I make no secret of my dislike for winter. I dislike cold weather. I dislike short days. And while October's arrival signals the coming cold and darkness, it is one of the most beautiful times of year in Charleston. The tide is never higher than in the first few weeks of fall, and the slanted light bounces amidst the marshes and the swollen creeks in a way that summer's saturated sunshine simply can't match.
This week, while my students enjoyed fall break, and while I basked in a rare moment of autumnal positivity, I took advantage of the extra evening at home by inviting my in-laws over and making dinner. (Yes. If relaxation had been a subject in college, I would surely have failed. So be it.)
As is typical, my initial impulse—honey, invite your parents over...don't worry, i'll keep it simple...pasta and a salad—gave way to more elaborate plans.* I was overcome by an urge to overcome my hostility to fall, to honor October's bounty, to embrace the season. The menu came together organically. But it was anchored in the first course: pumpkin soup. (Oh, you can call it a bisque if you need that level of fanciness. But everybody knows it's soup.) Not too sweet. Rich, but not ridiculous.
This soup is dead easy. It could be a weeknight main course if you served it in nice, heavy mugs. I chose, instead, to gussy it up with some simple-but-seemingly-fancy-garnishes that made it feel very luxurious as a first course.
I am still nonplussed, at best, by the changing angle of the sun and the evershortening days. But if I can remember to keep this recipe at the ready, I should be able to make it through October and November none the worse for wear. I hope you will, too.
28 oz. pumpkin purée**
1 medium shallot, finely grated***
2-3 c. vegetable broth****
2 T honey
1 T ginger
1 t cinnamon
1 t cardamom
1/2 t nutmeg
salt and pepper
1/2 pt heavy cream
crème fraîche, to taste
pumpkin oil, to taste
roasted pumpkin seeds, finely chopped
- In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine pumpkin, grated shallot, and broth over medium heat, whisking to thoroughly blend.
- Add spices, honey, and salt and pepper; stir to blend, continuing to cook until mixture begins to simmer.
- Reduce heat to low, and add cream.
- Serve in warm bowls, garnishing with a dollop of crème fraîche and a very small amount of pumpkin oil and pumpkin seeds.
Alternate preparation: Replace spices listed above with 2T curry powder. Replace cream with coconut milk. Garnish with fresh chopped coriander or thai basil.
* Let us not speak of the three flavors of gelato. Nor of the sorbet. Each of which was consumed. (I am ashamed.) LET US NOT SPEAK OF THEM. (Except to say this: vanilla gelato + blood orange sorbet = the sexiest take on a creamsicle ever. EVER.)
** I used an organic, canned variety (not pumpkin pie filling!), but if you have fresh roasted pumpkin, by all means, use it.
*** I use my microplane grater to grate the shallot directly into the pot. It saves time and keeps the shallot flavor bright without being overpowering.
**** You can use water, but, in that case, you should also grate a small carrot and a stalk of celery into the purée for sweetness and depth.