How is it Halloween already?! This year seems to be slipping away so quickly–pretty soon we’ll be in the midsts of the holiday season yikes. Lately, I’ve been messing around with some beautiful little sugar pumpkins that we picked up at the farmers market. Pumpkins are usually synonymous with pumpkin pies, pumpkin scones, or pumpkin lattes. But I actually love the flavor of pumpkin in savory dishes as well–such as curries, soups, and even quesadillas. If you’re a little hesitant about savory pumpkin dishes, a simple pumpkin soup is a great place to start.
In my opinion, soups are the dark horse of the dinner table, often overlooked and relegated to appetizer status. Sadly, many people associate soup with the watered-down canned stuff that is available in every super market across America. But a good homemade soup can actually elevate a meal to the next level, or even shine as a delicious main course.
After lots of trial and error, I whole-heartedly believe that the three most important elements of a good soup are: fresh, seasonal vegetables, a blender or hand-held immersion blender, and high-quality stock. That’s it. No fancy spices or expensive cookware. By high-quality stock, I don’t mean super expensive. Just something that you would be happy to drink on its own if you had to. Of course homemade stock is always preferable, but store bought is just fine. (P.S. if you end up making your own veggie stock, try dropping in a few dehydrated mushrooms into the mix. It makes a world of difference).
When it comes to soup, I usually don’t fuss around with roux or other thickening agents. Instead, I prefer the vegetables themselves to do the thickening with the help of the blender. This method works well for most vegetable soups such as potato leek, butternut squash, and curried carrot.
Right now is actually a great time to experiment with pumpkin recipes because all the pumpkins will go on sale right after Halloween. When it comes to baking and cooking, sugar pumpkins are what you want to buy. Don’t get me wrong–I love those giant jack-o-lantern pumpkins, but they are far too fibrous and bland for many recipes. I recommend purchasing an organic sugar pumpkin between two to three pounds for the best flavor.
This recipe for pumpkin soup is a good starting place for lots of experimentation. For a curried pumpkin soup, omit the bay leaf, replace the cream with coconut milk, and add curry powder to taste. Or, try cooking down a peeled and diced tart apple with the onions to add another layer of flavor. There aren’t many rules here.
Finally, don’t waste the pumpkin seeds! This goes for the big jack-o-lantern pumpkins too. There are a lot of ways to roast up the seeds, but my favorite recipe so far is from Michael Chiarello. I am usually not a big fan of eating the pumpkin seed shell, but this recipe actually gives the shells a popcorn-like flavor. The most important step of this recipe is allowing the seeds to dry before seasoning and toasting. Ideally, you should let them sit out to air dry for at least 12 hours. However, I took the short cut and used a hairdryer–an unconventional but rather successful method! Be sure to put the hair dryer on a low setting so you don’t blast the seeds and end up with a huge mess.
Simple Pumpkin Soup
Yield: 4 servings
- 3 cups fresh, roasted pumpkin (2-3 pound sugar pumpkin)
- 3-4 cups high-quality vegetable or chicken stock (use low sodium if you are sensitive to salt)
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup heavy cream, plus more for garnish
- freshly ground pepper
- kosher salt
- Freshly grated nutmeg for garnish
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Preheat oven to 400° F. Wash pumpkin and cut off the stem. Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Lay the pumpkin halves flesh-side down on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment. Cook for about 45 minutes in a 400° F oven until the pumpkin is tender. Once the pumpkin is cool enough to touch, scoop out the flesh and set aside.
- In a heavy-bottomed pot, add the butter, olive oil, bay leaf, and onions over medium heat. Add a pinch of salt and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they begin to turn slightly golden, about 5-7 minutes.
- Stir in the roasted pumpkin, breaking up any large pieces with a wooden spoon. Add 3 cups of broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat off and add salt and pepper to taste. Fish out the bay leaf and discard.
- Use a blender or handheld immersion blender to blend soup until smooth. If using a traditional blender, carefully blend the soup in increments. The hot soup will expand, so only fill the blender about 1/3 of the way. Pour the soup back in the pot. If the soup looks too thick, add some of the remaining stock until you reach your desired consistency.
- Mix in the heavy cream. Sprinkle in the cayenne pepper if desired. Divide into bowls and garnish with additional heavy cream and freshly grated nutmeg.
Toasted Salt & Pepper Pumpkin Seeds
Adapted from Michael Chiarello
- 1 cup pumpkin seeds, cleaned and thoroughly dried
- 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Put the pumpkin seeds in a large bowl and fill with water. The pulp should sink to the bottom and the seeds should float to the top. Place the clean seeds on a dishtowel and pat dry as best you can. Lay the seeds out on a single layer and let them air dry for at least 12 hours.
- Toss the dry pumpkin seeds in the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add more salt or pepper to taste if desired. Spread seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 8-12 minutes at 375°. Seeds should be light brown and crispy.