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It’s rare that something creative results from a bad bout of the lurgy, but Gastrono-me’s Gemma Simmonite came up with a restorative revelation



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Well hello October! Nice to see you, but I have to confess that this year it’s taken me a while to be able to welcome you fully. Normally, as you know, I can’t wait to see you and your burnished glory after a long hot summer. But this summer was a complete damp squib and the drawing in, dark, chilly nights have, quite frankly, made me feel a little cheated. But here you are now, and I am not going to fight you.

I think the reason for my lack of resistance is because October not only brought with it my beautiful daughter’s 23rd birthday, and my best friend’s 50th – both thoroughly fun and suitably boisterous – but it also gifted me a lurgy. It started innocently enough with a scratchy throat that I thought was probably due to excessive, rowdy birthday singing. Then an achiness took over my muscles, again I assumed due to throwing some haphazard dance moves, but then a dry cough with a ‘doozy’ of a sore throat arrived and was then followed by a more sinister chesty one. Covid was swiftly checked for and disregarded, but it soon became clear that with no voice to exclaim with at all, I had a chest infection and boy did I feel ill. You know one of those ills that make you feel about nine and you wish your mum was there to cater for your every need, to enfold you in her warmth and make you feel that, just armed with her soup and unending love, she could cure you and make you better.

The horror of this infection stretched on for a week and totally wiped me out, but strangely gave me acute insomnia for a week, too. I am a huge believer that when you’re sick, sleep is the best medicine and the only way to get through feeling blinking dreadful. But this sleeplessness was something else. As I coughed and spluttered, I also had to watch the clock tick by endlessly and experience hours that I was only familiar with from my clubbing years. Hours passed into days, and I just seemed to have lost the trick of falling asleep.

Harissa Roasted Cauliflower and Pumpkin Soup (52211436)
Harissa Roasted Cauliflower and Pumpkin Soup (52211436)

For all you constant insomnia sufferers, I offer you my deepest sympathies, sleeplessness is the worst. Inherent tiredness not only makes you feel tired (rather predictably), but also gifts with it a feeling of loneliness and paranoia, especially in the wee hours. Daytimes are filled with a feeling of edginess, and the whole dance begins again at bedtime when your hopes for a good night’s sleep are extinguished once more.

Whilst I was at my worst, I had to be a prisoner to my bed and attempted to while away the night with podcasts and talking books (I highly recommend the divine Josie Long’s series Short Cuts on Radio 4). But when I started to feel slightly better, I spent the twilight hours in my kitchen making restorative soup, albeit quietly, so as not to wake the lucky sleeping household. That way when morning came around, despite being unproductive in slumber I had at least something to show for my night’s wakefulness.

And this is weirdly how this soup came to pass. Borne out of ingredients to hand (sorry O that I stole your cute pumpkin ready for carving), I also used some well past their best slightly ‘wilty’ cauliflower florets, but once roasted in cumin and harissa, stood proud again and really complemented the sweetness of the roast pumpkin.

Harissa is always one of my store cupboard staples. I love the warmth and complexity of it and am a bit guilty of adding it wherever I can – pungent and vibrant and so useful when wanting to inject a little warmth and flavour. Try a teaspoon stirred into vegetable stock when making a bowl of couscous or rub it into meats before grilling or roasting. It’s also smashing when added to vegetables before roasting, especially, in this case, a cauliflower. Spice was exactly what my sore throat and vocal chords were craving, quite frankly anything to numb them temporarily was very welcome.

So really by desperation and malady I ended up constructing this nurturing vegan autumnal soup – spicy, golden, and eventually curing, and I am happy to report that I am on the mend, plus last night, joy of joys, I slept like a zombie for eight hours!

I hope you all keep well over the next few months when our immune systems will be tested from socialising and winter, I for one will definitely be getting my flu jab soon. But if it does happen again, at least I’ll be stocked up with soup in the freezer to see me through. . .

HARISSA ROASTED CAULIFLOWER AND PUMPKIN SOUP

(Serves 2-3)

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons of olive oil

1 small head of cauliflower, stalk and leaves removed and broken into florets

1 small pumpkin, flesh cubed

2 red onions, peeled and quartered

50g of tinned chickpeas, drain and dry thoroughly

2-3 teaspoons of harissa paste

½ teaspoon caraway seeds

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes, reserve a sprinkle for serving

1.5 litres of vegetable stock

100ml of coconut milk

Snipped chives

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 230C/450F/gas mark 8.

Pour the oil into two roasting tins and heat in the oven until extremely hot.

Meanwhile, toss the cauliflower florets, cubed pumpkin and onion in a large bowl with the harissa paste, the seeds, chilli flakes, and season with salt and pepper.

Carefully add the cauliflower, pumpkin and onion to the oil.

In the same bowl, add the chickpeas and give a coating in the residual paste, add to the other roasting tin.

Check both the vegetables and chickpeas after 15 minutes turning them in the oil to make sure they’re roasting evenly, bake for a further 15 minutes.

Carefully remove the trays from the oven and allow to cool a little.

Remove the chickpeas from the oil and drain on kitchen towel.

Reserve some florets and pumpkin for serving, then add the rest to the blender with the vegetable stock, you may have to do this in batches.

Blitz until smooth and return to a saucepan to warm.

Add the coconut milk, and season to taste.

To serve:

Scatter with the crispy chickpeas, reserved roasted cauliflower and pumpkin.

Scatter with snipped chives and chilli flakes.

Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds

Call 01284 277980

See gastrono-me.co.uk