I love autumn, but my immune system does not. Throughout hot summer months, I long for chill, brisk walks, occasional torrential rain, and the arrival of the hot chestnut sellers on the approach to St Paul’s. But then they appear, and without fail, I am poorly. If I’m lucky, it’s just a cold, that drags on interminably, slogging its way alongside me through the months. If not, it’s a the full complement of –ituses, my larynx, pharynx, and bronchials simultaneously swelling up like Violet Beauregarde after a blueberry binge. I sit, wrapped up in a scarf, frantically applying lip balm, gazing forlornly at empty blister packs and wondering when I’ll get my next Strepsil hit.
The saddest part for me, a greedy, gutsy woman, whose principal pleasure is food, and whose days are measured by meals, is a complete loss of appetite.
This then is the remedy: smoky pumpkin and bacon soup, slightly charred, sweet golden-orange vegetables, blitzed with vibrant smoked paprika, chilli and autumnal herbs, with a deep savouriness coming from the bacon. It will resurrect the appetite and enthusiasm of the most pathetic cold-sufferer.
Forget honey and lemon, or buckets of orange juice. Berocca won’t save you now, but a bowl of this will. This soup will soothe the rawest of throats, and inject into you more vitamin C than a lemonade stand. And it’s sufficiently straightforward that you can throw it together, even with a stinking cold.
It’s also, helpfully, totally delicious. Even the colour of this soup is joyous and reviving. Pumpkins, when chopped up, are not particularly appealing. They have a very hard texture that looks like it will never yield, and they’re surprisingly pallid compared to their skin. And they also smell quite unpleasant. But have faith: roasting pumpkin transforms it. This is the Rumplestiltskin of soups: it will turn your straw yellow raw pumpkin into spun gold.
Obviously, if you are not being a self-pitying wet blanket, wrapped up in three literal blankets, and are in fact celebrating Halloween, this is a perfect recipe to use up pumpkins. As I sit here sipping Lemsip, snuffling, I’m going to imagine you surrounded by pumpkin flesh, as you carve intricate, topical designs into giant pumpkins, wholesomely sipping this soup.
1. Choosing your pumpkin: I use munchkin pumpkins because a decent sized munchkin pumpkin is about the right size for this batch of soup, but any edible pumpkin would be fine (and if you’re looking for a use for the flesh scooped out a ripe carving pumpkin, you can do much worse than this soup). A note: the flesh of munchkin pumpkins can look and smell disconcertingly like cantaloupe melons. Have faith. Roast and all will be well.
2. Preparing the pumpkin: use a non-slip surface, a large, heavy knife and be very careful – do not expect your knife to go all the way through the first time. It is easiest, I think, to peel the pumpkin once you’ve cut it into chunks, and use a paring knife, cleaning up any scrappy bits with a speedy peeler. The skin is quite tough, and, the corrugation of the pumpkin makes it tricky for speed peelers. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, the peel will come off far easier after baking.
3. Pumpkin seeds: These are a bit of a pain to deal with as they’re sticky and gloopy, but they’re wonderful baked. Scoop out with a spoon when preparing the pumpkin and set to one side. Rinse in a sieve and pull off any big bits of pumpkin flesh clinging to them. Lay out on a small baking tray, drizzle with oil (about half a tablespoon), and sprinkle with salt. Shuffle the tray to evenly distribute the oil. Once you’ve finished roasting the veg and turned the oven off, put the tray in the cooling oven for 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they can start popping. Once crispy, remove and allow to cool slightly.
It goes like this:
Smoky Pumpkin Soup
Makes: 5 hearty portions
Takes: 15 minutes
Bakes: 1 hour
1 smallish pumpkin, ideally a medium-sized munchkin pumpkin
4-8 rashers of smoky streaky bacon
4 cloves garlic
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/4 tsp dried thyme
850ml of chicken or vegetable stock
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a fairly deep baking tray with tin foil.
2. Peel all your vegetables, and chop into chunks about 1.5 inches squared (peel the garlic, but leave it whole). Throw into a baking tray and snip bacon into similarly sized portions, draping it directly over the top of the vegetables. Sprinkle all four of your herbs and spices over the top, season, and drizzle generously with oil.
3. Roast the vegetables for 45-60 minutes. You want the vegetables tender and charred to bring out the smoky taste, but not incinerated. If needs be, towards the end of cooking, place a baking sheet on a higher oven shelf to protect the veg from direct heat.
4. Allow to cool slightly. Tip into a big, high sided casserole dish if using a stick blender, or decant directly into a juicer or food processor if you’re better equipped than me.
5. Gently blitz the vegetables whilst slowly adding the stock (if you’re not used to a stick blender: make sure it’s properly submerged, and do very short blasts to avoid covering yourself in hot pumpkin).
6. Reheat to piping hot just before heating. This will sit happily in the fridge for four days.
7. Ta dah!
Icing on the Cake
We ate this with grated sharp cheddar, crunchy pumpkin seeds piled on top, and a doorstep slice of spelt bread.