Scarily Good Hallowe’en Soup

Pumpkin soup

I love autumn, but my immune system does not.

Throughout hot summer months, I long for chill, brisk walks, and occasional torrential rain, and the arrival of the hot chestnut sellers on the approach to St Paul’s. But then they appear, and without fail, I am poorly. If I’m lucky, it’s just a cold, that drags on interminably, slogging its way alongside me through the months.

If not, it’s a complement of –ituses (pharng-, laryng-, and bronch-. No tonsillitis since I had them out aged 23 and the anaesthetic made me cry for three days solid). I sit, wrapped up in a scarf, frantically applying lip balm, gazing forlornly at empty blister packs and wondering where I’ll find my next Strepsil hit. The saddest part for me, a greedy, gutsy woman, whose main pleasure is food, and whose days are measured by meals, is a complete loss of appetite.

Halloween pumpkin soup

This is the remedy: Smoky Pumpkin and Bacon Soup. Slightly charred, sweet golden-orange vegetables, blitzed with vibrant smoked paprika and chilli and autumnal herbs, with a deep savouriness coming from the bacon. It will resurrect the appetite and enthusiasm of the most pathetic cold-sufferer.

Forget honey and lemon, or buckets of orange juice. Berocca won’t save you now, but a bowl of this will. This soup will soothe the rawest of throats, and inject into you more vitamin C than a lemonade stand.  And it’s sufficiently straightforward that you can throw it together, even with a stinking cold.

It’s also, helpfully, totally delicious.

Even the colour of this soup is joyous and reviving. Pumpkins, when chopped up, are not particularly appealing. They have a very hard texture: they look like they will never yield, and they’re surprisingly pallid compared to their skin. And they smell quite unpleasant. But have faith: roasting pumpkin transforms it. This is the Rumplestiltskin of soups: it will turn your straw yellow raw pumpkin into spun gold.

Obviously, if you are not being a self-pitying wet blanket, wrapped up in three literal blankets, and are in fact celebrating Hallowe’en, this is a perfect recipe to use up pumpkins. As I sit here sipping Lemsip, snuffling, I’m going to imagine you surrounded by pumpkin flesh, as you carve intricate, topical designs into giant pumpkins, wholesomely sipping this soup.

Pumpkin Problem-solving

Pumpkin soup

1. Choosing your pumpkin: I used munchkin pumpkins because a decent sized munchkin pumpkin is about the right size for this batch of soup, but any edible pumpkin would be fine (and if you’re looking for a use for the flesh scooped out a ripe carving pumpkin, you can do much worse than this soup). But munchkins are super cute.

A note: the flesh of munchkin pumpkins can look and smell disconcertingly like cantaloupe melons. Have faith. Roast and all will be well.

2. Chopping pumpkin: If you have a microwave, heat the pumpkin on high for ten second bursts, about three times (don’t do it for longer than this: you don’t want exploding pumpkins). This should slightly soften the pumpkin and help cutting. If you don’t have a microwave, make sure you have a non-slip surface, a large knife, and that you are very careful. Do not expect your knife to go through first time.

3. Peeling the pumpkin: This is easier to do (a) after you’ve cut the pumpkin into chunks, and (b) with a paring knife and then clean up with a speed peeler. The skin is quite tough, and, the corrugation of the pumpkin makes it tricky for speed peelers.

(There is another option. Chop it into small chunks, about 1-2 inches squared, and when roasted, allow it to cool and scoop the flesh out. It’s probably easier, if you’re using this method, to pop the pumpkin at least to one side, or perhaps in a separate baking tray, so that you’re not picking through bacon and garlic to find your pumpkin. It’s a little less fiddly than peeling pre-roasting, but might create a bit more washing up.)

4. Pumpkin seeds: These are a bit of a pain to deal with as they’re sticky and gloopy, but they’re wonderful baked. Scoop out with a spoon when preparing the pumpkin and set to one side. Rinse in a sieve and pull off any big bits of pumpkin flesh clinging to them. Lay out on a small baking tray, drizzle with oil (about half a tablespoon), and sprinkle with salt. Shuffle the tray to evenly distribute the oil. Place in a low oven (or, once you’ve finished roasting the veg and turned the oven off, put the tray in the cooling oven for 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they can start popping. Once crispy, remove and allow to cool slightly.

It goes like this:

Smoky Pumpkin Soup

Halloween pumpkin soup

Makes: 5 hearty portions
Takes: 15 minutes
Bakes: 1 hour

  • 1 smallish pumpkin, ideally a medium-sized munchkin pumpkin
  • 4-8 rashers of smoky streaky bacon (depending on quite how scary you’re feeling*)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 5 carrots
  • 1 tbsp Smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp Chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried Sage
  • 1/4 tsp Thyme
  • 850 ml of chicken or vegetable stock

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Line a fairly deep baking tray with tin foil.

2. Peel all your vegetables, and chop into chunks about 1.5 inches squared (peel the garlic, but leave it whole). Throw into a baking tray and snip bacon into similarly sized portions, draping it directly over the top of the vegetables. Sprinkle all four of your herbs and spices over the top, season, and drizzle generously with oil.

3. Roast the vegetables for 45-60 minutes. You want the vegetables tender and charred to bring out the smoky taste, but not incinerated. If needs be, towards the end of cooking, place a baking sheet on a higher oven shelf to protect the veg from direct heat.

4. Allow to cool slightly. Tip into a big, high sided casserole dish if using a stick blender, or a juicer or food processor if you’re better equipped than me.

5. Gently blitz the vegetables whilst slowly adding the stock (if you’re not used to a stick blender: make sure it’s properly submerged, and do very short blasts to avoid covering yourself in hot pumpkin).

6. Reheat to piping hot just before heating. This will sit happily in the fridge for four days.

7. Ta dah!

Halloween pumpkin soup

Icing on the Cake

We ate this with grated sharp cheddar, crunchy pumpkin seeds piled on top, and a doorstep of spelt bread.

{Please don’t serve the soup in the pumpkins: apart from the fact that it approaches levels of tweeness that even I can’t stomach, as set out above, the smell of raw pumpkin is quite unpleasant, and perhaps most importantly, munchkin pumpkins are far too small a vessel to do justice to this soup.}

*This dish, even at the top end of bacon hedonism has the equivalent of under half of the recommended daily allowance of bacon under the new guidance. You can find some pretty reassuring stats from Cancer UK here. It would, of course, still be lovely without bacon, but would perhaps miss its dynamic smokiness and deeply savoury hit.

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