It is that time of year when my cooking is populated with soups. They are great for using up slightly too tough or slightly too old vegetables. And in the Netherlands, it is practically compulsory to have soup and a sandwich for lunch, whatever the weather outside. I am likely to be making quite a few more before the winter is out.
This year, I lost my young pumpkin plants to something, most likely slug-shaped. However, the chard has been going strong for a while now. As I would ordinarily be feasting on my own pumpkins, I have decided that it is not really cheating to add this to the ‘Farmed’ category.
I like my soups quite chunky, and my greens slightly underdone – having been subjected to many an overboiled brassica in my youth. You may prefer to pre cook or even use frozen greens in this soup, and chop or blend them a bit finer. This soup keeps very well in the fridge, and should also freeze well, although I have not tried it.
This soup is easily adaptable for vegetarians, just omit the bacon, and fry the onion in olive oil. I would suggest that you add slightly more smoked paprika at the end instead of the bacon.
Recipe: Pumkin, Bacon & Swiss Chard Soup
450 g pumpkin
A pinch dried chilli flakes
2-3 cloves garlic
2 tsp lemon thyme leaves, plus stalks
1 medium onion, finely chopped
500 ml stock (veg or chicken)
200 g Swiss chard (spinach would also work well, or maybe a savoy cabbage – it needs to be an iron-rich green vegetable)
200 g bacon, diced
80 ml white wine (optional)
Nutmeg and smoked paprika to taste
Heat the oven to 180°C. Cut the pumpkin in half or quarters, depending on the size and type of your pumpkin. Essentially, it has to fit in a roasting tin. You should leave the skin on. Sprinkle with a little oil (any type except your best olive oil) and season with salt, pepper, and the dried chilli. Rub the thyme sprigs over the pumpkin, and tuck the stalks into the dish as well. It may seem like a pain, but it will save you having to remove the stalks from the soup later. Put the garlic cloves inside or between the pumpkin. No need to remove the papery cover, this will come off much easier when the garlic has been roasted.
Roast the pumpkin in the oven, until the flesh is dry, and it comes away from the skin easily. The time this takes will depend on which type of pumpkin that you use.
Roasting the pumpkin concentrates the flavour a bit. If you don’t have an oven, like many people who I know, you can still use the pumpkin without roasting. just add the thyme to the pot when you sweat the onion, and the pumpkin and the chilli flakes when you add the (now chopped, not roasted) garlic. You will also need to let the pumpkin simmer for longer, until it is tender. Obviously, peel the pumpkin before you add it. No one likes a soup full of skin.
While the pumpkin is cooking, prepare the other vegetables and the bacon. I like the stalks of the chard, but they take much longer to cook than the leaves, so I cut the stalks out, and kept them separate to the leaves. You may decide not to use them, or use spinach. Up to you. Whatever you use needs to be chopped up. How fine you want it is also up to you. I sliced the stalks thinly and the leaves a bit thicker.
Fry the bacon in a deep saucepan. I don’t bother using oil, as the bacon will render its own fat pretty quickly – just keep it moving so that it doesn’t burn.With a slotted spoon, drain the bacon onto kitchen paper, but be sure to retain the fat.
Sweat the onion in some of the bacon fat (you may not need it all). If you are making this a veggie soup, sweat the onion in a little oil. Either way, don’t let it colour.
Add the garlic from the roasting pan, which should slip easily from their skins now. No need to chop them. Add the wine at this point, if you are using it. A glug is fine. Let it cook off and absorb into the onions.
Add the smoked paprika. I usually use about a teaspoon, but this will depend on your taste, and whether or not you are using bacon. Let it cook off briefly while you remove the skin from the pumpkin. This should come off easily with a spoon. Break it into rough lumps, and add to the pan with the onion. Allow it to cook briefly, and take on a paprika coating.
Add the stock, and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
I blended the soup at this stage, but if you prefer a less chunky soup, then you could also blend it after you have added the chard. After the soup was well blended, and smooth, I brought it back to a simmer, and grated in some nutmeg, until it tasted like there was enough in there.
Then I added the stalks of the chard, covered and let it simmer for about 5 minutes before I added the leaves, and allowed them to wilt. If you use spinach, or just the leaves of chard, then this bit will be shorter. If you are using savoy cabbage, I suggest parboiling it a little first before you add it to the soup.
Add the bacon back to the soup, and adjust seasoning to taste.
I served this with a swirl of double cream. You can leave this out if you like, because it is a smooth and unctuous soup without it.