Serve up some autumn comfort

As the nights draw in and temperatures drop comfort food tops our menu and little hits the spot quite like homemade soup.


Now is the time to turn your autumn harvest into bowls of heart-warming flavour. Pod the last few French beans that have grown too big and use them in minestrone or vegetable soups.


Roast tomatoes and add basil or tarragon for a last taste of summer. Combine beetroot with onion, carrot and cabbage to create a vibrant borscht.


It may be the month for Halloween, but pumpkins deserve much more than merely being turned into ghoulish faces.


They are a favourite with me both in the vegetable garden and the kitchen where just a little preparation transforms them into silky smooth soups full of flavour.


One of the best to grow is ‘Crown Prince’. The skin is a beautiful blue-grey, while the flesh is a vibrant orange. Best of all, it stores well and, kept in a cool, frost-free place will easily last until spring. Just make sure you cut it with an inch of stalk still on the fruit to help the storage process.


Pumpkins are sown in late spring, along with other members of the cucurbits family, such as courgettes. Plants are best started under cover in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill. The seeds are large and should be planted side-on to prevent rotting.


Keep potting the plants on until they can be planted out when the risk of frost is past. Plant them in a small depression so that any water runs down towards the stem – these are thirsty vegetables.


Most pumpkins, including ‘Crown Prince’, tend to sprawl and can ramble across large areas of the kitchen garden. Try growing them under sweetcorn or up wigwams of sturdy poles.


Keep them on the plant for as long as possible to ripen the skins but make sure you harvest them before the first frost.


Here’s one way you can use them.


Pumpkin soup

1 pumpkin weighing around 1.8Kgs/4lbs

1 large onion

1 clove of garlic

600ml/1 pint vegetable stock

300ml/0.5 pints milk

Nutmeg

Salt and pepper

Grated blue cheese to serve.


Method

Heat your oven to 200°C. Peel the pumpkin and remove the seeds. Dice the flesh into 2cm cubes. Peel and rough chop the onion. Heat 2tbs of oil in a tray. Put the pumpkin and onion into the oil and turn to coat thoroughly. Roast until soft.


Transfer the roasted pumpkin and onion to a heavy-based, large saucepan. Add the crushed garlic, stock, milk, salt and pepper and a little grated nutmeg. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes.


Allow to cool slightly, then blend until smooth.


Serve with a good helping of grated blue cheese. If you don’t like blue cheese, fontina or a strong-flavoured cheddar make good alternatives.


Inspired by Delia Smith’s Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Melting Cheese

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