Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin King Stew

As I sit down to write this week's blog post, I'm thinking about the ends of things. Last night I heard news of the death of a member of Bulls Head Meeting. The second of our small community to die this month. I'm remembering Adam with fondness.

This week also marks the end of the growing season in this part of the world. Our last regular CSA pick-up was on Tuesday, though there will be a special Thanksgiving share that I'll get next month. This morning, I went to the last Hyde Park Farmers' Market of the year. Last night we had a frost and the weather guys declared an official end to the growing season. There is still a bit of green on some of the trees, but as many of them are bare now too. I love the crisp feel of the air and the way the light filters through the autumn leaves this time of year.

Because I'm thinking of making something really nurturing for the Meeting as we deal with another loss; because I'll be traveling a lot in November and won't be around to make soup for the meeting for the next 3 weeks; because I'm enjoying filling my home with the warm smells of cooking; and because my CSA offered me all the pumpkins I could carry this week, I'm making an extra-special soup. This is more complicated than I usually do, but what the heck, I'm feeling inspired.

I have a bunch of pumpkin already cooked and smashed, like for pie. Here's how you do it:
  • Get a good pie pumpkin - either a 'sugar' or 'Long Island Cheese' variety.
  • Cut it in half longitudinally.
  • Scoop out the seeds (see below on how to make the seeds into a tasty snack).
  • Put the pumpkin halves face down in a baking dish with a bit of water.
  • Roast at 350F until they are soft.
  • Let them cool a bit and then scoop out the tender flesh with a spoon. If it's watery, that's ok for soup (for pie, you squeeze out the water).

I also roasted a bunch of autumn veggies to add to the soup at the end. I cup up into large bite-size pieces: 1 onion, 3 large carrots, 2 large parsnips, 5 cloves of garlic, and a baby pumpkin. The pumpkin I cleaned the same way I described above, and then I peeled it and cut it up like the other veggies. Everything went into a large glass roasting pan.

I made this marinade:
Mixed it well, drizzled it over the veggies, tossed them around until the were all coated and put them in a 425F oven to roast and caramelize for about 30 minutes. Check often if you try this, I didn't pay very close attention to the time and not all veg cooks at the same rate.

Aside: This marinade is wonderful on any winter squash. I use it on delicata and red curie squash and eat them skins and all and on tougher-skinned squashes like butternut, blue hubbard, and pumpkins after peeling and chunking them. This makes a wonderful, warm, savory-sweet dish right out of oven and if you want a real treat, try saving some left-overs and mixing them with scrambled eggs for breakfast the next morning. I did this with some red curie squash just a couple of days ago and still have some leftovers that will also go into this soup.

Back to the Soup: I decided this soup would be a good opportunity to provide at least one answer to a question that lots of CSA members have this time of year: what to do with the celeriac. Also known as celery root, celeriac is one of the ugliest vegetables you'll ever meet. It's so ugly that lots of people I know are afraid to eat it. That's too bad, though because it is actually quite interesting. After you wash and peel it - and I peel it with a crude and aggressive touch - really just trimming off the outside parts with my knife, the inside has a consistency kind of like a parsnip with a flavor like mild celery. I cubed the celeriac and put it in a saucepan with water to cook over medium high heat until very tender.

Putting it together: It's finally time to bring out the soup pot. I trimmed, washed, cut up and washed again (you can't be too careful with leeks, they're dirty little guys) 2 leeks, heated a little olive oil in the bottom of my soup pot and sauteed the leeks. While the leeks were sizzling I took the garlic cloves out of my roasted veggie mix and, using an electric blender, pureed the celeriac (in its cooking liquid), the garlic, the smashed pumpkin (about 4 cups total), about 2 Tbs of red miso, and water, in batches. As the leeks were becoming tender, I poured the puree mixture in and stirred well. The thickness is like a nice, thick, smooth soup because I adjusted the amount of water while blending. After tasting the result, I hit it with a squirt of Bragg Liquid Aminos and a tsp of Chinese 5 spice powder. I left this on the stove to simmer for a little while to finish cooking the leeks.

Finally, I gently folded in the roasted veggies and my leftover red curie squash. There was some lovely caramelized stuff in the bottom of the roasting dish, so I rinsed it with a little water, scraped up the deliciousness, and poured that into the soup pot.

The color is a deep yellow/orange and the richness in the mouth is wonderful. The pureed celeriac adds a bit of intrigue and the 5 spice powder a bit of the exotic.

As promised above, how to make toasted pumpkin seeds: Use your fingers to remove the seeds from the pulp. Put them in a strainer and rinse them. Put them in a pie pan and sprinkle with Adobo seasoning (or salt) and black pepper. Toast in a 325F over, shaking/agitating often. Take them out when they are dry and crunchy but not too dark.

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