Friday, January 9, 2009

Unplanned Pumpkin

Each week I pick out some recipes to make, write up a grocery list, and get around to making some but not all of my recipes. Sometimes I can't find one ingredient, like dried porcini mushrooms, or I have lunch plans or dinner plans, or my leftovers last longer than I expected. But sometimes I'll have a week like this one where I ate everything in my fridge over the course of the week, and I ran out of planned dinners by Thursday night (actually by Wednesday night - maybe I didn't plan so well).
I came home at 7:30 on Thursday and looked in my freezer. The four remaining potstickers in the package looked good. While I cooked the potstickers (pan fry for a minute until they are "potstuck" or brown on the bottom, then add a couple tablespoons of water, cover the pan and steam for 5-6 minutes. This gives you a great texture on the potsticker, different from steamed dumplings. I guess I could write a whole separate entry on dim sum!), I looked back in my freezer. I spotted a tupperware of frozen canned pumpkin, leftover from making pumpkin biscuits. Pumpkin freezes really well, so don't be afraid to try a recipe that leaves you with leftover canned pumpkin. Throw the extra in a tupperware in the freezer, I've used it months later. The pumpkin biscuits had required such a small amount of pumpkin that I had nearly a whole can left. Immediately I hit on the idea of making pumpkin soup.
I chopped a carrot and half an onion and started cooking them in a small quantity of butter while the pumpkin defrosted in the microwave. The carrot and onion base, commonly combined with celery, is called a mirepoix in French cooking, and is the base for quite a few soups. Then I added the pumpkin to the pot, with several cups of chicken broth made from bouillon, salt and pepper, and allowed the soup to cook until the carrots were soft enough to puree. My only mishap at this point was forgetting to cover the soup - the cooking pumpkin splatters quite a bit and was soon all over my stovetop and floor! After cleaning that up, I used my immersion blender with the appropriate attachment and blended the vegetables. I tasted it but it was a bit bland so then I spiced it up, adding brown sugar (just enough to cut the bitterness, not to make the soup sweet), cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, and cloves. Note that this is an appropriate use for ground ginger rather than fresh. It still didn't taste quite right, with the pumpkin giving off a slightly mealy flavor and texture. I had one more thing to add. I had some leftover heavy cream from the last time I made ice cream. I swirled some cream into the soup and tasted it. Now it was good enough to lick the bowl, and tasted even better the second day (rule of soups - they're always better after the flavors have a chance to meld overnight). Here's the approximate recipe:

Pumpkin Soup (3-4 servings)

1/2 tablespoon butter
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 can pumpkin puree
4 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 cup heavy cream

Place a pot on medium heat and add butter. When the butter melts, add carrots and onion. Cook until slightly soft, about four minutes. Add salt and pepper, stirring to coat vegetables. Add pumpkin and chicken broth and stir. Cover and simmer for ten minutes, until carrots beome soft and easily crushed. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Place soup in blender or use immersion blender to completely puree carrots and onions with pumpkin. Return to pot and heat on medium again. Stir in brown sugar and spices. Add heavy cream and continue to heat for two to three additional minutes. Serve with bread.

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