Do you ever play that desert island game where you decide which cooking ingredients you couldn’t live without if you were marooned like Robinson Crusoe? No? Just me and sister-in-law Sarah, then.
Onions would have to be high on my list, I’d struggle to cook without the allium family. Salt, too, but I’m assuming I’ll be able to make my own with all that seawater surrounding my atoll. And although I love the heat of chillies, at a pinch, I could live without them.
But citrus fruit, especially lemons, are kitchen essentials for me. They’re fabulous when they’re the star of the show (tarte au citron, mmmm) but they are also good in walk-on parts, their zest and juice lifting the most mundane dishes.
I’ve used them three ways, zested, juiced and pickled, as the not-so-secret ingredients that add last-minute freshness to this soup, stopping it from being too sweet and cloying. You can leave out the pickled lemon if you don’t have any or don’t like them, the soup will still taste good.
Velvety and comforting, it is equally at home served for lunch, in big bowls with hunks of country bread (like the enormous loaf from Will Wooster, pictured below the recipe) or with a swirl of yoghurt for a more elegant starter.
Pumpkin and Chestnut Soup
500 butternut squash
2 tbsp oil
1 x 180g vac-pack of ready-cooked chestnuts
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 stick of celery, peeled and chopped
2 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 to 1 pickled lemon (about 25g, optional)
About 1 litre of warmed chicken or vegetable stock
Zest and juice of about 1/2 fresh lemon
A handful of chopped fresh coriander (optional)
Natural yoghurt, thinned if necessary with a splash of milk or water (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
Peel and de-seed the squash and cut it into chunks. Toss with 1 tbsp oil, salt and pepper and roast for 20-30 minutes, until soft and browning at the edges.
Heat the remaining oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onion and celery, stirring from time to time, until soft and tinged with brown.
Roughly chop the chestnuts and add to the pan with the roasted pumpkin. Chop the pickled lemon, if using, skin and flesh, picking out any pips. Add to the pan, stir, then add the warmed stock. Bring to the boil and cook for about 20 minutes or until the flavours have melded and you can squash the pumpkin and chestnuts against the side of the pan.
Remove from the heat and once it’s cool enough to handle safely, liquidise it until smooth, sieving out any lumps if necessary. Return to the cleaned pan, adding more stock or water if the soup is too thick.
Re-heat, adding the zest and juice of about half a lemon, to taste. Stir through the chopped coriander, if using. Check the seasoning before serving, swirling it with a little yoghurt or cream if you like.