Suddenly, soup sounds superb for supper

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sometimes you get desperate and need a soup for a party or dinner. When you live in the country you cannot just go out and get the ingredients without spending a lot of time. I looked on my kitchen mantel and saw those pumpkins that had been there for several weeks (remember that pumpkin vine in the compost pile that I have been writing about for nearly a year?) and I thought – this is the day you get baked.

These are the small sugar pumpkins, and about the size that one pumpkin can be a great container for the soup. I found a recipe that is easy and really, really good. I had all the other ingredients available and that helped. The finished soup is “scooped” out from the whole baked pumpkin—and it is very satisfying after a long cold day. You could use a medium pumpkin, scoop out the interior and put in soup bowls and this would serve four to six people, or you would serve this soup in its cooked pumpkin bowl.

Whole Pumpkin Baked in Cream

1 medium (1 ½ -to 2-pound) pumpkin or several small squashes (1 per person)

Up to 1 pound Gruyre cheese, shredded (depending on the size of your pumpkin)

Up to 4 cups heavy cream

Freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon butter

Slice the top of the pumpkin or squashes three-quarters of the way up and retain; this is your lid. Scoop out the seeds and surrounding fibers from the pumpkin. Place the scooped-out pumpkin on a baking sheet or in an ovenproof dish (which must have sides to catch any leaking cream — an accident that should not happen, but can happen.

Put enough shredded Gruyre into the empty cavity of the pumpkin to fill about a third of it, then pour in cream until the cavity is two-thirds full. Add a few gratings of nutmeg, a little salt, and plenty of black pepper. Throw in the butter and replace the lid, so the pumpkin is whole again.

Place in a fairly hot oven (375 degrees) and cook for 45 minutes to 1½ hours, depending on the size of the pumpkin. Test for doneness by removing the lid and poking at the flesh from the inside. At this point, the skin may be lightly burnt and the whole thing just beginning to sag a bit. Be wary; when the pumpkin is completely soft and cooked through, there is a real danger of collapse. The larger the pumpkin, the bigger the danger. Don’t panic if it happens – it will look a bit deflated but will still taste delicious.

Serve small squashes individually as bowls, with spoons to scoop out the flesh. Serve the larger pumpkin by scooping plenty of flesh and the creamy, cheesy liquid (the Gruyre comes out in lovely long, messy strings) into warmed soup bowls; either way, serve piping hot.

I had this soup for our extended family during the recent holidays and my daughter-in-law thought it the best dish of the meal.

Purée of Pumpkin Soup

Serves 6-8

1 small pumpkin (about 4 pounds)

6 slices bacon, cut into ½-inch slices

1 large onion, diced

2 small shallots, finely diced

1 small leek, thinly sliced

1 small clove garlic, crushed

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

6 cups chicken stock

½ cup cream sherry

1 ½ cup heavy cream or semi-ripened cheese as garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Split the pumpkin in half, and scrape out the seeds and fibers. Place the pumpkin halves, flesh side down, in a roasting pan lined with parchment or Silpat. Pour in ½ cup water and bake 1 ½ hours, until the skin is deeply browned and flesh tender when pierced with a knife. Remove from oven and let rest until cool enough to handle. Scoop out the flesh, discarding the skin.

Put the bacon in a cold heavy pot, and cook over medium-low heat until it is deeply browned and crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the browned bacon pieces. In the fat remaining in the pot, sauté the onions, shallots, leek and garlic over medium-high heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and pumpkin. Stir well, and sauté 5 minutes longer, stirring often, and taking care not to burn the vegetables. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf from the pan, and purée the soup in a blender or food processor until perfectly smooth. Return the soup to the Dutch oven, and bring to a simmer. Add the sherry and simmer gently for 3-5 minutes. Add the cream if desired, and heat through. Taste very carefully for seasoning, and add more salt, pepper, or nutmeg as needed. Serve with fresh gratings of nutmeg and grindings of pepper over the soup, and sprinkle on the reserved bacon pieces. Serve as is or add more cream, using as much as you like.