25 October 2012

black cats and pumpkins

It must be Halloween, my favorite time of year full of costumes, spookiness and fall flavors!  However, one quintessential Halloween flavor has always escaped me.  That's right, I'm talking about pumpkin.  Sure I get pumped for the return of warm apple cider, but pumpkin spice?  No, thank you.  Honestly, I don't know that I've ever had a slice of pumpkin pie (stay away, angry mob!)  I love the flavors of ginger and cinnamon and cloves but something about pumpkin has just never done it for me.  Sure I always have a can of Libby's in my baking cupboard and I'll occasionally add it to pancakes or muffins, but the whole pumpkin spice craze of lattes and scones and cookies has never really appealed to me.  But I love squash.  Especially the big beautiful gourds that come out this time of year.  I love the sweet starchiness, the bright yellows and oranges, and all their versatility, from soups to fritters to casseroles... oh my, the possibilities seem endless!  So what's the difference?  I can't hold the Starbucks stigma against this simple vegetable.  So when my CSA had what seemed like an entire patch full of beautiful pumpkins, I decided to grab one for a little kitchen adventure.

The past few days have been pretty chilly so I thought a soup would be the best, and simplest way to cook up this great pumpkin that sat on my counter - something simple with a little veggie stock, some onion, maybe cumin and smokey paprika, I wanted the flavors to be warming.  But as I was dicing it up to steam, honey did what he always does and snuck a piece.  Despite my protestations (I was afraid that raw winter squash was like raw potatoes and could be poisonous; it isn't,) he nibbled on it and noticed something curious.  After I took my own tiny taste, we both realized that this autumn veggie tasted oddly like a summer fruit.  It had a distinct melon flavor to it.  How strange!  And how tragic that my bellywarming flavors would no longer work!  But with great team effort and much collaboration (and lots of hours and many glasses of wine,) my honey and I crafted a big ole pot of warm, delicious soup that filled the apartment with sweet and savory smells and filled our bellies with a goodness that worked some magic on me as I am now a lover of pumpkin.

We tweaked and adjusted throughout the cooking process, working mostly with what I had in the fridge and a couple of items from a quick dash to the grocery store.  Though our final product was delicious, we've decided to make a few adjustments, so you can consider this a recipe rough draft.  Once we get it right I'll post a revision, but I couldn't not share this tasty creation with you, dearies.  Try it out and don't be afraid to add an ingredient or two in to make it your own... but make sure you share it with me because I want this to be the best soup ever, and that might just take some help from my friends.

rough draft pumpkin soup
I forgot to measure so all of these measurements are "about"
4c sweet pumpkin, cubed
3c veggie stock
2 red peppers, cubed
1/2 c ricotta cheese
1/4 c bacon and prosciutto, sliced 
a few tbsp queso freso, grated
fresh parsley, chopped
salt & pepper
1. Steam the pumpkin in about 1c veggie stock until soft.  Add the red pepper and continue steaming until that gets soft, too.  Add to simmering veggie stock and let bubble up together until it gets even softer.  Using an immersion blender, blend it all together to a soup-like consistency and stir in the parsley.
2. With a tiny bit of warm veggie stock and some fresh garlic, crisp up the bacon and prosciutto. Once it has reached a satisfactory level of crispness, dump it all in the soup pot.  Stir together and let those flavors meld.
3. One heaping spoonful at a time, slowly stir in the ricotta cheese.  This will cut the slight acidity and make the soup creamy and thick.  Sprinkle in the queso fresco.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Easy enough, right?  I topped my bowl with a little extra ricotta and a chunk of grainy bread for good measure.  Very tasty.  So what we're thinking for next time is this -

  • A little more pumpkin! I want it to be really thick and hearty.
  • A little less pepper.  Sometimes red pepper just wants to take over the whole party and that is not okay.  We want the pumpkin to be the star of this show.
  • Cream instead of ricotta.  Yes, the soup is best as a cream soup, but the ricotta might be best saved as a topping.  And the queso fresco, though delicious, is maybe a little too off the flavor palette that we were going for.  Maybe a parmesan or ricotta insalata?
  • Pancetta instead of bacon or prosciutto.  It's heartier and holds a crisp better so it won't get lost in the soup.
  • Since we'll be getting all fancy and garnishing this soup with a dollop of fresh ricotta, let's throw a couple more decorative tidbits on top.  I'm thinking crushed, toasted hazelnuts and a drizzle of honey! This also pulls from our original melon inspiration (you know, melon wrapped in smoky meats with honey as a summer tapas?)

I'm hoping that we get to try this recipe out again soon because I have a feeling that as we tweak it, it will just get better and better until it truly becomes one of our signature dishes.  And how fun is it to create something like that with your honey?  Teamwork and kitchen fun, huzzah!  But wait... Honey and I couldn't be the only ones to indulge in and enjoy the harvest flavors of pumpkin soup.  What about our little buddy, Macaroni?  Honey hardly ever gives him fancy food, so I get to spoil him every once in awhile with the good stuff (that's how I make sure I'm always his favorite!)  Lucky for the little guy, I stumbled upon a pouch of Pumpkin Soup and Shredded Chicken cat food so we all got to have pretty much the same supper, like a big happy family!  Macaroni was so excited that he started lapping up the juicy morsels before I could even get them in his bowl.  Delicious pumpkin soup for everyone!  Happy almost Halloween!

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