In 1997, while enjoying her post as the CEO of a medical charity, Julie Friend entered BBC MasterChef purely because her late mother had once sighed ‘You could win this darling!’ As the saying goes, the rest is history. Mum was right (aren’t they always?) and from then on Julie moved from a desk to the kitchen, combining private catering with teaching and food writing. In 2005 she opened her delicatessen Flavours in Tufnell Park, North London, which has become a local meeting place, particularly at the weekend when the shop also has a stall at the local food market.
Like music, a specific ingredient or meal can often transport you back to a place or time and evoke vivid memories. For me, nutmeg sparks two such visions. One, crunching my way through the rainforest in Grenada ‘the Spice Island’ where the little, aromatic nut is so common that many are just left to rot underfoot on the forest floor, wrapped cosily in their red mace ‘vests’..
The second is of John Prescott coming back for another helping of this soup during my first round of MasterChef, declaring he could eat a whole bowl of ‘that there stuff’. Praise indeed.
I keep my nutmegs in a small, battered old tin with a tiny grater and love the warm, deep aroma it gives to many different foods both sweet and savoury. Grate a little extra on top just before serving to get that delicious spicy kick.
- 25g butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 125g pancetta, or good quality smoked bacon
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1 potato, peeled and chopped
- 700g pumpkin or squash – peeled and diced – a mixture of butternut squash and the more traditional orange-fleshed pumpkin gives a good texture
- 750ml chicken stock or good vegetable stock
- ½ tsp chopped fresh marjoram or thyme
- Dash of Tabasco
- ¼ tsp grated nutmeg plus a little extra to serve
- 200ml double cream
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Melt the butter in a large pan with the olive oil. Add the bacon and onion and fry until soft and just beginning to colour. Add the chopped potato, carrot, pumpkin and marjoram. Cook for a further five minutes.
- Add the nutmeg, allowing the spice to warm through then add the stock and Tabasco. Turn to a simmer, cover and leave for around 15-20 minutes until all the vegetables are soft.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, before puréeing with a food processor or hand blender.
- Add the cream and season to taste. Re-heat gently but try not to boil. Grate a little more nutmeg on top to serve.