Though most commonly associated with paella, the seafood and rice dish from Spain’s eastern coast, saffron has a variety of uses that go back to ancient times, “both as a natural dye and to flavor dishes,” write the editors of Phaidon’s forthcoming cookbook, Eataly: Contemporary Italian Cooking. “Saffron is sometimes called red gold because it is necessary to pick 150,000 crocus flowers (Crocus sativus) and process them by hand in order to obtain [just] 2¼ pounds.” As such, its usage in modern, convenient dinner recipes is few and far between. But if this simple pumpkin soup is any indication, a little goes a long way.
Pumpkin Soup with Saffron Crouton
extra virgin olive oil
1 piece of butter
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 cups pumpkin flesh chunks
2 thyme sprigs
4 ¼ cups hot vegetable broth (stock)
120mg saffron threads (roughly ¾ tsp)
½ loaf slightly stale bread, cut into cubes
1. Heat a drizzle of oil and the butter in a large pan, add the onion, and cook over low heat for 5–6 minutes until soft and transparent.
2. Add the pumpkin and thyme (retaining some thyme leaves for garnish) and cook for a few minutes more, then pour over the broth (stock), cover, and cook for 30 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender.
3. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup until smooth and homogenous.
4. Meanwhile, make the croutons. Put the saffron in a small bowl with 1 ¾ fluid ounces warm water and let soak for 10 minutes. Lightly dip the bread cubes into the saffron water.
5. Heat a dry nonstick skillet (frying pan) until very hot, then add the croutons and cook over medium heat for 7–8 minutes until crisp.
6. Serve the soup with the croutons and scatter with thyme leaves.
The recipe above is adapted from Eataly: Contemporary Italian Cooking (Phaidon), now available for pre-order. Buy Now: $50