My column ran today in The Orange County Register print edition today. It’s not available online, so I’ve posted it here. Thanks for reading!
Every year, we look forward to the annual holiday eating rituals: A golden, grand dame of a turkey, savory sides and a sweet finale with pumpkin pie front and center. (And if you’re household is like mine, the obligatory post-feast nap follows soon after.)
Though there’s nothing wrong with these traditions, why not mix it up a bit? This year, you may want to surprise your guests by serving pumpkin pie at the beginning of the meal instead of at dessert. How? By turning it into a soup. The transformation can be made even easier by using canned pumpkin instead of fresh, yielding fantastic results.
Canned food often gets a bad rap for being, well, canned. And rightly so; fresh ingredients are almost always better in recipes. But there are few exceptions to this rule, and canned pumpkin is one of them. For one, the canned variety is way easier to use. When you’ve got your hands full with roasting a bird and preparing sides to go with it, chopping, boiling and mashing fresh pumpkin isn’t making the best use of your time. Tip: When buying canned pumpkin, make sure you’re getting “pumpkin puree” instead of “pumpkin pie mix,” which is offered in similar-sized cans with almost identical labels.
This recipe yields a spicy soup that’s just reminiscent enough of a pumpkin pie to seem like a before-dinner treat, but packs enough savory ingredients to warrant it a place as a starter or first course. And with the welcome addition of bacon, cream and butter (necessary ingredients for happiness, in my opinion), everyone’s a winner.
The following long list of ingredients may look intimidating, but I promise the procedures are quite simple: You simply cook everything in one pot. If you have a formal party and want an elegant soup, you can puree it for a soft, velvety texture. But it’s just as good when left as a hearty, rustic soup.
When I make this soup, I like to serve it with pie crust “crackers” on the side. Take some ready-made pie dough (or homemade, if you have it), roll it out and use cookie cutters to cut rounds from the dough. Bake rounds on a baking sheet according to package directions.
Another fun way to serve this soup is in shot glasses. If there are appetizers before dinner, you can easily slide a tray of these onto any table, and guests can help themselves to pumpkin soup shooters. (Click on “Read the rest of this entry” for recipe.)
PUMPKIN SOUP WITH BACON
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
- 8 strips bacon
- 2 cups onion, diced
- 1 cup carrot, diced
- 1 cup celery, diced
- 1 can (29 ounces) pumpkin puree*
- 1 cup white wine
- 8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 cup water
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. Chop bacon into small pieces. In a 4- or 5-quart pot over medium-high heat, cook bacon until crispy. Remove from pot and set on paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool.
2. Add onion, carrot and celery to bacon fat in pot and cook for about a minute. Add pumpkin puree and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until puree is slightly darker in color. (This will caramelize and deepen the pumpkin’s flavor.)
3. Add wine, stock, water, sugar and all spices, and stir to combine.
4. Bring soup to boil. Reduce heat to low and cover pot, leaving lid slightly ajar to allow room for steam to escape from soup. Simmer for 1 hour, or until soup has reduced by about one quarter.
5. Taste soup and adjust seasonings. (For spicy-food fans, you may want to add more cayenne and chili powder.
6. Optional step: With a blender or immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. If using a blender, puree the soup in batches. Return to pot.
6. Turn off heat and add cream and butter. Mix in bacon. Soup is ready to serve. Garnish with bacon pieces, if desired.
Cook’s note: Should you want to use fresh pumpkin in this recipe, 4 1/2 cups of cubed pumpkin is the equivalent.