on me that pumpkin soup became a staple go-to recipe of mine, from my late teens onwards.
Pumpkin is the star ingredient in this recipe. As you can imagine, you need a decent quality pumpkin for the soup to taste good. Otherwise it’s likely to be watery, or a bit tasteless and fibrous. The standard orange jack-o-lantern pumpkins look cool, but they’ve usually not got much flavour. I used kabocha squash for my soup – it was soooo expensive because I didn’t read the label properly and I thought the per kilo cost was the actual cost! I’m actually glad of that mistake though; the soup it made was incredible. Other less costly pumpkins that work well include butternut squash and those blue/green skinned varieties you can find in most veg shops.
Kabocha are a Japanese squash. I think of them as pumpkins more than squash really because they’re pumpkin-sized and pumpkin-shaped. The only differences are that their outer skin is a dark green, and they have a creamy textured yellow-orange flesh. They are a winter squash, so they’re best eaten during colder months – which is great because they are perfect for roasting. Rather than eating them straight after being picked, you’re best off letting them mature for 1-3 months. This intensifies the flavour.
As a slight side note, I quite often grow pumpkins and squash. Most years, we have at least two or three different varieties – butternuts, sometimes beautiful ornamental ones, sometimes patty pan squash – those little yellow and pale green ones with scalloped edges that look like mini flying saucers. Pumpkins need quite a lot of space because they like to sprawl out, but they’re pretty simple to care for and you can tell when they’re ready to pick quite easily. I’d highly recommend growing them if you have the space; there’s something really magical about growing your own pumpkins.
Pumpkins are always traditionally associated with Halloween and Thanksgiving, but there are a range of varieties that you can harvest from early Autumn through to Winter. Pumpkin soup, I assume, came about as a way of using up extra pumpkins, as most soups are a way to use up surplus vegetables. In some cultures there are really specific versions of pumpkin soup that have their own particular histories. When researching, I found that North Africans have a longstanding tradition of making squash soups, that pumpkin soup was a staple meal for prisoners in the Vietnam war and that, with kabocha in particular, Koreans love to turn it into Danhobak-Juk – ‘kabocha porridge’.
WHAT YOU NEED
Where possible, try to buy local, seasonal, free range and organic ingredients. Apart from it being better to support local businesses and good farming practises, it does make a huge difference to the taste of your food!
1 large good quality pumpkin or squash (I used kabocha)
A handful of thyme sprigs (8-12)
4 garlic cloves
700ml chicken or vegetable stock
2 shallots, diced
A splash of white wine (optional)
1tsp butter (optional)
Maldon or sea salt and black pepper to taste
NB: My favourite way to eat this soup in Winter is with grilled cheese sandwiches, they go so well together!
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cooking Time: 45 mins
- Heat the oven to 200°C. Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds (you can clean and toast these separately if you wish). In the hollow of each half, add two garlic cloves and 3-4 thyme sprigs. Cover the surfaces of the pumpkin liberally with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Roast for 25-30 mins, until slightly browned on top.
- While the pumpkin is roasting, dice the shallots and fry them in the butter and a dash of oil on a low heat in a heavy bottomed cast iron pot. Once they are translucent, add a splash of wine. This step allows the shallots to caramelise a bit, and gives them a greater depth of flavour.
- Cook the shallots very gently until the pumpkin is ready. When it’s roasted, take it out of the oven and leave to cool a little. Squeeze out the roasted garlic into the cast iron pot and stir. Add in a few fresh thyme leaves (take them off the sprigs) if you want to enhance the thyme flavour. Scoop out the insides of the pumpkin – be careful, it’s hot! – and add it to the pot. Turn it up to a high heat and fry off the mixture for a couple of minutes, until fragrant. Pour in the stock and cook until the soup is gentle bubbling.
- Season to taste. Sometimes the soup is disintegrated enough to eat straight away, but if it still has small pieces of squash or garlic in it, you can blend it with a hand blender to get a smooth consistency.
- Serve hot with a sprinkle of black pepper. You can also top it with grated cheese, or add a spoonful of cream to mellow the flavour.
LF – this recipe is naturally lactose free, though you can add a touch of lactofree cream to it if you wish. If you decide to have it with grilled cheese sandwiches, use lactofree mature cheddar.
GF – this recipe is naturally gluten free (use gf bread for the grilled cheese if you decide to have that as an accompaniment).
V – this recipe is naturally vegetarian, so long as you use vegetable stock
Ve – Omit the butter and fry the shallots just in olive oil, use vegan cheese for the grilled cheese if you choose to have that as an accompaniment.