Road-testing Heston’s recipe for pumpkin soup from his book, Heston Blumenthal at Home.
I bloody love Halloween. Some years we celebrate it by stumbling round Pendle Hill in the dark looking for fictional white witch ceremonies, others with horror DVDs & snacks.
My other half is the expert when it comes to fun Halloween food. My best effort was accidentally feeding “witches hair” squid ink spaghetti to a vegetarian.
Since it’s the most iconic Halloween food, pumpkin soup will end up on our menu every so often -usually from some chiller-cabinet carton. And every single time it’ll be absolutely disgusting: acrid and bitter despite massive amounts of garlic or cumin -more horrifying than whatever film we’re watching. After a few polite sips we’ll pour it down the sink so we can forget about it and make the same mistake a couple of years later.
I assume everyone else thinks pumpkin tastes revolting. That’s why we give most of them to kids to hack to bits. Then leave them outdoors to rot. Anything to avoid eating them.
Recipe: Previously available on FT.com. PDF copy here. Published in Heston at Home.
Special Equipment: Mandolin
Special Ingredients: Sesame oil
Time: 1½ – 2 hours
Cost: Under £5
Serves: 4 – 6
The main ingredient list is pretty simple. Pumpkin, onion, milk, a bit of rosemary, some tap water and butter.
Lots of butter, in fact. I was doing the math on how much there was per portion and had flashbacks of the saturated-fatpocalypse of Heston’s Christmas dinner recipe we did in 2010.
STEP 1: Chopping the Pumpkin
For “a more interesting range of pumpkin flavours” Heston wants you to chop & roast half the pumpkin, and slice the rest on a mandolin for frying. I badly underestimated how long this would take.
We started by opening it up as if we were trying to carve it and then scooping out the seeds and stringy bits. It was far easier to just hack it into a lot of manageable chunks then slice off the inner and outer layers. Sharpen your knives beforehand.
STEP 2: Cooking the Pumpkin
The roast pumpkin takes 45 minutes. If you were pressed for time (like me) and a lot more organised (not like me) you could chop the first half of the pumpkin, bung it in the oven, then get on with slicing the rest.
The other half is fried in, gulp, TWO-HUNDRED grammes of butter. Softening the pumpkin was meant to take ten minutes but mine needed about twice that.
STEP 3: Combining
Pretty simple. Along with the roasted pumpkin 600ml tap water, some rosemary and –to keep the fat level up- 400ml of whole milk go in for another 10 minutes on the stove.
While the oven is free you can toast your hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds for finishing the dish.
STEP 4: Blending and Sieving
This step is in every single one of Heston’s soup recipes, and it really does work. If you don’t believe me taste your soup before and after sieving. It really does give you the velvety, luxurious texture Heston claims. Use the finest mesh sieve you have, and muslin if you have some.
STEP 5: Finishing the dish
We were just about organised enough to have blitzed the herb & hazelnut breadcrumbs and chopped the red peppers beforehand. To make things a little bit easier for ourselves we used roasted red peppers from a jar. Jamie Oliver uses them, so they must be ok, right? (Answer: No)
Despite a lot of final blitzing with the stick blender we didn’t quite manage to get the bubbly aerated effect they achieve in the book Admittedly we did give up after the first minute because the noise was drowning out Béatrice Dalle’s screams from À l’intérieur on the telly.
UPDATE: We’ve worked out how to properly aerate the soups using a hand blender. A subtle quirk of technique. We’ll cover it in a later post.
Wow. After years of revolting Covent Garden slop this was a genuine surprise. Rich, velvety and with an incredibly complex flavour.
The oils and herbs definitely add a lot of nutty earthiness. It really is worth spending time decorating the bowls for the added flavour. In fact in future I’d probably decorate the whole bowl like a soufflé rather than just the rim.
On the downside, I didn’t enjoy the pumpkin seeds as much as the others. In future we’d add less balsamic and sesame oil as they did overpower the other flavours. Also, mushy and muted jarred peppers are no substitute for the real thing. Sorry, Jamie.
Definitely worth doing again. This is the sort of dish that gives you a lot of confidence in Heston’s recipes, showing you how an ingredient you used to hate can be transformed into something exceptional.
That, or a lesson that with enough oil, butter and vinegar, anything can be made to taste nice.
We’ll definitely be making this again next Halloween. But possibly with the following revisions:
- Add the sesame oil at the very end, and in small quantities, to avoid it overpowering the dish.
- Aerate with the blender half submerged and at an angle. More on this in another post.
- Use 50% less butter. We’re all for richness, but this dish cost me an extra 50 minutes in the gym.
- Use fresh red peppers. The ones in jars are no substitute for the real thing.
- Blend for longer. To get a really smooth, light texture.