Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pumpkin Soup

While cooler temperatures to most people bring thoughts of apple cider and tailgating, in our household, the fall weather signifies pumpkin soup season. During one of my cooking classes last fall, the culinary students were working on a special assignment next door and brought over a sample of a pumpkin soup they were working on. While the chef teaching my class that day couldn't dream up an appropriate time to have it on a menu in a restaurant. . .what would you pair it with? Who would want to eat this? It just doesn't pair well!!. . . I knew immediately it would be a hit at my house.

Fast forward to the last week's grocery trip, with pumpkin in tow, I headed home. Pumpkin pie pumpkins are preferred, but in a pinch, other varieties can be substituted. The real tricky thing with this recipe is pumpkins vary largely in size, so cooking to taste is essential, so make sure you have plenty of clean spoons available to taste throughout.

The other essential item you must have it an immersion blender. I'm sure if you have a fancy Cuisinart soup blender that would be fine too (WHY didn't I buy the Williams Sonoma one when it was on sale!!! Had it been pumpkin season, I would have without another thought). In order to get a really good consistency, you will spend a lot of time blending, but trust me, it's well worth it.

First, you clean, cut and gut your pumpkin. (Feel free to save the seeds as they can make a tasty treat by themselves, just butter salt and bake. . .or add cinnamon, sugar and bake for a sweet version.) I purposely try not to carve a perfect circle so it's easy to get the lid back on in the right position. Make sure you get all the membrane type stuff out, it just gets gooey later on.

Now you have some options, you can place your pumpkin whole (well, minus the innards) with top in a baking dish filled with 1/2 to 1 inch of water and bake at 350 until tender (45 - 60 minutes). I like this option, but the pumpkin ends up being really hot later, so it's more difficult to separate the usable pumpkin from the skin. This option can also vary widely in time, so if you are cooking for others, this isn't the most consistent option, but if you don't have to eat at a particular time, I suggest this option.

(The other way is to roast the pumpkin, in addition to gutting, also skin the pumpkin and cut it into equal sized cubes. The smaller the cubes, the fast they will cook. I try to stick to roughly 1 inch cubes. Roast in the oven until very tender, flipping throughout.)

Once it's cooked, start by peeling. . .

It should look like this when you're done, with only the peel remaining. . .

Here's the inner part of the pumpkin. . .

Now that your pumpkin is cooked and very tender put it in a sauce pan along with at least 1 cup of milk (PLEASE remember the measurements will need to be varied based on the size of your pumpkin). I like to use whole milk when making soups, puddings and other creamy dishes, the whole milk is less fattening than cream, but has more fat than skim milk, so it's a nice middle ground between taste, texture and fat. Place the saucepan on a burner over low to medium heat and begin blending. Add more milk to reach the desired consistency, but make sure your heat remains low as to not scald the milk. I had to spend a little over 5 minutes blending the pumpkin and milk mixture to get it to the right consistency. You can add a little more milk if needed, I started with a cup and half.

Once you get your consistency under control, start adding some spices. Start with adding brown sugar, a couple heaping spoonfuls (approx 1/4 c), a healthy dose of cinnamon (1 Tbsp), a dash of ginger and a pinch of allspice and nutmeg. I speak from experience when I say, DO NOT try to just pour a pinch of allspice and nutmeg over the saucepan, you will add to much, and it WILL taste bad. I have ruined this soup too many times from adding too much nutmeg or allspice. They taste good when you add the appropriate amount though. Don't forget to also add some salt. Salt enhances the other flavors, so don't be afraid to add it to a sweet dish, but make sure to taste throughout.

Mix some more with the immersion blender. . .

Add in some vanilla, we use a LOT of vanilla in our house, as you can probably tell by the gigantic bottle. I would estimate I probably add close to 2 tablespoons of vanilla, but it likely could be much more.

Let all the flavors meld together and simmer, taste again, your house should smell really good by now. . .

Finally, enjoy! There are a lot of recipes out there for savory pumpkin soups, but I think the pumpkin flavor is best with cinnamon, nutmeg and some sugar, so the sweet version is more logical. This tastes just like a liquid pumpkin pie. . .which may sound odd, but when you consider you're not eating a crust or whip cream, health-wise, this is a MUCH better option for something that is consumed often (we make this 2 - 3 times a month during the fall and early winter). While this soup is great the first day, it actually tastes even better the second day when the flavors have melded overnight.

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