Nothing draws my kids home for the weekend better than the promise of their favorite dishes. During the Halloween season, pumpkin soup sways their plans toward our table. Same for extended family and neighbors.
Our soup starts with fresh pumpkin — sugar pie pumpkins to be exact, not jack-o'-lanterns, which do not have the dense, sweet flesh of their diminutive brethren. With a couple of sharp knives, a stable cutting board and patience, we cut cubes of pumpkin to simmer with broth into melting tenderness.
I make some version of pumpkin soup at least once from Halloween to Thanksgiving. Often, I'll add a smoky element by throwing ham or smoked turkey into the kettle. This year we're choosing meaty organic chicken thighs (bone in and skin on). The thighs add richness and body to the broth. Once the chicken is cooked, I remove the skin and bones and shred the meat to return it to the soup after it is pureed.
Simple seasonings allow the fresh pumpkin flavor to shine. Fresh cilantro stems (use the leaves for garnish) add a great aromatic quality; so do garlic and a bit of oregano. I always include an apple in my soup; it underscores the sweet flavor of the pumpkin. Carrots and red bell pepper also add sweetness and bump up the color.
The last of the sweet corn inspires our soup garnishes. I'm pan roasting it until golden in a hot cast-iron skillet. Ditto for fresh poblanos from the farmers market.
To get the party started, offer a fizzy apple sangria cocktail: 3 cups unfiltered cider with 1 bottle sparkling wine and garnished with halved red grapes and a chopped Honeycrisp apple. Surefire insurance the kids (and guests) return soon.
On using pumpkin
A 3-pound pie pumpkin yields about 2 pounds of peeled flesh, or 8 cups of 1-inch cubes, enough for this soup.
Diced raw butternut squash, sold in most produce sections, can stand in for the pumpkin; it has a milder, less squashy flavor.
In a pinch, canned pumpkin works in this soup too. It lacks some of the freshness but offers massive convenience. You'll need two 15-ounce cans; be sure to use the unseasoned pumpkin, not the version for pie filling.
Frozen winter squash proves another speedy option; you'll need three 10-ounce packages.
Creamy pumpkin soup with roasted corn, poblanos
Prep: 1 hour
Cook: 1 hour
Servings: 8 to 12, 16 cups
1 sugar pie pumpkin, about 3 pounds (or one of the substitutes, below left)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large (12 ounces) onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, roughly chopped, about 8 ounces
1 large Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, cored, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 quarts chicken broth
5 or 6 chicken thighs, with bone and skin, about 2 pounds total
Stems from 1 bunch of cilantro
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ cup whipping cream, optional
2 large poblano chilies, cored, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 ears corn, kernels removed from cobs
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Cut pumpkin into large chunks. Remove seeds and stem. Cut away the peel. Cut the flesh into roughly 1-inch chunks. You should have about 8 cups.
Heat the oil in a very large (7- to 9-quart) Dutch oven or stockpot. Add onion, carrots, apple and bell pepper. Cook over medium-high until vegetables begin to soften, 5-10 minutes. Add garlic and pumpkin; cook and stir, 5 minutes.
Stir in broth, chicken thighs, cilantro stems and oregano. Simmer, partly covered, over low heat, stirring often, until pumpkin is very tender, 30-40 minutes. Use tongs to remove chicken thighs to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, remove meat from the bones, discarding bones and skin. Tear meat into shreds; refrigerate, covered.
After removing the chicken thighs, use an immersion blender to puree soup. (Alternatively, ladle some of the soup into a blender and puree with the blender loosely covered so it doesn't overflow. Pour the pureed soup into another container and repeat to puree all of the soup.) Return the pureed soup to low heat; season with salt. Stir in the cream, if using; adjust the salt again. (At this point, the soup can be refrigerated, covered, up to 3 days).
For the garnish, heat a well-seasoned large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat (or use a large nonstick skillet sprayed with a little oil). Add the diced poblanos; cook until lightly charred on the edges, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a large plate. Add the corn kernels to the hot pan; cook until golden, 3-4 minutes. Add to the poblanos. When cool, stir in the cilantro.
To serve, heat the soup until hot. Stir in the shredded chicken thigh to heat it through. Ladle soup into warm bowls; top with the poblano-corn mixture.
Per serving: 179 calories, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 48 mg cholesterol, 19 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 913 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
Sparkling apple sangria
Prep: 10 minute
Chill: 1 to 2 hours
Makes: 8 drinks
3 cups unfiltered apple cider or unfiltered apple juice
1 large Honeycrisp or other apple, cored, finely diced
1 cup seedless red grapes, halved
1 strip (3 inches long) orange zest (colored part only, no white pith)
1 bottle (750 milliliters) prosecco or other dry sparkling white wine, well chilled
8 small fresh rosemary sprigs, optional
Mix cider, apple, grapes and orange peel in a large pitcher with a pour spout. Refrigerate up to a couple of hours. Just before serving, stir in sparkling wine. Serve in wine goblets with some of the fruit. Set a fresh rosemary sprig on the edge of the glass to add aroma.
Per serving: 149 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 20 g carbohydrates, 0 g protein, 14 mg sodium, 0.5 g fiber.