‘THERE’S freshly-grated nutmeg in the pumpkin soup!,” my brother in law, Tonio, announced proudly while serving lunch recently. I had already detected the sweet fragrance of the nut in question and knew the soup would taste delicious. What can I tell you? Tonio is a great cook and nutmeg is a deliciously interesting spice!
Nutmeg is actually one of two spices derived from the seed inside the shell of the fleshy yellow nutmeg fruit, Myristica fragrans. The other spice is, of course, mace. Charmaine Solomon describes the spicy pigeon pair beautifully in her Encyclopedia of Asian Food (Heinemann): “The nutmeg is encased in a shiny, brittle, dark brown shell around which the scarlet aril (mace) furls like a wisp of torn lace.”
There are differences between nutmeg and mace, in that nutmeg is sweeter than the pungent, slightly bitter mace, whilst mace can be more expensive. Although both have a variety of culinary uses, nutmeg marries nicely with sweet dishes, while mace is often considered more suitable in savoury foods. For best results, nutmegs should be freshly grated or ground, although good quality ground nutmeg is available. Let your sense of smell be the judge!
Nutmeg is a spice that most of us will have sprinkled onto custard or into eggnog. It adds another dimension to a range of dishes, including those made with market fresh fruit and vegetables. So, grate a little nutmeg into this recipe and enjoy!
TONIO’S PUMPKIN SOUP MEDLEY
1kg pumpkin, peeled and diced
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and sliced
1 swede, peeled and diced
1 stick celery, whole
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 rashers bacon (optional), rind and fat removed
6 cups good chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/2 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or more, to taste)
fresh parsley or chives
freshly ground black pepper
Place the vegetables, bacon and stock into a large saucepan or stockpot. Bring to the boil. Cover, lower heat and simmer gently until pumpkin is tender (about 45 minutes). Remove celery. Allow to cool, then purée. Return to the saucepan, stir in cream and sour cream and reheat briefly. Garnish with herbs, freshly grated nutmeg and pepper. Serves 6-8.
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.