The best autumn soup recipes, from spiced pumpkin to roast tomato with goat's cheese 

pumpkin soup 
Anything goes when it comes to making this most satisfying dish – as long as you give the flavours a bit of loving care Credit: haarala hamilton

Some dishes – I’m thinking particularly of those based on eggs – are so strange when you consider them, that I marvel how they ever came to be. I mean, how do you come up with the idea of adding egg yolks and flavourings (spinach purée and nutmeg, say) to a thick béchamel sauce, carefully incorporating a cloud of egg whites and baking this until it rises into a tower of soufflé?

At the other end of the scale there are dishes that are obvious. Braised beef and carrots, apple crumble, cheese omelette… These are about taking ingredients that work together – the ratio of the constituent parts decided by trial and error – and applying heat.

Soup is the most obvious of all obvious dishes. If you have a load of bones there must surely be a way of getting goodness out of them. Or you might just decide to cook a bunch of vegetables in water, instead of eating them raw, adding whatever herbs you like, until you have a soft collapsing mass.

Soup is simple, restorative and often frugal. It can be made with leftovers – providing a home for a pan of roasted tomatoes – and less-than-perfect ingredients. But there’s a world of soups.

At one end there’s consommé, a limpid pool of beef or veal essence, then there’s broth – a stock studded with chopped vegetables and often meat or fish as well, which can be either delicate or robust (depending on the soup’s coarseness). You then travel to velvety puréed soups, and soups, such as chowder, that are so thick they’ve almost crossed the line to stew.

"Soup is simple, restorative and often frugal, made with leftovers or less-than-perfect ingredients" Credit: haarala hamilton

There’s no shortage of soup recipes (I have six books) but, more than perhaps any other dish, it can be made without a recipe, too. If you have stock or water and vegetables, you can produce soup. Still, there are a few things worth knowing.

I’d already made gallons of soup when I was forced to spend a whole afternoon at cookery school producing a pot of ‘cream of vegetable’. This consisted of onion, celery, leek, carrot and potato. ‘Why are we wasting time on this?’ we all thought. But we learnt that soup is about coaxing maximum flavour out of the base ingredients.

We sweated the vegetables in a covered pan with butter (or you can use oil and butter), a good splash of water and some salt (the salt helped to draw out moisture). We could smell that the soup would be good before we’d even added the stock. The soup was then simmered – not for too long – cooled, puréed and the seasoning tweaked. We then decided whether to make it luxurious, by adding cream, and evaluated its consistency, adding more stock if we wanted it thinner.

The key thing we learnt was to focus on the vegetables. Whatever you use – carrot, tomato, leek – you want to bring out its essence, whether you do this by sweating in butter or, as in the pumpkin soup (right), roasting to intensify the flavour. Some of the best soups are made with onion and a single vegetable (I’ve made carrot soups so intense it was like tasting the vegetable for the first time).

Don’t add too much stock when you’re working on your soup. You can make it thinner by adding stock later, but it’s laborious to make it thicker. Whatever the soup type, seasoning is all. Sip a spoonful and it can feel as if there’s a hole in the middle, something vital missing.

The answer isn’t always to add more salt, but to try a little lemon juice or even some cider vinegar. This heightens flavours and also pulls them together. No wonder we were made to labour over that pot of creamy vegetable. What you learn while making soup applies to everything in cooking: tease out flavour and concentrate on seasoning.