This deliciously creamy soup will bring some much needed warmth to those chilly Autumn days, says Rosa Jackson
I always have trouble accepting the end of summer. I would like the tomato plants to keep producing sweet, vine-ripened fruits all year, and my supply of fragrant Cavaillon melons from Provence never to dry up. Much as I love crisp apples and silky pears, they cannot compare to the frank sensuality of a peach at its peak. Fortunately, a few things make the transition to cooler nights easier to bear: bunches of deep purple muscat grapes, earthy cep mushrooms from the mountains behind Nice and the first bowl of pumpkin soup, as comforting as a cardigan when the breeze picks up.
The most common French variety – called musqué de Provence – has muted orange-grey skin and thick, deep orange flesh. Because it’s so large, this ribbed pumpkin is usually sold in wedges. Other varieties have been popping up at market stalls in recent years, one of the most popular being the potimarron, which loosely translates as chestnut squash. Known as kabocha squash in English, this Asian variety has a dense, slightly dry flesh reminiscent of chestnut, and a sweet but not sugary taste.
I particularly love it for soup as it doesn’t need to be peeled, and pairs equally well with French and Asian flavours. Usually an orange colour with a pointy tip, it can also have dark green skin. In Nice I also see a squash (technically a vegetable marrow) called trompette de Nice, which starts the season as a pale green, striped courgette with a slightly bulbous end before turning dark green and finally orange, at which point it can weigh several kilograms. The darker the flesh the sweeter it will be, though this squash has a subtler taste than the musqué de Provence or potimarron.
When it comes to soup, nothing beats roasting to deepen the character of the squash and add a caramelised dimension. Once the squash and onions are soft and browned they need only to be blended with stock and your chosen flavourings. Because of its smooth sweetness, pumpkin soup needs a little imagination to take it from good to great. Earthy garnishes such as wild mushrooms and fried slices of black pudding work well, as do zingy elements such as fresh ginger or orange zest and juice. Croutons or roasted pumpkin seeds are a good idea, as are sliced chives. Although a spoonful of double cream or crème fraîche is arguably essential, too much dairy can overwhelm the flavour of the pumpkin. When I’m using Asian spices such as Thai red curry paste, I add a little coconut milk. There is nothing better than this spiced-up soup to make me forget that the days are getting shorter.
800g/1lb 13oz squash (pumpkin or another variety)
1 red onion
2tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 sprig rosemary
375-500ml/11⁄2-2 cups vegetable or chicken stock (I like the Kallø organic onion soup stock cubes)
1tbsp crème fraîche
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Peel the squash if necessary (depending on the variety) and cut it into 2.5cm/1in chunks. Cut the red onion into six or eight wedges depending on the size.
3. Place the squash and onion in a large roasting tin and toss with the oil, herbs and a sprinkling of sea salt, keeping the pumpkin on one side and the onion on the other. Roast for 25-30 minutes, until soft and browned, but not burnt. Remove the red onions a little earlier if necessary.
4. Place the squash and onions in a saucepan with 375ml of stock. Heat until almost boiling, then liquidise with a stick blender (or transfer to a blender). Thin with a little more stock if necessary. Stir in the crème fraîche and adjust the seasonings.
5. Serve with garnishes such as croutons, chopped chives, another spoonful of crème fraîche, sautéed mushrooms, chestnuts, crisp pancetta or browned slices of black pudding.
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