Portuguese pumpkin soup

It’s grey and damp outside, a dull October day. It’s only a few weeks since I returned from the sunny skies of Portugal, but it already seems like an age ago. But the memories are still bright and clear and all the photos transport me back to sunnier climes.

The fresh fruit and vegetables were gorgeous in Portugal. Blessed by the hot days, the flavours were intense after ripening in the bright sun. One of the things that surprised me about the local produce was the amount of squashes grown in home vegetable gardens. Driving along the narrow country roads, having a nose at people’s gardens, I could see the squash plants spread out over their patch, the bulbs nestling in the fading leaves; some were even grown as climbers, clinging to walls or trestle. I’m not sure why I was surprised, as there were plenty grown in India, but butternut squash and similar always strike me as something for a cooler, more Northerly climate.

But hey, what do I know? There are lots of Portuguese recipes using this lovely, nutrient-packed vegetable, including jam, fritters, cake (that one has to be tried!) and, of course, soup. This recipe is delicious and the veggies are the star, naturally plant-based and dairy free – perfect!

The ingredients are very simple, the technique super-healthy and it tastes gorgeous. The difference to the way I normally make soup is that none of the vegetables are sautéed at the beginning, everything is just simmered together. No oil is added, and nothing can get burnt (which can create potential toxins in altered fats, or excess carbon). With the right seasoning, it tastes clear and fresh.

And instead of throwing away the seeds hiding in the centre, use them as a garnish for the soup. These fresh seeds offer a good amount of fibre and healthy fats as well as minerals like magnesium and iron, plus vitamin E and K. On top of that, whole pumpkin seeds contain more zinc than the shelled variety. Zinc is vital for good immunity, perfect for warding off winter colds. Remove any excess flesh, rinse and pat dry, then pop on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes or so in a hot oven. You can sprinkle paprika or chilli powder over the top to give an additional kick.

I made this out on my friend’s covered patio, cooking it on her trusty camping gas stove – simplicity all the way! Now back in the UK, it’s not really the weather for outside cooking, but give this lovely soup a go and let the sun shine on the inside even it it’s not out the window!

Portuguese pumpkin soup (serves 4 big portions)

1 large onion, chopped
1 small pumpkin or butternut squash
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 courgette, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 handfuls parsley
1 litre vegetable stock
salt and pepper

Peel, chop and deseed the pumpkin or squash – cut into medium chunks. Keep the seeds for decoration (optional, see above). Place all the prepared vegetables into a large pan. Cover with the stock, add a little salt and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or so until all the vegetables are well cooked.

Leave to cool. Remove a couple of ladles full of vegetables, then blend the rest until smooth. Add more stock if too thick. Return to the pan with the reserved vegetables, season and reheat. Serve with a glug of flaxseed oil and toasted pumpkin seeds.

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