The conversation turned to food, of course, specifically favourite soups, and we unanimously concluded that pumpkin soup ticked the boxes. One, because it is particularly easy to make. Two, because almost everybody loves it. And, three, for all of us, pumpkin soup is associated with memories of our first ‘grown-up’ dinner parties in flats or share houses of our youth. Back in those days, however, pumpkin soup was quite a different creature, made by sautéing onion in lashings of butter, finished with far too much fresh cream and, as some of us remember, the recipe involved chicken stock cubes which were full of salt and MSG. We have moved on… Our dietary and taste preferences can no longer accommodate so much saturated fat in a single bowl of soup. The stock, by preference, is home-made. The onion is lightly fried in olive oil. The pumpkins, too, are different nowadays with hybrid varieties that are smaller and easier to cut than the big old monsters we used to know.
This is a self-sown vine that came up in the shrubbery where I spread compost-bin mulch last year. It has crept, triffid-like, out into the full sun on the lawn. I don’t know what type it is but we’re calling it a Jap (which stands for Just Another Pumpkin), and the pumpkins should be ready by mid-winter. It generally takes 5 or 6 months from planting to picking - which is a long time for a lawn-lover to put up an unmown patch, though there is something quite calming about watching the big yellow flowers open, then set, and week by week to see the tiny pumpkins grow into the real things.
So, perhaps the world does not think it needs another recipe for pumpkin soup, but this Ten-Minute Roast Pumpkin version is a family hit and it will be doubly satisfying to make it from my own crop. The sugars in the onion and pumpkin are caramelised by pan-frying, which enriches the flavours so we don’t need to do the butter-and-cream thing or use stock to make the soup tasty.
ROAST PUMPKIN SOUP
Time: 10 minutes cooking.
Preparation time: depends on pumpkin-peeling skills. However, to save time, dice onion first then prepare pumpkin while onion is cooking. De-seed pumpkin by scraping out with side of a sturdy spoon rather than the flat blade of a knife.
Serves 4 with bread as a satisfying lunch, especially with a bowl of finger-food salad on the table.
You will need: Large saucepan or deep frypan with lid; cutting board, large knife, dessert spoon for seeding pumpkin; blender or stick-mixer.
1 large onion, diced
½ Jap or Kent or Jarrahdale, or whole butternut or sunrise; cut and peeled (about 1kg)
1 large scrubbed potato, unpeeled and diced (about 1 cup)
salt and pepper
1. Begin to pan fry onion in 40 ml olive oil (a good big slurp).
2. Peel and de-seed pumpkin.
3. When onion is soft and turning golden brown, push to one side of pan. Pack in the pumpkin, standing on edge, flat side to the pan (no need to add more oil).
3. Place diced potato on top of pumpkin pieces (this will start the potato steaming) and cover with lid. Cook on moderate heat until under side of pumpkin is browning (about 5 minutes).
4. Add 2 cups water; cook further few minutes until vegetables are soft.
5. Blitz in blender or in the pot with stick-mixer. Taste; add salt (start with scant ¼ teaspoon) and freshly ground black pepper. Serve and enjoy.
|Whatever did we do before stick-mixers?|
This is quite a dark soup. Add cream if desired but it may make it look like a mud puddle. Instead, use some grated hard cheese such as Parmesan or Romero, and a sprinkle of chopped herbs.
Now, because I have some time and space, I am including a more traditional method for a good pumpkin soup using chicken stock. The recipe is a modified version of Crème de Poitron I found in a 1947 French cookbook that belonged to my mother.
BASIC BOILED PUMPKIN SOUP (with CREAM)
In a large saucepan combine 2 cups good-quality stock, 1 kg diced pumpkin, large diced onion, 1- 2 diced potatoes, salt and pepper, and 1 rounded teaspoon butter. Add water if needed to just cover vegetables. Boil until soft. Puree. Then serve with a dollop of light sour cream stirred into each bowl (the original recipe asks for buttery fresh cream, and the stock must be freshly made).
FRESH HOME-MADE CHICKEN STOCK
In a wide saucepan or deep fry pan lightly fry together 1 diced onion, whole peeled garlic clove, and the skin, fat, wing tips and any bones trimmed from fresh chicken that would otherwise go in the bin.
When golden and glistening, add 1 cup water, grind of pepper, a bay leaf &/or sprig of rosemary, if you have them. Simmer 10 minutes, then lift out the chicken with a slotted spoon and discard. Pour the stock into small heat-proof bowl. Cool on bench before refrigerating. A layer of chicken fat with rise to the top of the stock, and when cold will solidify into a soft white sheet that can be easily peeled from the jellied stock. Label and freeze in small stackable containers. (The flavour of ‘real’ stock is so much better than anything that comes in a packet or box. It does not intrude on other flavours in a dish but enhances subtly.)
FROGBLOG RANT: Here at frogblog headquarters, we do not like THOUGHTLESS waste. Life is too busy to be wasting time; resources are too finite to waste gas, power and water; arable land is too limited for the casual food wastage of western living; and health too precious for wasting ourselves on junk. During the life of Town and Country Frog Blog, versions of this mantra will reappear from time to time, from post to post, like jangling notes in a piece of music. We are not fundamental about this - we do have appliance-rich lives, make the most of the petrol-driven engine, and enjoy the benefits of a good hot-water system. But we do object to thoughtlessness - the taking for granted of human effort and other energy that provide our privileges. We object to filling the wheelie bin with single-use plastic food containers and to throwing away chicken scraps, then writing ‘Chicken Stock’ on the grocery list.
And we not very fond of canned soup either.
FRESH TOMATO SOUP (1)
A vitamin-rich meal-in-a-bowl, thickened naturally by the starch in the potato.
Boil together for 15 minutes 2 cups home-made chicken stock, 1 cup water (or 1 cup stock and 2 cups water), 2 cups diced ripe tomato, 2 diced scrubbed unpeeled potatoes and a sprig of rosemary. Remove rosemary. Mash or puree. Add salt and pepper to taste.
FRESH TOMATO SOUP 2 (VEGETARIAN VERSION)
In large saucepan, lightly fry 1 diced onion and some garlic in a little olive oil. Add 2-3 cups diced ripe tomato and cook until mushy. Add 2 diced scrubbed potatoes, sprig of rosemary and 2 cups water, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 10 minutes. Remove rosemary. Mash or puree. So easy! So healthy.
FROGBLOG TIP: For soup and stews, buy cheap overripe or brushed/blemished tomatoes when on special or marked down. Put them whole or diced into the freezer and use when needed, adding to the pot without necessarily thawing them first. After freezing, the fresh tomatoes have a taste and texture similar to canned tomatoes.
Next: A WALK AROUND THE GARDEN to look at ROSEMARY.
Coming up: A couple of delicious one-pot meals; easy-to-make bacon stock; and a look at growing old-fashioned garden mint.
Written and compiled by two frogs