Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pumpkin hurling and soup making

Pumpkin sounds, and looks, like something straight out of a fairy tale. But it’s one of the few foods I really dislike – except for pumpkin soup, with its beautiful thick smoothness and gorgeous orange colour.
Home-made soup must be just about the easiest, cheapest, healthiest and most enjoyable way to do what the nutritionists are always telling us – eat more veges.

One of the very best soup guides is home-made too: the invaluable Digby Law’s Soup Cookbook.  It was in its 2nd edition and 7th reprint by the time I bought it in 1995. Happily (and most unusually) you can still buy it, along with Law’s Vegetable Cookbook (which I use even more often) and his Pickle and Chutney Cookbook, because all three were republished in 2007, twenty years after their author’s passing. (The only section I never use is “Chilled Soups”. The dreadful, ubiquitous 1970s fashion - yes, I was guilty of it too - for these, mostly a very vague take on gazpacho, has mercifully ended and should never be revived.)

Good soup-making, wrote Digby, “is just as much an art as good bread or cake-making, meat cookery or vegetable cookery”. And soups have one great attraction for busy cooks: “they can usually be made well in advance”. His method for pumpkin soup (shown on the cover of the new edition, left) takes this a step further: the basic mix can be turned into lots of different soups. We don’t have much freezer space, so I make a smaller version producing about 1.5 litres. And I’ve come up with a much easier way of dealing with the pumpkin, which is also highly therapeutic.

Pumpkin Soup Base (adapted from Digby Law)
1 small pumpkin (or half a larger one)
1 large or 2 medium carrots
1 large potato
1 large or 2 medium onions
(The original recipe also had bacon rinds or bones, but I don’t think these are necessary. If you want a bacon flavour you can add it later.)

Find a patch of concrete or asphalt and hurl the pumpkin strongly to the ground, while picturing the person who annoys you the most and shouting “Take that, you so-and-so” (insert favourite term of abuse). The pumpkin will split into two or more pieces. If you get big ones, throw the pieces down again to break them up. Remove seeds and the soft fibrous flesh around them (or clean them off the concrete).

Wash the pieces and cut them into roughly even biggish chunks so they fit into a large microwaveable ceramic or glass dish. Add about ¼ cup of water, cover the dish loosely and microwave on high until the pumpkin is semi-soft, starting with 2 minutes and adding 1 minute at a time. (On my microwave I use the “fresh vegetables” setting.) When the chunks are cool enough to handle, peel them with a potato peeler and set aside.

Peel and chop the carrots, potato and onions. Put in a large saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer, covered, until they are semi-tender. Add the pumpkin and cook until all the veges are very tender. Drain, leave to cool and puree in a blender or food processor. Season well with salt and white pepper (so there are no little black specks).

This gives a thick mixture which can have various flavours added, and be thinned with milk, reduced white wine, various kinds of fresh juice, or stock (but watch out for the level of salt). My favourite flavourings (and “thinners”):
• Good curry powder, gently sweated with finely chopped onion/garlic/ginger before adding the base and thinning (milk, coconut milk)
• Tomato puree, passata or paste, with bacon if you like – chopped and fried gently in its own fat first (stock, white wine)
• Freshly grated orange zest, softened in a little butter, and a small spoonful of honey (orange juice)
• Cream or yoghurt stirred in just before serving
• Finely chopped herbs – parsley, coriander, chives, lovage

The cleverly named SoupSong website is entirely devoted to soup. It’s just morphed into a blog, but its recipe backlist has an unusual, really good Turkish pumpkin soup, with the wonderful name of Balkabagi Corbasi. It uses a leek, is flavoured with garlic, allspice, cinnamon and honey, and has a spoonful of thick plain yoghurt stirred into each plateful just before serving. But you could use the base above and just add the flavourings.


Deborah said...

Find a patch of concrete or asphalt and hurl the pumpkin strongly to the ground, while picturing the person who annoys you the most and shouting “Take that, you so-and-so” (insert favourite term of abuse).

I was hoping that this was going to be your secret technique. I do this too, and have done for years, especially if I have a thick-skinned Queensland Blue to deal with.

I've taken to roasting the vegies (onions, pumkins, a small tatie or two, for 40 minutes or so before putting them in the stock to simmer. It seems to intensify the flavour. I often add a can of tomatoes, and usually a couple of bay leaves. I love pumpkin soup.

Is that your green bowl? I have a bad case of green-bowl-envy...

AnneE said...

Glad to find a sister hurler! I've only got four of these green Portuguese bowls and plates and a couple of serving dishes. But it isn't very durable and mine is getting chipped. I used to get it at a shop in Mt Eden - my birthday conveniently coincided with their annual sale and birthday money from my mother. Now it's really expensive and the basket pattern seems to have gone.