Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pumpkin soup

On Saturday we had our annual Little 5 Points parade viewing and pumpkin carving festivities. In case you are unfamiliar, Little 5 Points is a wacky little neighborhood that is right by where we live now--actually, it was where we first lived in Atlanta--and every year they hold a really excellent parade to celebrate Halloween. All the local businesses make insane floats and there are some fantastic costumes on display. You really have to see it for yourself-there's not a good way to do it justice in words. Anyway, over the years it has become traditional for friends to meet up and walk to the parade with beers, sit in the exact same place to watch it (I like my traditions VERY traditional, thank you), drink more beers, then walk back to our place to carve pumpkins and drink even MORE beers. It's pretty great. There were some particularly good pumpkins this year. Dana made one that was supposed to say "Boo!" but it might have ended up saying "Roo!" or possibly "Doo!" Byron's pumpkin had another, smaller pumpkin in its mouth, sort of like a pumpkin cannibal. And Emma etched a crying elephant stuck in a spider web onto hers. It was neat. Katie made these really, truly amazing deviled eggs that are based on a recipe from an Atlanta chef that we both admire--Scott Peacock from Watershed restaurant. And I made a pumpkin soup that was sort of based on about a million different things, but it ended up coming together pretty well in the end. You could also make this with any type of winter squash, if you like.

I got about 2-3 pounds total of small sweet pie pumpkin. These are VERY DIFFERENT from the pumpkins that we carve up for jack o'lanterns. They look like tiny versions of the big ones but are sweet and suited for cooking. So be sure to grab that kind, not the decorative kind for your doorstep. I cut them in half and pulled out the seeds, then chopped up the flesh off the rind. I wanted to roast the pumpkin for a deeper flavor but it got late and I ran out of time. If you aren't in a hurry to get to a Halloween parade with all your friends, you should roast the pumpkin or squash or whatever before proceeding--it will be much more tasty. Just cut it in half and stick it in the oven at 350 for about an hour. Then it will pop right out of the rind and that's much easier than slicing the flesh off, as I had to do. Anyway, get your pumpkin out of its natural state in some way or another and toss it into 3 tablespoons of butter mixed with 1 tablespoon of olive oil that is heated up over medium high heat in a big pot or dutch oven on the stovetop. Add 4-5 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped, 2 small onions, coarsely chopped up and 2 apples, peeled and coarsely chopped. Stir everything around and add more butter if it seems dry. Allow this all to get soft and tasty and lightly browned, and then add in 2 teaspoons nutmeg, 3-4 tablespoons of minced, fresh tarragon, lots of salt and black pepper. Let cook for another 5 minutes, and then pour in chicken (or vegetable) stock. I am so sorry that I didn't measure it better. I used one and a half of one of those organic, shelf-stable packages. They are 32 ounces, so I guess that means I used 48 ounces all together. I don't know what that is in cups though, sorry. So mix up your chicken stock and all the vegetables, then cover and let it cook up for about 30 minutes. Then get somebody like Jeremy to put down his dang drink for a second and pour it through a food mill for you. Food mills are very useful and incredibly low-tech. You just crank your soup into a clean container through this gadget to get a smooth puree. I always use it for making gnocchi and things that need to be all smoothed out. I guess you could use a blender or a food processor instead, if you don't have a food mill. Return your pureed soup to the cleaned out pot that it cooked in originally and put it over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of minced chives, 1/2 cup of medium-dry sherry and 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Cook another 10 minutes (do not allow it to boil), then taste and correct for salt.

While the soup is cooking, cut up half a loaf of dark pumpernickel bread into small 1" chunks and toss in a baking dish with lots of salt, pepper, a few red pepper flakes and about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Put this in the oven at 400 degrees, tossing often until crunchy--about 10 minutes. Also cut up a round of Camembert cheese (rind and all) and set this out along with more minced chives and the pumpernickel croutons. Your guests put a couple chunks of cheese and croutons into their bowls and then ladle soup over the top and add more chives if they like. It is delicious.

I almost carved out a pumpkin to serve this in but Jeremy pointed out that it would be a little bit over the top so I didn't do that in the end. Also I ran out of time! There was a parade to get to! Beers to drink! You know how it goes.

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