In the last month Katie and I have moved from the original tiny Sam Cooks Food flat slightly east to London Fields. Although I enjoyed Stoke Newington and have plenty of fantastic memories, one of the things that I will miss the most is the amazing greengrocers that we had close by. This blog really wouldn’t be the same without it. That shop was a constant influence, and the sheer range of interesting fruit and vegetables meant that after every visit I often left with three or four new recipe ideas flying around my head. They were the place to go when searching for that springtime wild garlic, for those vibrant heritage carrots or the sweetest of summer tomatoes. I really was like a kid in a sweetshop there. Mum must approve that I’ve grown up to consider greengrocers like sweetshops.
I was up early one crisp morning, and having a day-off ahead of me I wrapped up and took a stroll back to my old haunts, planning to pop by the greengrocers to get a few bits to make a simple warming soup upon my return. I was taken instantly by the vast array of handsome pumpkins and squashes piled up outside, and immediately the old recipe cogs started working away. The comparison between the produce available at the supermarkets when compared to the smaller, specialist shops always amazes me. If I went to the former I would be limited to your standard Cinderella bulbous orange types or the old faithful butternut squashes. But that morning about a dozen variants were on show, some tiny, some speckled, some that looked like two totally different pumpkins fused together. I just had to get one. I changed my mind and bought two. And somehow upon my return home I had also acquired some lovely mushrooms, a pair of duck legs and a honking chunk of taleggio.
I really love the autumn, and living close to London Fields I’m lucky enough to be treated to the glorious spectrum of burnished gold and orange on a daily basis. The food is also at its most dramatic and striking, with gourds, corn, beets, apples and chestnuts all on the seasonal menu. Gone are the sea of green spring and summer vegetables and the light, refreshing dishes they abounded. For the next few months it is all about hearty, filling food; the sort that makes a day spent in the cold forgotten within seconds.
Soup is a year-round thing in our household and is always savoured. They are marvellous things, often loaded with all of those vegetables that my body screams out for after a few heavy nights out or a tough week at work. It always shocks me that lots of my friends still hold a stigma against the humble soup, not deeming them worthy as a standalone meal option. Well more fool them, they clearly haven’t had a steaming bowl of tomato soup with triangles of cheese and bread on the side. Heaven. I just like the creativity that they allow. On busy days a few chunks of root vegetable floating in a bit of stock will suffice, but the variety of little finishing touches is almost limitless. This recipe is very much in this thinking; the base is a simple yet delicious roasted pumpkin soup that stands up for itself. But this is only made more interesting with the different textures and bursts of flavour from the garnish.
For the pumpkin:
1 medium pumpkin, peeled and seeds removed and reserved
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 lemon, zest only
3 garlic cloves, grated
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
3 tbsp olive oil
For the duck and stock:
2 duck legs, skin removed and reserved
1 glass dry white wine
1 litre good chicken stock
1 leek, sliced
1 carrot, chopped
2 shallots, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tomatos, diced
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp dried oregano
5 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
For the chestnut, leaves and duck skin:
3 fresh chestnuts, peeled and thinly sliced
The reserved skin from the duck legs, cut into small pieces
The seeds from the pumpkin, cleaned of membrane
3 thyme sprigs
½ tbsp. dried chilli
½ tbsp. dried oregano
For the mushrooms:
12 girolle mushrooms, brushed clean
100g taleggio cheese, torn into small pieces
Fresh oregano leaves
1 lemon, zest only
Extra virgin olive oil
Pour a little olive oil into a large saucepan and set on a high heat. Season the duck legs and quickly brown on all sides, then transfer to a side plate. Tip in the leek, shallot, carrot, garlic, thyme, oregano, paprika and bay and sauté for about 5 minutes, then pour in the wine. Reduce by half then top up with the stock. Tip in the tomatoes and return the duck legs in the pan, making sure they are covered by the liquid. Bring to the boil, then turn to a low simmer. Partly cover and cook for 1.5-2 hours, or until the duck is very tender. Remove the duck legs from the pan and allow to rest in a little of the liquid for 10 minutes, then strip off the meat into small pieces and set aside. Strain the stock, discarding the vegetables.
Preheat the oven to 200⁰C.
While the duck is cooking, cut the peeled and seeded pumpkin into 1.5” chunks and scatter in one layer onto an oven dish. Mix all of the other ingredients and a good amount of seasoning in a bowl, then pour over the pumpkin and toss until each piece is well coated. Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until lightly caramelised on the outside with a soft core, turning every so often.
For the crispy seeds, duck crackling and chestnuts, pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a frying pan and heat to medium-high. Fry the skin, chestnut slices and seeds with the herbs, spices and seasoning for a few minutes, or until crispy and golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper and drain well.
When the pumpkin is cooked, transfer to a food processor and blitz really well. Slowly add the strained duck stock to the puree, continuing to mix until a smooth soup consistency is achieved. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Pour back into a saucepan and bring to just below the boil.
While the soup is heating up, pour a little olive oil into a small frying pan. When at a medium-high heat, fry the girolle mushrooms for a couple of minutes or until caramelised on the outside and cooked through.
To serve, place bits of the braised duck leg into each bowl and cover with the hot soup. Scatter over the crispy duck crackling, seeds and chestnut along with the pieces of taleggio, cooked girolles and fresh oregano leaves. Grate over a little of the lemon zest and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.