Gizmo dares you to try this soup.
I’ve always preferred the word ‘autumn’ to ‘fall’. It’s such a beautifully romantic word and rolls off the tongue with a sense of majesty which, for me, is exactly what the changing season deserves. ‘Fall,’ whilst apt (what do the leaves do? Duh) is just a little too short-syllabled, a little too basic for my tastes. No matter what you want to call it, with summer long gone and the cold months setting in (especially in London which had an unseasonably late summer and has now snapped to frosty attention), this season calls for root vegetables, warmth and comfort. And so to the humble pumpkin and this soup – warmth, comfort and deliciousness, all in one bowl. Perfection.
Pumpkins have long been sidelined for Halloween and Thanksgiving – my experience of it as a young ‘un was only as a decoration and a way to impress the neighbours when I discovered how fancy a carving could be. But pumpkin is much more than that. Is it sweet? Is it savoury? Frankly its indecision to fall into either category could be frustrating but I think it makes it pretty magical – c’mon, it’s a vegetable that can do anything. It’s like the Clark Kent of the vegetable world – one minute it’s an unassuming thing, sitting in the dirt, minding its own business, but wait, it’s all a front because the next minute, POW! It’s turning an ordinary meal into a meal with pizazz! It’s in a soup! It’s in a risotto! It’s in a pie, paired with sweet pecans, gingernut biscuits and topped with whipped cream! It was just pretending to be regular, after all! It even transformed into a carriage and took Cinderella to the ball – I mean, that is a vegetable you want to be friends with, no?
I made my first pumpkin pie when I was in my early teens. Found online, the recipe was disappointingly unoriginal, the suggested pumpkin canned and cloying. It gave off a smell which made me think of rotting vegetables and after one bite I pushed the plate away, a little green in the gills and my stomach churning. I entirely blame the canned pumpkin – it was simply disgusting. Seriously, why use a canned product – one that has been subject to extreme heat, extreme cold, additives, preservatives, bashed about and sat on a shelf for God knows how long – when making something fresh from scratch is so much more satisfying, nutritious and delicious? And come on, pureed pumpkin? That’s not exactly rocket science. Just cut it in half, shove it in the oven for 45 mins, scrape out the flesh and puree with an immersion blender/food processor/masher/fork. Eezy.
Since discovering that homemade pumpkin puree is that much better on the taste buds and for the soul, I have been a pumpkin recipe experimentation fiend. Last year I made a pumpkin, pancetta and red bean cream filled cake, accompanied by pumpkin cream filled choux pastry mice, as one of my entries for Foodbuzz‘s Project Food Blog (the round I was eliminated in) and the amount of pumpkin I went through over those couple of weeks was ridiculous. Test after test ensued, pumpkin after pumpkin was roasted and pureed, and I taste tested so many attempts that by the end of it I practically had pumpkin coming out of every pore. It was enough to put me off the orange little buggers for life… but luckily a year is a long time to forget the stress of pumpkin creations and get me planning a 3-course all-pumpkin Halloween meal.
When I decided upon a pumpkin soup starter, I knew that it had to be a little bit special. Sure, pumpkin’s great but with an all-pumpkin meal you’ve got to mix it up a little or suffer the consequences (food boredom – the worst type of boredom). But what to do? I had very fond memories of a pumpkin and shrimp bisque enjoyed in Hong Kong a few years ago; I remembered the smooth texture of the liquid, the chunks of pumpkin and succulent shrimp hiding at the bottom. It was a soup I enjoyed so much, in fact, I had eaten my portion and my brother’s (he being neither a shrimp nor a pumpkin fan). Once I locked in to the memory it was easy: a pumpkin and shrimp bisque was where it was at.
This particular bisque has the gorgeously smooth pumpkin texture as well as the obligatory cream finish, but is amped up with cayenne pepper and bites of plump, juicy shrimp (you must get these raw and fresh). It’s easy to make and goes down a treat but please, do yourself a favour and puree your own pumpkin – don’t make me come over there and tell you twice, child.
For the stock:
1 tbsp olive oil
60 ml dry sherry
350 ml chicken stock (homemade is best but you can use ready made or a stock cube as a last resort)
Pinch of saffron threads
1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
1/2 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
2 dried bay leaves
2-3 sprigs fresh sage
For the soup:
1 small pumpkin, halved, seeds removed, cleaned and reserved (when cooked, puree should be about 340 g)
1-2 tbsps olive oil
60 ml double cream, plus 2-3 tbsps reserved
1/2 tsp salt, plus extra for seasoning
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
Juice of half a lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
For the shrimp:
225 g fresh, raw, whole shrimp
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1. Make the pureed pumpkin: pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Lay the pumpkin halves on a sheet pan, cut sides down and roast in the oven for about 45 mins (depending on the size of the pumpkin, this timing is good for a small pumpkin). Check that it’s cooked through with a fork – it should pierce the skin and flesh easily with no resistance. Remove from the oven, scrape the flesh away from the skin with a spoon and place in a heatproof bowl. Use an immersion blender (or food processor, masher or fork) to puree the flesh completely. Set aside.
2. Make the toasted pumpkin seeds: toss the cleaned seeds with olive oil, salt and pepper, then spread on a baking sheet. Place into the preheated oven for about 20 mins, remove and set aside.
3. Make the stock: peel and devein shrimp, reserving the shells. Pop the shrimp into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate until ready to cook.
4. Heat the tablespoon of olive oil over a high heat in a large saucepan until it begins to smoke, then add the shrimp shells to the pan, stirring constantly until a deep orange and beginning to brown (3-4 mins).
5. Reduce the heat to low then add the sherry and stir to deglaze the pan. Turn heat up to medium and boil until the alcohol has evaporated. Add the chicken stock, saffron, celery, onion, bay leaves and sage, bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 30 mins, partially covering the pan.
6. Strain the stock through a sieve, pushing down on the solids to ensure you haven’t lost any liquid. Rinse the pan then pour the strained stock back in.
7. For the soup: over a medium heat, whisk in the reserved pureed pumpkin, cream, salt and cayenne pepper. Allow the soup to come to a simmer then turn the heat down to low for 10 mins (uncovered).
8. For the prawns: in a large frying pan, add the olive oil over a medium heat then add the refrigerated shrimp and sage, tossing often until the shrimp is just cooked through, pink and opaque (2-3 mins). Cut into small pieces (if desired) and place at the bottom of the bowls.
9. Finish the soup: take off the heat, immediately stir through the lemon juice then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Ladle over the shrimp pieces in the bowls, dip a spoon into the reserved double cream and swirl into the soup to create a pattern. Finish by garnishing with the reserved toasted pumpkin seeds, a little freshly ground black pepper and serve hot.
And finally, a little off-topic but I made a little video for you all. The response to my last (very emo) post about health business was completely overwhelming and I’m very thankful to you all for the good thoughts, vibes, prayers and all of the other gifts you sent. I’m a very lucky girl to be surrounded by so many incredible people. So this is for you – enjoy my warblings and terrible uke playing.
Until next time, peace and love.