According to the BBC's Wheel of Hunger Pumpkin Soup is the most searched for recipe this week. Look no further, this is a sublime soup and ethereally beautiful to boot. I heard Heston Blumenthal on Women's Hour last week - yes I'm obsessed but it was actually by chance. He was talking about the delights of this soup and its relative simplicity to make and its resulting complexity when you taste it. With the recipe posted on the BBC site (I seem to be getting my licence fee's worth this week) I couldn't resist.
I love pumpkin, always have. It's a wonderful veg to roast or mash with cream, its vibrant colour brings joy to curries and soups, particularly this time of year as the days get shorter and colder and wetter. We ate it a lot when I was a kid, my mother was a huge fan, with a particular fondness for a type called Queensland Blue. It's a huge beast with steel blue skin and riotously orange flesh, with a good texture and not too sweet. It's only negative is the skin is spectacularly difficult to cut through - I was endlessly trapping a big knife halfway through cutting unable to take it further or get it out again.
Friday I set out to hunt me a piece of pumpkin, a proper tasty thing like we used to eat. I knew Brixton Market would have a good selection and would cut me a hunk to match my specifications. Though there was no chance of the Aussie favourite I was looking for similar - and found a lovely steel blue specimen that turns out is called Crown Prince. Smaller and neater it still has a wonderfully ridged exterior and a smooth orange interior. Perfect. For some reason I assumed it would be easier to peel than the ones of my youth but no, just as infuriatingly difficult as I remember. But worth it.
I was faithful to the Heston version Friday night, coating the inside of the bowls with a nubbly aromatic mix of rosemary, breadcrumbs and hazelnuts but for lunch next day I simply toasted some nuts and crushed them before scattering them over the soup with dots of pepper oil and a light sprinkle of salt chrystals.
This is a wonderfully complex soup with incredible depth of flavour. I must warn you to start early - it takes a while to put it all together but you will be richly rewarded. I can imagine it served in tiny bowls at the start of a long meal, perfect for Christmas Day perhaps at the end of a long bracing walk.
Pumpkin Soup by Heston
It seems odd to weigh liquids but it's actually quick and easy
850g Pumpkin flesh
250g Unsalted butter
3 Onions, peeled and finely sliced
400g Whole milk
4 sprigs of rosemary
Pinch of cayenne pepper
40g Sesame oil (or to taste)
40g Balsamic vinegar (or to taste)
20g Hazelnuts, toasted until golden brown
½ sprig of rosemary
20g coarse dry breadcrumbs
1 tbsp melted brown butter (see tip below)
1 Red pepper, de-seeded, roasted and peeled, then cut into diamonds
Red pepper oil (see tip below)
Thinly slice half of the pumpkin on a mandolin and cut the other half into large cubes. Roast the large cubes of pumpkin drizzled with a little olive oil at 180 for 40 minutes.
Melt 200g of the butter in the saucepan and sweat the onions and pumpkin slices for approximately 10 minutes.
In the meantime, in a second pan, heat the milk until almost simmering. Turn off the heat, add the rosemary, allow to infuse for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid and discard the rosemary.
When the onions are translucent, add the rosemary milk, 600g cold tap water and the roasted pumpkin, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes until the sliced pumpkin is soft. Remove from the heat, liquidize and pass through a fine sieve. Season with cayenne, sesame oil, balsamic vinegar and salt.
When ready to serve, combine the toasted hazelnuts with the rosemary and blitz to a coarse powder. Combine with the breadcrumbs. Brush the inside rim of the soup bowls with the brown butter and coat with the hazelnut and rosemary mixture.
Place some red pepper diamonds and pumpkin seeds in the bottom of each bowl.
Warm the soup, add the remaining 50g of butter and aerate with a hand blender. Ladle into the nut-encrusted bowls and garnish with drops of red pepper oil.
Melt unsalted butter in a medium pan over a gentle heat, whisking continuously, until the solids turn golden brown and give off a nutty aroma. Take the pan off the heat immediately, strain the butter through a coffee filter and store in the fridge.
Red pepper oil
1 Red pepper, de-seeded, roasted and peeled
100g Groundnut or grapeseed oil
Put the pepper and oil in a liquidizer and blitz until fine.
Strain through a fine sieve and pour into a bottle. Keep in the fridge for 4-5 days only.