Parmesan and Pumpkin Soup
A versatile starter, the personal-sized Jack-o’-Starter festively dresses up a sophisticated holiday party or blends right in with cobwebs and goblets of vampire blood (blackcurrant juice or red wine for the faint of heart). Whatever your taste, this doozy of a dish is just seasonally clever enough to be a hit with all your most discerning of gastronomes and competitive dinner party goers. With so many colourful pumpkins and squashes to choose from, you are sure to find the one that is perfect for you.
Every shop is crammed with pumpkins right now, and whilst carving pumpkins is always top of the list in my house, it is a bit early still to have them out. Put a candle in your carved pumpkin now and you’re likely attracting the wrong crowd. Forget the wildlife. Your poor pumpkin will be a shriveled old slouch by Halloween night.
Since I can’t carve up the pumpkins just yet, I settled for impressing guests with my unconventional culinary creativity. That is when my whimsical spirit led me to whip up a cream and Parmesan ‘soup’ in a pumpkin – the Jack-o’-Starter! The dish looks positively lovely on the dining table, served with a selection of breads for dipping, like a delicious beer and cheese bread from the local supermarket.
Of course, the Jack-o’-Starter easily runs through the whole season, which makes it a scrumptious edition to your household meal menu for months. Only the abundance of cream and concern for my waistline stops this from being a regular weekday favourite in my house! But don’t take my word for it. Give this dish a spin and let me know how much you love it too.
Tinfoil – A lot. You will need to tightly wrap your pumpkins to keep them contained during baking
Pumpkins – I chose the small pumpkin (as labelled in the store) and the recipe here will be good for 2 small pumpkins The small pumpkins are still quite big and not to be confused with a munchkin which is about the size of a tangerine. The size I used was probably slightly smaller than a bowling ball – if you are lucky to find a winter pumpkin small enough to be an individual portion you can go for that. Think of how big a soup bowl is. It needs to be about that size once the lid is cut off. You could of course choose to make one big one for sharing.
Buttermilk, 300ml (cultured)
Parmesan, 150g, finely grated
Parmesan or Grana Padano, 1 small piece, shaved (to add as garnish when finished)
Fresh thyme, 1 small bunch, leaves only (approx 15 stems)
Garlic, 3 cloves, crushed
Fresh bread, cut into bite-size pieces (we loved the beer and cheese bread, small multigrain baps topped with pumpkin seeds, and little white rolls)
Dried chili flakes, 1 pinch for heat – can add on top or make available for guests
Preheat oven to 180C.
Cut top off pumpkins and keep for the lids. Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits leaving rest of the flesh intact. Do this for lids as well, making sure no dark orange stringy bits remain.
Add cream, buttermilk and milk to a pan. Add thyme (leaves only), garlic (crushed), get the mixture hot, add Parmesan, and stir.
Carefully divide mixture between pumpkins, wrap the pumpkins with tin foil very carefully over the whole pumpkin and lid making sure that it is fully and tightly wrapped. Put pumpkins on a high sided baking tray if possible so that if there should be a split or spill you can retain the mixture.
Put in preheated oven at 180C for 1hr 20 mins.
Remove from oven and if there are no obvious splits, put on worktop to cool down and firm up a little before moving to plates. Once cooled, remove tin foil very carefully. Scatter thyme around pumpkins for decoration and add a sprinkle of the shaved Parmesan or grana padano before serving. Serve with bread and butter for dipping and a spoon to enjoy the soft pumpkin flesh with the creamy Parmesan soup. I recommend leaving the lid in place for your guests to remove; the steamy, heavenly goodness that wafts out is part of the fun!
If your pumpkin suffers a mishap in the oven, don’t panic. Pour the soup into a bowl, patch the pumpkin back together with cocktail sticks and serve alongside. It still tastes amazing and looks good. I promise guests will still get to dig out the pumpkin and add it to their bread and soup. Now enjoy!
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