Autumn harvest: Pumpkin soups
I’m not that fond of pumpkin pie. I mean, I love pie, but presented with a table full of pies, I’ll reach for apple or pecan or even mincemeat else before I bother with pumpkin.
I think it’s partly that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth (Salt tooth? Fat tooth? Tooth for sour-or-bitter? Hell, yeah), particularly when it comes to sweetened vegetables, and I consider pumpkin to be a veg, not a dessert. I can be dogmatic that way, sometimes.
But come fall, these cute little sugar pumpkins start showing up at the market, and it would be a shame to waste their tender flesh and tasty seeds on jack-o-lanterns. So I’ve been developing a repertory of savory pumpkin dishes with just these babies in mind.
Pumpkins, even small, thin-skinned pumpkins like these, can be a handful to prep; I’ve had a basketball-sized pumpkin I was attempting to pare escape my grasp, roll off the counter and smash to the floor, and even halved, it’s hard to peel.
For most recipes, I take the easy route, cutting the gourd in half with my biggest chef’s knife, using a big metal spoon to scoop out the stringy innards and seeds*, oiling the cut edges and setting them face down on a cookie sheet. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour in a 350°F oven, until the flesh is tender enough to pierce with a fork, let it cool enough to handle, peel off the rind and you’re good to go.
* Don’t let the seeds go to waste: Dump the stringy pumpkin guts into a colander and use your bare hands to squish the seeds loose from the fibers. I like to give the seeds a 15-30 minute soak in a cup or so of water in which I’ve dissolved a handful of kosher salt – just enough to leave them slightly salty.
Drain them, toss with a little olive oil (and ground spices, if you like), then spread on a baking sheet and toast in the oven on the rack below the pumpkin. Check and stir every 10 minutes or so until they’re toasty brown – you’ll hear them starting to pop open when they’re nearly done. Cool and reserve for garnishing the soup, or to nibble while you’re cooking. The variety of pumpkin I buy has what the vendor, Cyndee, calls “naked seeds” – the hulls are so lightweight that you don’t risk a mouthful of splinters when you munch them unhulled.
That’s how both of these soups begin, and they’re really variations on a theme: Creamy, savory, rich and a little spicy. The first is my own improvisation, born from a need to use up a few heads of garlic before they started to sprout. I owe the second to my friend Kathy Walton, whose kitchen prowess makes me look like a piker. Both are fantastic, either as a hearty first course or a main dish with a hunk of crusty bread and a good glass of wine or fresh-squeezed cider.
I. Curried Pumpkin and Garlic Soup.
1 small sugar/pie pumpkin, prepared as above
2 heads (yes, heads) of garlic, roasted and squeezed from their papery skins
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 Tbsp (or more) good curry powder
1/t tsp garam masala
4 cups low-salt chicken stock, or good vegetable stock for a vegetarian option
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I like Nancy’s brand, full-fat)
Seeds from the pumpkin, dusted with curry powder before toasting
- Roast pumpkin as described above; cool and peel from the skin
- In a heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil; add onion and carrot and sautee, stirring, until onion is translucent.
- Add pumpkin flesh, roasted garlic, curry powder, garam masala and stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or so to give the flavors time to meld.
- Remove from heat and use a wand blender to puree to smoothness. Stir in yogurt and return to heat briefly, stirring until it’s heated through.
- Correct seasoning if necessary. Serve garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds.
To make this dish vegetarian, simply substitute hearty vegetable broth for the chicken broth; to make it vegan, omit the yogurt.
Serves 6 as a starter, 3-4 as a main course (or 2 with plenty left over).
II. Creamy Pumpkin Soup With Bacon
- I oven-toasted the whole seeds instead of acquiring hulled pepitas and pan-toasting them, and I dusted them with a bit of ground chipotle to add spice and pick up the bacon’s smokey flavor.
- Lacking chicken demi-glace, but having a cup of stock left over from the 32 ounce container I had on hand, I simmered the excess stock until it was reduced to a few tablespoons, and stirred that into the soup for added chicken intensity.
I suppose the vegetarians among you could substitute smoked … something or other … for the bacon, but I’ll leave that to your imaginations. I’m of the “everything’s better with bacon” persuasion, and it’s one of the things that will likely keep me from ever abandoning my carnivorous ways.